Performance appraisals are a necessary function of the management process. Strategies and techniques for delivering performance appraisals might change, but at the end of the day, employees need to know how well they are performing at work.
It is management’s responsibility to ensure employees understand what is expected of them and the consequences for not meeting those expectations. As well, employees need to understand their reward for doing a good job!
I got this question from a TSB reader, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to explain performance management and fairness in performance appraisals. The question was:
“Interested to know whether you think that appraisals can ever be ‘fair’. And if they can be, how can we measure them to ensure that they are. The reason I ask is because there is so much employee-supported legislation around today. Fairness and equality are so essential to get right. Thanks”
Great question! The short answer is yes. Performance appraisals can be fair and written and presented so that there are no worries about legalities with equity and fairness.
The long answer is that performance appraisals are as fair as the criteria and measurements used to base the assessments on. It is all about making unbiased assessments of employees and having data to support those assessments.
The only way to be objective when evaluating an employee’s performance is to support evaluations with very specific criteria. This is why it is so important to tie performance appraisals to employee goals.
If goals are written at the beginning of the performance rating period, and if there is ongoing communication with the employee about their performance, then performance appraisals can be straightforward with a painless delivery.
If not, delivering those performance appraisals can be one of the most difficult conversations you will have all year.
Performance Appraisals Are A Multi-step Process
Employee goals are written to support departmental goals – which ultimately support organizational goals and strategy.
Employee goals should be written to include specific and measurable objectives.
These measures are what supply most of the data used in the performance appraisal process.
The performance appraisal should reflect the employee’s job description and goals.
Review the employee job description annually to ensure that it aligns with employee goals.
This exercise also keeps employees focused on tasks that support corporate objectives and eliminates unnecessary job duties.
Questions asked on the appraisal should be tied to stated measurable goals.
This makes this part of the assessment easy in that the employee either accomplished their goals or they didn’t.
If they did, it should be reflected in the PA and if they didn’t, it should also be noted.
Having said all that, there are some questions on performance appraisals that are written to determine “how” employees perform their tasks and can be very subjective.
Questions like, “employee demonstrations passion and enthusiasm for the job and company.”
This is a very subjective observation, and managers should be noting observed employee behaviors throughout the performance period.
Managers should keep a journal or file on each employee, and every time a problem is noticed with the employee’s performance, the manager should mention the problem to the employee, make a note of the problem and drop it in their file.
On the other hand, when an employee demonstrates desired behaviors, tell the employee. Note it and drop it in the employee’s file.
Collecting this kind of data helps supply the needed information to have an objective performance appraisal.
When the time comes to write the actual performance appraisal, all of this data should be gathered, studied and assessments made.
Managers should also be taught and understand common rater errors and use another objective leader (i.e., the manager’s boss) to ensure their observations are objective, data-driven, and not biased.
This kind of data gathering is the best defense against perceived appraisal biases.
7. Mistakes Managers Make When Doing Performance Appraisals
1. Employee Is Not Given Measurable Goals
Managers need to set specific, measurable goals for employees. Managers should create measurable goals for employees by clarifying the desired outcomes of the goal.
Use the SMART Goal model to ensure that your written goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
2. Performance appraisals are not tied to stated expectations.
It is all too common for managers to assess employees on abstract and subjective data.
Managers need to learn to use objective data to assess employees so the employee understands when expectations are met, but more importantly, when those expectations are not met.
3. Managers don’t make notes of observations throughout the performance period.
Most organizations deliver performance appraisals once a year. Those years seem to go quickly.
However, it is easy to forget important information during the course of 12 months. Managers should keep a log of all conversations and observations to access noted information for the performance appraisal.
4. There is no data to support observations.
Managers often scramble to provide feedback on assessments. This feedback is much easier to provide when there is a written note in the file that records employee behaviors.
5. Managers do not confront employee problems when they happen but only bring them up at performance appraisal time.
One of the most unfair things a manager can do is to wait until they are sitting with an employee at performance appraisal and inform them of all the things they did wrong over the course of a year.
Employees deserve the opportunity to address performance issues when they happen. Give employees the benefit of the doubt and when they make a mistake, correct them and help them improve.
6. Managers are not aware of personal biases when assessing performance.
There are biases in how managers track employee performance. Managers need to be aware of the subconscious biases to be fair.
For example, if a manager keeps a file on a “problem” employee but not all employees, they intentionally target that employee.
7. Managers do not talk to their employees except at performance appraisal time.
Great managers use their influence to help employees do their jobs. And, the only way for managers to know what help employees need is by simply asking them. Make a point to communicate with employees regularly to understand their perspective and use your influence to help them.
Finally, performance appraisals can be fair and effective if the process is structured, managed on a day-to-day basis, and part of a larger performance management system.
How many of these mistakes do you make?