It’s coming up to that time of the year again – it’s performance review season. And whilst there is plenty of advice out there for employees on how to prepare for their mid-year or annual performance review (depending on where you are in the world), it’s just as important for employers to prepare for the process as well.
Even in small businesses and startups, employees expect to have some kind of formal review either in the middle of the year or at the end of the year, and they respect employers and managers who put effort into reviewing their performance and show an interest in their career development.
A few weeks ago I happened to witness the other end of the spectrum.
I was working in a café located in the foyer of a busy office building in the city. It was just after 3pm when two people came to sit down at the table next to me. It’s a really busy café and the table was literally right next to me. In fact if I moved my elbow slightly to the right it would have been on their table – that’s how close we’re talking.
The young guy looked a bit awkward as the woman (who I quickly discovered was his boss) sat down with their two coffees.
Within a few seconds she began what I can only describe as a complete tirade masked as a ‘performance review’ – only nothing was really reviewed at all. The poor guy was just dragged over the coals, in a very public place, in a nice loud voice for pretty much all the other café patrons to hear.
My hat goes off to the guy who put up with this complete barrage of bullsh*t for about 40 minutes.
Performance review? More like performance attack!
It ended with the manager saying, “I know some of this may have come across as a bit harsh. So if you want to go for a walk around the block to get some fresh air, just be quick because we’ve got the project status meeting at 4pm”.
She then got up, left the café and walked towards the elevators.
When I was sure she was out of earshot, I said to the guy (whose name is Harrison and whose updated resume has now been circulated to many of our recruiters!), “Are you OK?”
He literally looked like he was about to burst into tears.
Harrison didn’t go for a walk around the block but I spent about 10 minutes letting him vent before even telling him I’m in the recruiting game.
He was embarrassed, humiliated, felt like crap, and now had to go back upstairs into another meeting with Anthea (his boss) and pretty much pretend nothing was wrong.
I couldn’t believe what I’d witnessed.
Let’s just say Harrison doesn’t have any more project status meetings with Anthea, because he quit a few days later (I may have had something to do with that), and Harrison now has a great temp gig that may well go perm. But that’s beside the point.
Nobody should ever experience what Anthea put Harrison through – neither behind closed doors and certainly not in a public place.
Employees crave feedback. Any decent employee wants to know how they’re tracking on a fairly regular basis. But if you want to ensure that your employee quits perhaps even with no notice (sorry Anthea … I may have had something to do with that too!) within a few days of the ‘appraisal’, follow these 6 simple steps.
1. Don’t send out a pre-appraisal questionnaire in advance
Anthea hadn’t sent Harrison anything in advance … other than a calendar invite earlier in the day telling him he was having a performance review that afternoon. The poor guy had felt physically sick for half the day.
Seriously reviews need to be booked into the calendar well in advance. About two weeks prior to the scheduled review time, the employee should be sent a “pre-appraisal questionnaire” containing a series of several questions including:
- What have been your key accomplishments over the last six months and what are the areas that you are disappointed in or concern you most?
- In relation to communication with your manager what has worked well so far and what do you want to change moving forward?
- In relation to time management, what have you done that has made a difference to your effectiveness in your role?
- What are your top four priorities for the next 3 – 6 months?
- In relation to your personal strengths and weaknesses, what skills have you developed or what competencies have you improved or added to your role in the last six months?
- What are you offering to the business now that you were not offering six months ago?
- In general is there anything about the business that you would like to see improved?
Pre-appraisal documents allow employees to come better prepared to their review, by making them think about relevant issues beforehand. They also help to make them feel part of the overall review process.
Harrison didn’t feel like he was part of any process … other than public humiliation!
2. Work within unrealistic timelines
Who needs realistic timelines?!?
All Anthea needed was 40 minutes to annihilate Harrison and she could get back on with her day. What more time do you need as a manager? At least she made it to her 4pm meeting!
As a manager or business owner, you should ideally send out pre-appraisal documents two or three weeks ahead and your employee should have their responses back to you at least a few days before the scheduled review. This gives you ample time to prepare your own comments and areas for discussion.
3. Humiliate your employee
Better yet do it in a public place! And make the review as intimidating as possible.
Gosh if you’re lucky your employee might even resign on the spot!
Unfortunately in smaller organisations employee engagement and staff satisfaction (key measures of staff retention) are often left to fall by the wayside. Annual performance appraisals often become a quick impromptu catch up over a sandwich at a nearby café, a 15 minute chat in a taxi on the way back from a client meeting, or worse still a two-line email along the lines of “It’s great to have you on board. You’re doing a terrific job. Keep up the good work”.
Actually if Harrison had received a quick email like from Anthea, he might still be there!
4. Don’t let your staff member speak
A performance appraisal should ideally be a two-way street. Unfortunately in Harrison’s case it was definitely a one-way street … just the way Anthea liked it.
In and ideal world Anthea would have started with the positives – things Harrison had achieved and was doing well in his role. Of course then she could have discussed the areas where he could improve.
To ensure your employee runs for the hills, don’t let them speak, bulldoze them and leave them defenseless and on the verge of tears.
Then just get up and walk away!
5. Don’t ask for feedback
Don’t let them suggest how they might improve their own performance and under no circumstances should you ask them what you can do to help them achieve this. Don’t even think about offering further training.
If you treat the performance review process seriously, then your staff will also take it seriously. They will feel more looked after and appreciated, and you will have a more constant finger on the pulse of what people are feeling like in your business.
Why would you want your employees to feel appreciated?
Anthea had bought Harrison a coffee. Wasn’t that enough?
6. Don’t follow up
Anthea had made it quite clear what Harrison had done wrong. She had given him time to walk around the block and think about it. What could there possibly have been to follow up?
Performance review follow up is the most important step. If you have agreed to help an under-performer, make sure that you do so. Talk to their supervisor or take it upon yourself to initiate whatever steps you discussed with them to help them perform better.
This is not only for the employee’s benefit, but also to protect you.
A performance review ideally helps you to achieve the following:
- Identify and monitor over and under-achieving employees;
- Structure future training programmes and possible future roles;
- Provide both praise and constructive criticism in a neutral environment;
- Clearly communicate your expectations to employees; and
- Motivate employees to greater efforts on the company’s behalf.
In Anthea’s case, a performance review helped her achieve the following:
- Exert her authority and humiliate one of her employees in a public place; and
- Ensure that he resigned less than a week later leaving her in the lurch.
In all seriousness, if well prepared for and properly conducted, a performance review indicates to your employees your professionalism, your appreciation of their contribution and your desire to see them improve and grow within the company.
It also allows you to see which of your employees are making the most valuable contribution and which, if any, are letting the side down – useful information to have in today’s tough business climate, where every dollar must count.