Recently, numerous articles and blog posts have criticized the annual performance appraisal process, saying that it fails to meet employees' most basic needs for receiving ongoing feedback, coaching and recognition.
In reality, the problem is not so much with the performance appraisal process itself, as it is with our use of it. Current wisdom states that employee performance management is a year round activity, not a once a year activity. Today's automated talent management applications provide managers and employees with all the tools they need to effectively manage performance year-round.
Regularly keep notes in a performance journal
Unless you've kept detailed notes throughout the year, writing employee performance reviews at the end of the year tends to result in skewed evaluations. While we easily remember what happened in the last week, month or maybe even in the last quarter, we tend to forget the details of what went on earlier.
The easiest solution is to keep a record of employee performance year round. Both managers and employees should jot down notes on milestones, accomplishments, successes and challenges as they occur, when the details are fresh in their minds. If you believe there's an opportunity for coaching or training, make note of that too. And if you take any immediate action to reward or remedy a behavior, it's important to keep a record of it. All of these details help a manager to provide their employee with detailed ongoing feedback, rich with real examples.
Keeping a journal also helps managers to monitor their own behavior and see where there might be opportunities to improve their own management skills. And it helps employees to make their contributions and perspective more visible to their manager.
Where appropriate, it might be useful for a manager and employee to share their notes. It can help them to come to a common understanding of a situation, or at least identify a disconnect in their perceptions.
Monitor progress on goals
Employee goals should never be established and then put away, only to be looked at in the few weeks before an employee review meeting. At your annual employee performance review meeting, it's too late to take corrective action to ensure goals are met or to adjust goals that are no longer SMART. In today's rapid business environment, it's critical to stay on top of the status and ongoing value/appropriateness of goals at all level of the organization.
Managers and employees should regularly (monthly or at least quarterly) review goals to ensure they're still appropriate and make sure they employee is making good progress in achieving them. Where needed, goals can be adjusted, or the manager and employee can take steps to remove any obstacles in the way of their timely accomplishment.
They should also ensure that employee goals are linked to the organizational goals they support, giving employees an important context for their work, and allowing leaders to see that the organization is aligned and progressing on its goals.
Provide ongoing coaching and development activities
In some organizations, employee development is only dealt with during the annual employee performance review. Development needs are identified based on performance ratings and "stretch" goals, then a few courses or learning activities are assigned.
A better way to ensure continuous growth and improvement is to provide ongoing feedback and coaching, and assign development activities as needs arise. We never know when we are going to reach the limit of our knowledge, skills and abilities. If performance is being tracked and managed year round in performance journals and with goal status updates, challenges can be identified and addressed much sooner.
Send email reminders to keep ongoing performance management top of mind
In order to make performance management a year round activity and part of your organizational culture, you need to communicate its importance to your staff. In the early days, it is vital to continually remind employees to make notes on their performance, and update the progress/status of their goals and development activities, and managers to regularly give feedback, monitor progress on goals, and support development. You can help keep performance management top of mind for everyone with solid communications, including regular email reminders.
Hold more frequent review meetings
If you only conduct performance review meetings once a year, chances are you're not encouraging ongoing dialogue and feedback between managers and employees. Many organizations find it useful to hold one annual performance review meeting where an employee's performance for the year is summarized and rated, but also quarterly or even monthly reviews to encourage and formalize the dialogue and feedback process. More frequent review meetings have the benefit of dealing with "fresher" information. They also allow a manager and employee to deal with a performance issue early on, before it becomes a major stumbling block.
Managers and employees will balk at the additional review meetings only if you overload them with paperwork and process. The goal of the quarterly or monthly meetings should be to provide the employee with ongoing feedback, to check in on goals to ensure they are still relevant and appropriate and that progress is being made, and to identify any development requirements. This doesn't need a lot of paperwork or approvals.
You may want to include quarterly or monthly "mini review" meetings in your process to encourage ongoing dialogue.