Your performance management process can be an important tool for aligning your workforce and driving employee high performance. Yet in many organizations, managers and employees do little more than pay lip service to the process. It's not uncommon for companies to report participation rates as low as 25-30 percent. And even those with higher rates often don't reap any organizational value from their performance appraisals.
There are lots of reasons why managers and employees alike disengage from the performance management process, including:
- Find the process is too long and time consuming
- Don't understand the process
- Don't know where to find the forms or how to use them
- Perceive little value for themselves from the process
- See little impact from the process
- Feel uncomfortable giving feedback and/or setting goals
- Feel like spectators rather than participants
- Don't get the information they want and need
- Don't feel the feedback they get reflects their performance
- Don't see any value in the process for them
- View the process as subjective
Here are some actions you can take to help improve engagement and participation in your performance management process, and increase its value to everyone.
1. Streamline your process and forms to make them more effective
Often managers and employees disengage from the performance management process because it's unwieldy. The process may be too long and complex or may be unknown or misunderstood. Your performance appraisal forms may too long, complex, inflexible, or hard to use. It's not uncommon for managers to complain of having to spend hours on each appraisal to do them well — precious time they can't afford to redirect from their primary duties.
Start by examining your process and forms. Optimize them for ease of use and to ensure they provide the information you need to effectively manage your workforce. Eliminate any steps or sections that don't provide value. Automated tools are one terrific way to improve and streamline things, but they don't guarantee efficiency or effectiveness. Only proper design can do that.
Once you've streamlined your process and/or forms, make sure to provide comprehensive communication and training on the new way of doing things. Change without supportive education and explanation usually fails to take hold.
2. Train managers on how to give effective feedback, set engaging goals and deal with conflict
When people feel ill equipped to perform a task, they tend to avoid it. Many managers have never been taught how to give feedback on performance, how to set goals, or how to deal with conflict or performance issues. Yet these are far from innate skills.
Address this challenge head-on with training. Ensure the learning is practical, with hands-on exercises or even role-playing to help managers get comfortable with these skills. Companies tend to see the best results when this training is done at least once per year, to refresh and/or deepen everyone's skills.
3. Engage employees with self-appraisals
Employees often complain that performance appraisals are done "to them". They are simply recipients of feedback and goals. They feel they have no voice or influence in the process. And so they disengage.
You can give each employee an active role by having them complete and submit a self-appraisal before their manager completes their appraisal. This should include not only a review of their past performance, but a drafting of goals and development plans for the coming year.
This exercise has been shown to drive much higher employee engagement in the performance management process, but also greater engagement in the employee's performance and development. It helps the employees feel they have a "voice" and can influence their ratings, goals and development.
It also helps managers to better prepare for performance conversations with their employees as it gives them insight into their employees' perceptions and flags any differences.
4. Shift the focus away from ratings to alignment and development
Too often, performance appraisals focus on ratings. Employees and sometimes managers pay more attention to the "number" or rating that is given, rather than the performance itself. This is a typical consequence when ratings are used as the primary factor in making decisions on compensation, promotion, etc.
To better engage managers and employees in the process, shift the focus to alignment and development. Use your performance appraisals to align employee goals to organizational goals, so you give employees a larger context for their work. To do this effectively, you'll need to make sure you regularly communicate organizational goals, progress and any changes in organizational priorities or direction. You should also put a focus on employee development. Use your performance appraisals to identify strengths that can be further developed or deepened, and opportunities for improvement. Make sure managers assign development plans to address all learning needs, then follow up to ensure they've been completed and have been effective in impacting performance.
To help shift the focus, make sure your forms include space for feedback, coaching and development planning. Some companies even go so far as to eliminate numerical ratings from their forms altogether. You should also emphasize the focus in all training and communications about your process.
5. Make it an ongoing process
When performance appraisals are a once a year event, they tend to done and forgotten. To be effective, performance management needs to be an ongoing activity. Employees need feedback, coaching, direction and development all year round. Your annual performance appraisals should simply be a formal way to capture the ongoing, two-way dialogue on performance that's been taking place all year long. Many organizations find it helpful to conduct quarterly "mini-reviews" to help keep performance management top of mind, but you can find other ways to engrain this management best-practice in your culture.
6. Communicate your use of the information to the organization
Many managers and employees don't see the value in conducting and documenting formal performance appraisals because they don't see any practical value or use for the information. They sometimes argue that they manage performance in an informal, ad hoc way, and don't need to "fill out the paperwork". So it can be important to share how your organization uses employee performance data, whether it be to:
- support fair compensation adjustments
- help identify and address individual or group performance issues
- help identify and address learning and development needs for individuals and the organization
- identify and groom potential successors
- identify organizational core competencies
- gain insight into employee satisfaction issues
- ensure organizational alignment and progress on goals
- ensure sufficient knowledge/skills/experience in particular areas
- recruit critical skills
However your organization uses the vital data garnered from your performance management process, share that data, any trends, actions taken and progress made as a result of the data collection and analysis.
Good employee performance management is not an optional activity. Any organization that wants to be successful needs to be able to harness the passion and skills of its most important asset: its people. So it's important to design an effective and efficient performance management process, and engage managers and employees it.
Read how others have engaged their workforce in their performance management process
Sun-Rype Products is reaping the results of automating and streamlining their performance management process. On-time completion rates are up from 35 percent to 93 percent. Employee engagement has improved. And voluntary turnover has decreased from 20 percent to 4 percent.
Learn how Pine Cove Christian Camps ensures managers are having ongoing discussions about performance, goals and development with their employees.
You may also be interested in: