Making performance management work harder

‘Are you ready for your performance review?’

The answer to that question will nearly always be ‘No’. Your team members can’t prepare if they didn’t know what you as their manager expected of them (and up to 50 percent, don’t according to one survey). They may be emotionally unprepared too, especially if the review results in them being blindsided by unexpected criticism.

It is also common for managers to be unprepared. That’s because they will need to have built an objective picture of performance, but it is tough to do that when juggling other responsibilities. Furthermore, managers who don’t have HR experience may be nervous about giving negative feedback and how that affects employees’ rights.

It’s no wonder, then, that performance reviews can be awkward. Here’s how to make them work for you, your people and your organisation.

Keep calm and make a performance management plan

As with many tasks that fill you with dread, the trick is to step away from the emotion and make a plan. As a manager, you’ll be familiar with SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound – and with some tweaks, these can be applied to performance management.

Employees will benefit straight away because when they are clear about what’s expected of them, they know what to work towards and where to focus their effort.

Managers benefit,too. When team members are clear what they’re doing and what ‘good’ looks like, managers can take a step back and focus on their own priorities.

Being smart about SMART

It’s true that SMART goals work for people as well as projects, but people have opinions, personalities and lives outside the office, so it’s essential to work with your people to agree SMART goals that work for them.

Here are some tips for working with team members to get SMART performance management off the ground.

Step 1. Assess priorities

The first step is to understand each team member’s priorities. The good news is that this is a collaborative task and one you may well have a handle on. Check in on each team member’s projects, and note down the problems, solutions and next steps.

Once you can see the big picture, then start to explore the detail.

Example: William, a learning designer, has one main priority at the moment: he needs to kick off a new learning programme. It’s a challenge because some of the stakeholders are hard to track down, but he has set up a meeting with them all next month.

Step 2. Explore personal goals

Now focus on the person. What does the team member want to achieve and why? What skills do they want to build? Here’s where you start to map those aspirations onto current projects.

Example: William wants to move into a more strategic role, so there’s potential for him to step up on the new learning programme. He’ll have support from his mentor as well as you.

Step 3. Make them SMART

Not it is time to turn aspirations into practical steps. A goal such as, ‘Kick off the next learning programme’ is too vague – and too big – to be acted upon. Focus on the actual steps that need to happen and make sure they are SMART.

Example: Here’s the SMART goal you agree with William: he will give a 10-minute presentation on the plan for the new learning programme at the L&D meeting next month. The presentation needs to include the target audience and a timescale for rolling the programme out.

Step 4. Make an action plan

It is essential that employees take ownership of their goals, so here’s where an action plan can help. Ask them to map out the steps they will need to take to achieve their SMART goals and, if possible, add a timeline to keep things moving forward.

Having this in place will give you and your team members instant access to the right information whenever any of you need to check in on progress.

Photo credit: pharelkim on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND