Sunday, October 24, 2021

Action Strategies: A Manager’s Guide to Performance Reviews

Annual performance reviews may not be anyone’s favorite process, but it is probably at least one for managers. If you’ve ever needed to do a formal review to evaluate someone’s work, you know how awkward it can be.

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For one thing, there are seemingly irreverent activists—who don’t pay attention to these conversations anyway—leaving you to observe the consequences or the dangers. In these days of limited staffing, it’s hard to discipline someone who knows they have leverage.

Then there are the over-achievers who can barely be held to the job as you need it, they are so eager to advance in their career. What’s the call here: hold them back and kill their souls, or run to keep up with them, abandoning your carefully crafted plan for the department?

Let’s not forget those steady-eddies and annies that just keep on performing, no matter what you toss at them. Because guess what? They’re either overwhelmed or being head-hunted, or both – and you’re unlikely to know until it’s too late.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s go ahead and review everyone’s performance for the year, and good luck to you.

Or, maybe some tips would help? Straight from the desk of a career counselor (me) whose clients are weighing their decision to stay or go, here are suggestions for upcoming performance reviews and for improving the process in general.

remove the surprise From the date of the review to the form you’re using, to the general content of the conversation, none of this should come as a shock to the person whose work you’re reviewing. Why would this happen? You’re probably discussing things along the way, so let it be more of a tune-up or a formalization of the casual chat you’re having. That way, it will bring less anger to both parties.

Make it tangible/measurable. Reviewing someone’s attitude? Not so much. Ranking their attitude on a scale of 1 to 5? Good sky, no. If you want to see change or progress, subjective issues such as attitudes need to be tied to actions. For example, “You seem very angry” is likely to create defensiveness. Try opening a dialogue instead: “I’ve heard you with clients and you don’t seem as patient as before. What can you tell me about that?”

Know your employee. In this pandemic era of remote work and limited contact, building relationships with team members is more challenging than usual. That’s what makes it more important. The review is not the place to lay that foundation on a personal level, but you can use this meeting to deepen points of career-related knowledge. For example, don’t try to be friends with this session — don’t start a conversation about the worker’s hobbies or family — but ask about career goals and interests, and how the position might contribute to those goals.

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be creative. If your company is small or under-resourced, you may feel that you can’t offer much in the form of incentives or rewards. Similarly, managers working in a union environment may be restricted when providing pay increases or other incentives. Seriously, these types of carrots go so far anyway. The incentives you can add to employee career or lifestyle goals are even better – which brings us back to getting to know your employees. Think in terms of leadership opportunities, projects to manage, cross-training, flex-time for family activities, or anything else you can provide that is meaningful to each worker.

Keep an appreciation file. Even if you praise in real time, it’s easy to forget later how happy you were with what your team member did. Keeping a file will bring those items back into focus when review time comes.

Read on to collect more tips. Even if your employer requires very specific documentation for reviews, you can still benefit from a new perspective on the process. Here are three books that may help: The Carrot Theory, Free Press, 2007, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton; Get rid of performance reviews! Samuel A. By Culbert and Lawrence Root, Business Plus, 2010; Beyond the Job Description, by Jesse Sostrin, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Wait for the next review cycle. When you finish this year’s reviews, immediately put next year’s meetings on the calendar, then write a few notes for yourself about how you want to support or direct each person’s work throughout the year. With some preparation and a more anticipatory mindset, this process can become a valuable tool that you actually enjoy using.

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