Get More Out of Employee Reviews

Where You've Been Isn't as Important As Where You're Going

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
It's the time of year when the leaves start to fall, pumpkins are barely off front porches and holiday music is already invading the airwaves. For some this is their favorite time of year, for others the stress starts mounting.

My business manager is already blocking out time on my schedule to meet for year-end planning and to start our 2008 budget. She also gently reminded me our holiday mailing list needs updating and it's time to set a date for the company party. I could feel a sweat coming on. All this perspiration must mean we're well into fourth quarter, which also means it's time for our annual performance reviews. Over the years our review process has become increasingly labor intensive, time consuming and something to dread. So I imagine our managers are starting to sweat as well (which makes their direct reports sweat even more). This is where I started to hear, "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!" I've got to put a stop to this madness. It's time to review our review process.

I believe reviews should be something that people look forward to. However, it seems ingrained that the term "performance review" conjures images of a manager telling an employee what he needs to do to improve, like a one-way dictation of a year's worth of mistakes. Up until a few years ago, we saved reviews for the anniversary of an employee's hire date, but we decided that acknowledging employee contribution at the close of the year while evaluating how well we did on our overall agency goals was more meaningful. Year-end reviews also allowed our managers to incorporate the voting results from our annual peer-to-peer awards that honor employees and teams who exemplify our agency's core values.

One thing I'm ditching is the 360 Degree Review Model we have used. It's where we asked peers to give confidential input regarding their interactions with each other. Although the intent was to help managers see performance from a different vantage point, employees often wondered what others were saying about them. Even the most confident employee may have a tinge of paranoia with any anonymous input. I decided this was counterproductive in an agency that values open and honest interactions. There should be no need to air past grievances. And when praise is due we encourage that on an on-going basis. So while the 360 model has been regaled as a valuable management tool in other organizations, we are abandoning that practice with the expectation that managers have been very involved with employees throughout the year and are able to give objective assessments. I will continue to encourage employees to praise often and address any concerns with each other as they arise.

Another part of our review process is to have everyone do self-evaluations and goal setting. I still believe that this is an important part of preparing for a productive meeting.

This ensures that there is valuable two-way conversation. There is part of the self-evaluation that also includes the opportunity for an employee to give feedback regarding improvements they need from his manager and the agency leadership as a whole. So while I'm not throwing out our whole process, I'm also asking managers to help develop a meaningful approach to reviews this year.

I have found it helpful to think of a review as a RAP session.
  • R: Review the past.
  • A: Analyze the present.
  • P: Prepare for the future.

Nothing listed under "R" and "A" should ever be a surprise; we ask our managers to address roadblocks to employee success year-round and not wait until review time to check-in -- a tough request in a hectic, deadline-oriented agency. But we've found that witnessing efforts made by the employee after an issue has been brought to his attention is a far better gauge of performance.

We emphasis the "P" component since I believe career and development planning are critical elements of a great workforce. Using reviews as a time to engage employees in a two-way conversation about career inspiration and their hopes and dreams opens the door for ideas and fosters a spirit of cooperation and excitement about the opportunities that exist for them. Having "inspiration conversations" versus "performance reviews" allows time for the employee to give us input on how we can become better leaders, so we can take the agency to new heights. Hopefully this will be something that everyone can look forward to.
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