The Annual Performance Review – is it Time for a Change?

All managers (Project Managers, department heads, Executives) in most organizations have a responsibility to provide feedback to their staff members.  Over the years I have found that many people view this as an agonizing task and some completely ignore performing this key process.  I recently read a great post by Lindsay Scott on developing Project Managers and employees, (http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/camel-blog/projectmanagement/five-questions-about-project-management-development/) in which she summarizes a book she read by Kimberly Janson “Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results”.  Her post made me think about how organizations today (and projects) don’t actually take time to give effective feedback to staff and employees.

No matter what you call it: performance appraisal, review, feedback, development, etc., the only way to help people improve and perform better is to engage them in effective feedback and conversations about their performance, objectives and career.

There are many books and articles written on developing employees and performance feedback techniques.  But what I see happening is that companies and organizations are changing the whole concept of giving feedback with many abandoning the traditional “annual performance review.”  The key term replacing “ranking and rating” is feedback.  And the timeliness of the feedback is key to the process.

I personally prefer the concept of conversations that are held throughout the year, during which you discuss performance and give feedback.  Many of you will say that your HR department wants to have these “conversations” documented in the personnel folder.  And I am sure the standard forms they give you are not for holding “conversations” and providing effective feedback.  So I thought I would share a format that I have used for many years both on projects and with employees to provide meaningful and actionable feedback on performance.

My feedback format has 2 main parts and deal with both positive and negative feedback.

  1. Section 1: Feedback from the Employee. The questions and discussion here should be tailored to the organization, job, or project.  I have some general questions that can be used as a starting point:
    • How are you doing? (Do they feel like they are making progress, are they frustrated, do they want more challenges, etc.)
    • Describe any likes or dislikes with your current assignment/project/etc.
    • Do you have what you need to get your job done effectively? (This can be tools, knowledge, skills, etc.)
    • What are your goals for the next [project, quarter, job, etc.]?
  2. Section 2: Giving Feedback to the Employee. I like to give feedback in three sections or groups – starting with the most positive and moving to the least positive:
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and he/she should keep doing!
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has not demonstrated or done consistently – you would like to see more of these.
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and should stop doing because they impede performance or trigger negative consequences.

 

While you have to give specifics to back these up, I find it is much easier to categorize performance into these 3 groups.  You are basically telling the person that they have both strengths and weaknesses.  By being honest and positive with the conversation, you should be able to steer the individual to more productive behaviors and ultimately increase their value to themselves and the organization.

I hope this post helps you to get a handle on what can be the best or worst process in your management toolkit.  Do you have any tips on giving performance feedback?  Leave a comment.

For those interested in digging deeper, here are few articles that I think you might find useful:

 

7 Tips to Manage your Email (and not let it manage you)!

If you are reading this post, then like me, you would love to have a good guide on how to effectively use EMAIL. Unfortunately I am not aware of a single guide for this!!  However, I thought I would share some best practices on how to use and not be used by email.  The key is don’t let email waste your time!  I sometimes forget this tip myself – so don’t fall into the traps that can be huge time wasters.  Here are seven tips for managing your email.

  1. Do not use email to discuss long winded or complex topics. Don’t do it! Use other means to communicate and dialog with others. Email is NOT a substitute for collaboration and complex interaction. Remember that many people use their phones or small screens to read email these days – who wants to scroll down 10 times just to get to the point?
  2. Send an email to the right people. Don’t let your staff or project team copy you on every single email and communication that happens on your project! You already get way too much email (I average about 150 emails a day myself) and being copied on every email is a waste of your time. So don’t let it happen to you and don’t do it to others. So often I hear the word “inclusive” used as a crutch for copying half of the project team on emails they don’t need or want to see.
  3. Turn OFF those alerts that say “You’ve got Mail!” You don’t need to know every time someone feels the need to copy you on an email. And others around you will find it distracting if not annoying to hear beeps, buzzes and cute sounds announcing that you have just received yet another email. Think of this as turning on the silent ringer for your phone.
  4. Quit using unclear subject lines. Email subject lines like “meeting”, “Question”, “Schedule” or worst of all “RE:   “. These vague subjects beg the recipient to open the email to see what in the world the email is about. And just try to search and find that email later with a subject like that! Be specific in your email subject line and let the reader know what the email if about or for.
  5. Do NOT send emails late at night or early in the morning. OK, I am probably bad at this myself – but we need to stop this practice. For one thing it sends a bad subliminal message to people. If you send email to your client at midnight, they think you are “on call” 24/7 or that you are understaffed. If you send emails at off hours to employees, it can send the message that you expect them to be “on call” 24/7. Is this the culture you want to have for your organization? Now, before you jump all over this one, I am not saying there aren’t times that you have to work late and send those late emails. Just don’t make a habit out of it!
  6. Write better emails. So how long do you think about your emails before you hit send? As Nelson Biagio pointed out in his Writing Better Emails post, people receive so much email that your business email must stand out from the junk. You should care about the style, tone, grammar, and action that your email contains. Always remember that email has a long life. A good tip on writing an email is to step back after you have written the email, read it as if it was being published in the local newspaper, and then hit send if you are comfortable with that thought.
  7. Organize your inbox. This is a key productivity concept for any program manager. If you have ever read a book on personal productivity you will know that keeping your incoming communications organized is essential to managing effectively and making good decisions. If you need ideas on how to keep your email organized read David Charron’s post where he points out many useful techniques on how to manage your mailbox. Basically you need to quit using your inbox as a file box and start using tags and folders to organize.

 

These tips are just a start on how to keep email from wasting your time. Hopefully this post helps you to get a handle on what can be the best or worst tool in your management toolkit.  Do you have any tips on managing email?  Leave a comment.

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