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:

 

What do the Olympics have in common with a Project?

If you are like me (and millions of others) you have been watching the SOCHI Winter Olympics.  It is exhilarating to watch women and men, who have trained for years, put their skills to the test in order to win a medal.  It makes me think about our staff and how they work every day to improve their skills so that they can help us win new projects or successfully deliver a project on time or meet client requirements.
Do you think about your staff and how they compete to win in their jobs?  Ok.. so you’re saying, the Olympics and our projects aren’t the same thing  Bruce! Well hold on and let me show you some similarities and how we can take some lessons from the Olympians.  We find the following in both the Olympics and in projects:

  1. People have differing skills and specialties. Do you recognize your staff’s talents and give them tasks suited to their discipline and skills? Or do you think everyone can do each others job?  Take some time to evaluate each person and see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
  2. There are specialized tools and equipment.  Are you providing excellent tools for your project team? Project managers need schedule tools, risk tools, resource tools, and tools to help them manage and track projects.  Software staff need editors, debuggers, configuration tools and documentation tools.  Graphics artists need graphic tools, color tools, paint tools, and pressure sensitive tablets.  You  need to assess each specialized area and make sure you are providing the right tools for gold level performance.
  3. Coaches and trainers can help shape people into winning performers.   Do you provide opportunities for people to learn and grow? Have you hired a special coach when needed? Training can greatly improve even a great performer so are you using this as a way to improve staff skills?  You can always get them a tablet reader and some good eBooks!  Try some brown bag lunch training.  Be the Coach for your team – this means being a good leader!
  4. It takes Practice Practice Practice.  Are you letting your team try to improve by practicing?  If you have a proposal team – let them do some practice drafts and try to communicate better.  If you have a software team let them practice reviewing each other’s code.  If you have a scrum team let them practice estimating.  there is always something that can be practiced in down times of the week or month.
  5. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Do you celebrate successes with your team? And do you pick them up when they fail or make mistake? There are always highs and lows – be there with your team.
  6. While there is only one gold medal, everyone tries to give their best performance. You will always have a team of performers at varying levels. And on any given day some people will excel and others will have an “off day.”  As long as your team members are giving their best, you can always reach for the Gold knowing you are doing the best your team is capable of.  And if you provide the other ingredients needed (Items 1-5)  you have a great chance of winning a medal and being on the platform!

Have you done the best you can to give your team a chance to win Gold?  You should try to develop Olympic management skills!

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