It’s mid-year, and we all know what that means: semi-annual review time! In this series, we’re going to explore ways to ensure your performance review process is effectively evaluating what it should be, how to implement an efficient performance review process, what to consider about performance evaluation at a global or diverse company, and trends in performance management.
In this first article in the series, let’s look at determining what you need to evaluate as part of performance reviews and how to best determine what should be included and excluded from your reviews.
Performance reviews should serve multiple purposes:
- Determine if employee efforts are contributing effectively to corporate strategies and goals. You need to know if what employees are working on is actually helping your business meet targets or if activities need to shift in order to reach those targets.
- Evaluate how well employees are performing the duties they are needed to perform. This is what most managers think is the primary purpose of reviews, but notice we put it second – it doesn’t matter how well employees are performing if what they’re tasked to do isn’t suiting the business’ objectives.
- Make plans for both business and employee development. While many managers will think of this in the context of “performance improvement,” it’s really so much more. An effective review will help you plan career paths, succession plans, and know where certain employees can best contribute to the organization’s success.
You can take a number of roads to get to a performance review process that meets these objectives, but any steps or content you include in your process should be carefully evaluated to be sure that it can be applied to these 3 aims. If all you do is focus on employee performance, for example, you really aren’t determining how that performance is affecting the company. An employee can do an excellent job at the tasks you’ve assigned to them, but if those tasks aren’t contributing to the business in a meaningful way, it’s sadly wasted effort; likewise, if you don’t have a plan for how to best utilize that high-performer in ways that will contribute to the company’s success, the chances are high that they’ll move on to a different organization that encourages their development and employs their talents better.
A couple of ways employers can align performance review processes to achieve these objectives include:
- Goal-orientation. Determining the main company goals, finding where employee job duties align with those goals, determining how well employees are performing those duties, and devising a plan to either better align duties with goals where they aren’t well-aligned or ways to improve performance on duties that closely align with goals is a very common method for conducting performance reviews. This is more of a top-down method, as it starts at the organization-level.
- Development-orientation. This method focuses on a bottom-up approach, beginning with determining individual employees’ motivations for growth. Once employee objectives are determined, this process would look at how well employees are working towards their goals, what can be done to help support them, and how the company can make use of their motivations to achieve business objectives.
Broad, Narrow, or Somewhere In-Between?
Once you’ve established the baselines for how you will approach conducting performance reviews, the big question will be whether or not you want to conduct broad, sweeping reviews or targeted, narrow reviews. This can apply at both the organization and individual level – for example, if you’re going to conduct goal-oriented reviews, you may wish to target specific departments that have the most impact on the organization’s goals, instead of issuing company-wide reviews, or if you’re going to take a development-oriented approach, you might prefer to have very general, open-ended questions as part of your process, instead of the typical rating-scale format.
No one said that issuing the same exact review to all employees was a requirement, either! You absolutely can issue very general reviews that could apply as universally as possible to all positions in your company, but that won’t necessarily give you the information you need to make the best business decisions in response to the results of reviews. That may work for some organizations, but keep an open mind to the idea of customizing review formats to different areas of your operations to ensure you get the most relevant and applicable information possible. For example, some departments might benefit from highly-objective reviews with numerical outcome measures, while other departments could benefit from some subjective questions, as their focus could be on more experiential components of the operation.
The Elephant in the Room
We can’t tackle performance reviews without touching upon the thorn in everyone’s side: job descriptions. At some point, no matter what you decide to use as your review process baselines, no matter how you choose to format your reviews, the issue of job descriptions will come up. Whether it’s how to find and align job duties to corporate goals or a response from an employee of “that’s not my job,” you may be faced with the task of conducting job description overhauls.
No one likes job descriptions – from employees that find them simultaneously limiting and expansive, to managers that find them insufficient or restrictive, and to recruiters that find them unattractive or useless. However, appropriate job descriptions are an unsung hero of successful organizations: when you have job descriptions that capture what you truly need a position to accomplish and contribute, that clearly articulate qualities and skills that are needed to achieve those accomplishments and contributions, and that include content that aligns with business goals, you will be best able to find candidates that fit the position and more easily evaluate how an employee succeeds in their role and at contributing to the success of the company.
So while it’s an onerous task that no one really enjoys doing, performance review time is a perfect time to conduct a job description audit. Your goals with such an audit would be to tie positions to company objectives – realigning or possibly eliminating positions that miss the mark here; improve specificity and applicability of duties and requirements – ensuring they are both realistic and effective so that expectations can be set appropriately while still holding employees accountable; and increase consistency – your job descriptions should have consistent structure, formatting, and language that reflects the organization’s culture and allows for intelligibility by applicants, employees, managers, and recruiters alike.
We’ll be tackling job descriptions in the future – particularly the universally- loathed “other duties as assigned” clause! – so be on the lookout if you need additional guidance and support on this topic.
Next up in this series will be advice on designing your actual reviews, including the topics of HRIS modules and analyzing review results. Stay tuned!