Managing People: Overcoming Performance Management Anxiety
By: Roberta Chinsky Matuson, author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around
It’s very common to feel anxious when you have to do a task that you dislike or when you don’t feel fully prepared to do something. Performance reviews usually fall into both these categories for both new and experienced managers. But it doesn’t have to be this way if you follow this time-tested advice:
Collect documentation along the way It’s difficult to remember what someone did last week, never mind last April. Now add ten or more employees to the mix and see how well you do! It’s actually impossible for managers to remember all the details needed to put together an accurate performance review.
That’s why I recommend creating individual folders for each of your direct reports, which should be kept in a locked drawer. (Note: if you don’t have a locked drawer, keep the files at home.) Every time an employee does something worth noting, either good or bad, or whenever you have a conversation with an employee regarding her performance, write a brief note and slip it into the file. Remember to date the note, in case an employee asks you for specifics regarding a situation that you may be discussing again.
Pull this folder out when review time rolls around and you’ll be good to go. Your stress level has probably dropped two levels just knowing that you have everything you need to get started.
Continuous feedback It’s not uncommon for managers to reserve feedback for review time. This approach does little to foster open communication and transparency. When this occurs, employees often report feeling shocked and frustrated by what they are hearing.
Managers should schedule brief meetings throughout the evaluation period so employees know exactly where they stand at all times. During these meetings, managers may, with the input of their employees, decide to adjust the measurements that will be used to assess performance, particularly if major changes have taken place in the organization. Meeting more frequently also provides employees with ample time to make needed course corrections, which will boost productivity immediately.
Honesty and transparency It’s never easy to tell an employee he must improve. However, not telling him or being partially truthful isn’t doing the employee any favors, nor will it help you establish yourself as a credible manager. Managers don’t get the option of choosing to ignore performance-related issues.
You need to be fully prepared, especially when delivering a performance review that may be contentious. Write down specific examples of observed behavior that you will be sharing during your discussion with the employee. Refrain from including examples that may be perceived as hearsay. Reframe examples in a positive way.
For example, if you plan on coaching Jim on his tardiness during his review, you may instead discuss the importance of being on time. Let him know why it is in his best interest to be more reliable (e.g., he may be invited to participate on a highly visible project, you will be able to recommend him for the telecommuting program, which he has expressed interest in, etc.).
An employee may come right out and ask you if you believe he will be able to move past this and be successful in the company. Here’s where transparency comes in. You can answer “yes” or “I don’t know” if this is what you are really thinking. However, if it’s clear to you this person is not going to succeed no matter what he does, then you must answer the question in a way that is honest, but also doesn’t wind up putting you in the middle of a lawsuit.
You can simply say that you believe there are other opportunities out there that will be a better fit for this person. Then move the conversation toward how you might work together to help him transition.
Managing non-performers out of the organization prior to review time Why do so many managers think they have to wait until review time before they can begin the process of terminating the relationship with an employee?
I’m often asked on the eighty-ninth day of a person’s employment whether it’s okay to terminate an employee before she receives her ninety-day review. I usually ask the manager when they realized things weren’t working with this employee. They usually say, within the first thirty days. Yet, here we are almost two months later and we have an employee onboard who should have gotten off the train at the last stop.
Many companies have a ninety-day probationary period, which they may call an orientation or onboarding period. This is done to remind the manager to check in with new employees frequently. This does not mean that you need to give people a full ninety days to become productive.
That’s like the equivalent of dating someone for an additional two months, even though it’s clear after the first week that things are not going to get any better. That would be crazy, right? So why continue a work relationship that appears to have little potential of improving? Most likely, it’s because we want to believe things will get better or we are secretly hoping the person will quit before we have to fire him.
Take it from me, people are doing their personal best during the first ninety days. If you have done your job and have provided the employee with the training and feedback he needs and things haven’t improved, the situation is not going to get better. If it truly is a matter of fit and you believe this person can be successful in another job within the orga¬nization, then help him transfer to another department. If you don’t believe this is so, then transition him out as soon as it’s apparent that no amount of coaching is going to improve the performance.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the highly-acclaimed book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. Sign up to receive a complimentary subsecription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.