Most employees dread performance reviews. The reason: They never know what to expect. The Key is to effectively communicate Performance Expectations clearly and effectively so as to inspire and set standards both.
“Nothing about performance should come as a surprise at the time of the performance review or ranking,” says Patty Azzarello, author of RISE: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career – Standing Out as a Leader and Liking Your Life when we got a chance to talk briefly. “As a manager you should be communicating expectations and sharing yours and others view of the performance of an employee two to three times a year.”
To eliminate surprises during performance reviews (and drive enhanced performance all year long) Azzarello suggests creating a five-level rating system that’s shared with employees in advance of their annual reviews: 1. Unacceptable Performance, 2. Below Average Performer, 3. Solid Performer, 4. Excellent Performer, 5. Exceptional Performer
“Create a set of concise ratings that work for you that you can easily and wholeheartedly defend and enforce. Then share them with your entire organization long before you implement these ratings. Let everyone know well ahead of time that most people will be in the level 3 — the Solid Performer rating — and explain, up front, what it takes to go beyond. Share the requirements for level 4 and level 5 — for Excellent and Exceptional performance. Give examples of things that go above and beyond the job description in your environment.”
Explaining expectations ahead of time means performance isn’t just rated; it’s motivated. “Explaining this ahead of time actually drives higher performance,” Azzarello concludes. “I have also found this to be a motivator because people like to be in the loop and they like the rules to be open not hidden.”
Trust me … it really can be as simple as Patty says: I’ve used her method successfully for some time, and have never had an issue or a moment of second-guessing!
If you have established transparent Policy, Standards, and methodology, it becomes less “personal” when it comes time to apply correction or discipline: it is simply a matter of “enforcing” a clear Policy that has been affirmed as worthy and universally fair. As such, there is no need to fear following up with the prescribed recourse any corrective action might be mandated — everyone knows what is expected, and has subscribed to the process.
Corrective action should also be established on the same criteria (items you listed as “Expectations” and “Standards” above), and in the same incremental manner if to be both relevant and effectively implemented. Providing incremental prescribed actions as a clear method further validates the Expectations as expressed and allows an agreed sense of authority to prevail.
Also, the process of Corrective Action becomes a progressive ‘filter’ of sorts as employees submit to each step or reveal objection (rejection) to indicate their unsuitability for remediation. This observance can be both a conversation-opener to discuss options for the employee to either self-terminate or suggest additional details to address, and to “re-connect” with the Policy overall in order to re-clarify any points that may need to be emphasized to be an effectual basis for standardization of behavior.
Keep in mind Performance Evaluations are both a “Coaching” opportunity and a dynamic critique of your Leadership.
For those employees that demonstrate less than desired performance levels or seem to be performing below potential, these occasions are perfect for the personal mentoring that may be all it takes to prompt the dynamic change for the individual to breakthrough to the next level. And, the specifics shared during these evaluations also provide a clearer glimpse into how your own leadership may have failed or lost clarity and require additional attention or refocus to be put back on track.
The Bottom Line is that setting Expectations and Standards is a basic requirement of any business and should not be something that needs create fear or confusion. The easiest way to establish this reality is to use simplified Lists and to demonstrate commitment to communication as the catalyst for application, remediation, and continued enabling toward the stated Ideals.
Your organization will benefit from such cogent Planning and Employee Support.