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The End of Performance Reviews Part 3: Performance Monitoring and Feedback

In our last two newsletters, we began working our way through the process of transitioning from annual performance reviews to goal setting. The first, entitled “Ahh, Music to My Ears….The End of the Dreaded Yearly Performance Review,focused on why you should consider a change in overall performance management. The second, entitled The End of Performance Reviews Part 2: Proactively Managing Performance with Goal Setting, outlined how to create goals for your employees.

In this, our final installment on this topic, we will look at the critical piece of monitoring employees’ performance and providing all important feedback, both positive and constructive. Much like the typical performance review, goal setting will not work if the employee is not receiving feedback.

Remember in our second article we discussed the twelve core elements that are the best predictors of employee engagement and performance? To highlight a few, as they relate to feedback:

  • “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”
  • “There is someone at work who encourages my development.”
  • “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.”

Clearly, employees want to receive feedback from someone at work. And, if that’s the case, why do employers all too often fail to provide it?

In talking with thousands of employers nationwide about various HR related issues, problems or concerns, we often ask, when the issue is related to performance: “have you talked to the employee?” Too frequently, the answer is no. How can anyone expect an employee to continue good work or stop bad work when s/he doesn’t know what the employer wants? And, really, that’s the bottom line with feedback – giving the person an opportunity to know what’s working and what is not.

Feedback is not an absolute cure, but it is fundamental and necessary if your goal is to turn things around. There are no guarantees, but that shouldn’t stop the employer from trying. Employees are the life of an organization; investing in them is one of the best ways to improve a business as a whole, and feedback can be an integral part of that improvement.

Monitoring Performance
Before anyone can provide feedback, however, the employee’s performance must be monitored to know what kind of feedback to give. Monitoring performance can be done in two different ways: quantifiable and behavioral.

Here are a few examples of quantifiable methods:

  • Sales/production reports
  • Deadlines met
  • Error reports
  • Budget forecasts

These methods specifically measure what an employee actually does from day-to-day, which can be easier for the employer to address. They are objective – these things either happened or they didn’t.

Monitoring an employee’s behavior may take a bit more work on the employer’s part because it’s not as simple as creating and reviewing a report or a budget. Here are some ways to capture behavioral performance:

  • Observation: probably the most effective method because it means you’re actually observing your employees work. Nothing beats the power of direct observation.
  • Asking for an accounting: this must be accompanied with regular one-on-one conversations with the employee in which you probe the employee to account for his/her performance, one way or another. Questions like: “Did you meet the expectation?” “What actions did you take to meet them?” Then you must listen, make some assessments, and perhaps ask some more questions in order to determine the best way to approach any feedback provided.
  • Feedback from other sources like co-workers, supervisors, clients, patients, etc.

While this kind of monitoring can happen for all kinds of performance reasons, it is particularly vital to any goals that have been set for the employee. If the goals are S.M.A.R.T., as suggested in our previous article, then monitoring performance as it relates to a specific goal should be a priority. 

Giving Feedback
It’s important to remember that feedback means positive too. Sometimes employers get so wrapped up in what’s going wrong, they lose sight of the fact that many things are going right, and employees should know both the good and the bad.

In fact, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there is a significant movement to encourage positive feedback in the workplace. The article states: “Fearing they’ll crush employees’ confidence and erode performance, employers are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback. Accentuating the positive has become a new mantra at workplaces like VMware Inc., Wayfair Inc., and the Boston Consulting Group Inc., where bosses now dole out frequent praise, urge employees to celebrate small victories and focus performance management around a particular worker’s strengths—instead of dwelling on why he flubbed a client presentation.”

The article goes on to mention the use of other tools to assess someone’s strengths. Like, for example, the Drake P3 assessment that is used by our clients, which assesses a person’s talents and core competencies in a number of job-related categories. As well as Gallup’s StrengthsFinder tool.  “The rising popularity of tools like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder….suggests how many more companies are taking a positive tack.”

With any feedback, it shouldn’t be a one way street. In fact, the more you can structure the feedback as a dialogue, the better the outcome. The process of openly discussing positive and constructive feedback can be essential for building effective relationships, raising awareness, maximizing potential, and improving one’s performance.

Regardless of whether the feedback being given is positive or constructive, there are a few principles to apply:

  • Timely: Do not wait to provide feedback. Use the next available time that is practical to provide the feedback.
  • Specific: Refrain from using generic phrases like “you did a great job.” These are vague and won’t give your employee the necessary insight to know what should be repeated and what should be avoided.
  • Objective: This is particularly true of constructive feedback. It’s about the behavior, not the person. Describe what happened, what you saw, how it impacted the client, the team, the business, etc.
  • Continuous: Giving both types of feedback should be a regular occurrence in the employee-employer relationship.

For constructive feedback in particular, focus on changeable behavior. In some cases, the person just won’t be a fit and nothing can be done about it. For example, a personality type that you don’t like is not likely to change. What people say, how people go about their jobs, and how they interact with others can be managed and coached, other problems, particularly attitude, not-so-much. When you find yourself judging the person, not the behavior, you will know this relationship is probably not going to work.

One final note on feedback, in terms of goals that have been set, you should establish specific intervals at which point the employee’s progress in accomplishing said goals will be measured and discussed. This will depend on the goal. Some goals will be reviewed sooner than others. Is it a goal to be obtained in six months? Is it a year? This will guide you in how quickly, and at what intervals, structured meetings should occur to discuss the employee’s progress, or lack thereof.

As with any performance management system, whether that’s the old performance review process or goal setting, employers tend to get wrapped up too much in the past. Here are a few thoughts about why focusing on the future may be a more effective approach:

  • We cannot change the past, but we can affect the future.
  • Nobody wants to be “made wrong” – doing so creates defensiveness. Future-focused conversations get away from “let me tell you how wrong you’ve been” and move to “let’s look at some solutions.”
  • People take it less personally. It removes the feeling of being personally attacked.
  • Most people don’t like getting negative/constructive feedback and most hate to give it. It can be a relief to all parties to not be in this situation.
  • Future-focused feedback can contain the same constructive points, but done in a manner that doesn’t further bash the employee with what went wrong that cannot be changed.
  • We all know that when we’re receiving negative/constructive feedback, we tend to tune out the speaker and start developing our responses in our head because we get defensive. Future-focused feedback allows the listener to be fully engaged.

Throughout all of this, it’s important to not lose sight of ensuring appropriate documentation. That documentation can come in all different forms so long as you’re tracking the employee’s performance and the conversations you’ve had about it. This is particularly true for an employee who is not a high performer, who is not improving even with all the feedback, and is certainly not meeting established goals, which may very well mean you will have to terminate the employee’s employment.

In the first article, we detailed the best kind of disciplinary documentation and what it should contain. Here are some examples of other forms of documentation:

  • Any document containing the specific goals to be achieved (call us for a sample of our new form)
  • Notes within a file on your computer
  • Written statements from patients/clients/co-worker/other
  • Handwritten notes on a yellow pad

Remember that all of these notes and documentation, no matter the type, should be job-related and objective. Do not pass judgment or document anything of a subjective nature.

There you have it – successful performance management today is more about future-focused feedback and goal setting, as opposed to the dreaded annual performance review process. From these three articles you now have the tools. Now it is a matter of creating that change in your work environment. The ball is now in your court. We, don’t forget, are always on your side – call us if you want some help navigating these new waters.