How to Prepare Managers for Performance Appraisal "Season"

Sharlyn Lauby

Every organization has a point during the year when they are focused on the performance appraisal process. If reviews are done on a common date cycle, it would be at that time. If they are completed on employee anniversary dates, their focus might be during budget time when the organization discusses how much to budget for employee increases. Also, if the organization does any kind of mid-year goal review, performance appraisals might be discussed then.

There is a lot of talk in HR circles surrounding changes to the annual performance review. The options for change range all the way from tweaking small aspects of the typical procedure all the way to ditching it entirely. Let's be clear: the annual review still has value! However, in order for it to be useful, performance conversations need to still happen more often than once per year. It's a great idea to have frequent performance conversations (monthly is great, weekly is even better) and use the annual review as a sort of greater wrap-up and look-ahead exercise.

The point being that, at some point during a year, the organization discusses performance reviews along with the need to properly plan and prepare for them. In human resources departments, it's time to develop a high-level plan focused on giving managers and employees a positive performance appraisal experience. Here's a checklist you can use in developing your plan for performance appraisal "season."

Develop a Timeline

Just like there are sports seasons with schedules, think of your performance appraisal process as a season with a schedule. There's a window of time for preparation, for the reviews to be conducted, and for follow-up. Because each step is contingent upon the previous, each component has deadlines.

Communicate Organizational Goals

Ideally, performance reviews not only address past performance but also future goals. In order for employees to set relevant goals, they need to understand the company's goals. Even if senior management thinks that everyone understands the organization's goals, it's not a waste of time to communicate them again. This ensures that everyone is focused on the same things.

Make Sure Managers Know the Process

If you want managers to follow the performance appraisal process, then it's essential to communicate the process. In organizations with a common review date, managers only do this activity once a year. And some managers could be experiencing this for the first time. A reminder to managers about what needs to be completed and when helps them understand expectations.

Make Sure Employees Know the Process

Speaking of expectations, employees have a role in the performance appraisal process. For managers to do their job when it comes to performance appraisals, employees must be informed participants. They also need to understand the process and the timeline. This is especially true if employees are asked to do self-appraisals.

Give Managers the Necessary Tools

One of the tools managers need in the performance appraisal process is information. They will want to review prior reviews and refresh their knowledge of the performance rating scales. They will also want to give employees a copy of their last review with instructions on completing a self-appraisal.

Conduct Training

Another tool that managers will need is training. It's possible that managers who are new to the process will need training on the organization's performance management software. Existing managers might want a refresher as well. In addition, there are a couple of other areas that training would be valuable:

Delivering Employee Feedback

Managers need a proven model for delivering effective employee feedback. Not just constructive feedback but positive feedback. No news is good news is not a performance management philosophy. The better the feedback, the more productive the performance conversation will be.

Setting Relevant Goals

At some point in the performance conversation, the discussion will turn to goals. Managers should help employees create goals that are beneficial to them individually, as well as valuable to the department and the organization.

The performance appraisal conversation isn't about telling employees what to do and what goals to have. That approach doesn't get employees engaged and involved in their careers. Managers need training to learn how to coach employees to develop their own success.

Create a System for Follow-up

Once the actual performance appraisal conversation has taken place, the process isn't over. Everything that happens afterward is getting us ready for the next season.

Human Resources will monitor completion and compliance. They will coach managers with difficult performance issues. And they will continue to educate the organization on the importance of regular performance feedback.

Managers will provide employee feedback on a regular basis. They will monitor employee completion toward goals and possibly help employees make goal adjustments along the way.

Senior Management is responsible for supporting the performance management system along with its individual processes. They hold the organization accountable for successful completion of goals.

Everyone in the organization has a role in the performance appraisal process. The process works because everyone understands the goal and is focused on achieving it.

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