How (Not) to Review Employees’ Performance

We focused on those being reviewed in the last post and how to put your best foot forward. Today, we will discuss how not to review your reports’ performance. I have spoken to a few friends and colleagues who had horrible review sessions. Some come out wailing swearing to hand in their resignation before the end of January. Others lock themselves up in the toilet cubicle and after gathering their thoughts together, resolve to start working on their CVs and sending them out immediately convinced “this is not the place for me. I can’t work with people who cannot recognize and appreciate my value and what I bring to the table”.

A lot of times, those appraisal sessions are painful for both the reviewer and the reviewed. Here are some reasons why I think this happens.

  1. You leave the employee wondering “what just happened in there”?

Vague sessions, in my opinion, are worse than no sessions. A number of managers only remember ‘oops I’m saddled with this unpalatable responsible of appraising people” after HR has chased them down and has finally sent the last threatening mail copying their own boss! They then stroll to your desk “Folake, are you busy now? Please let’s meet”. Those type of conversations are bound to lack the sufficient depth to make the employee feel they are bring properly assessed. Except they come out of it with a grade higher than expected, they will feel there was no true measure of productivity. And perhaps, they are not wrong.

Yesterday, I emphasized, the importance of preparation as an “appraisee”. As a manager, you need even more preparation. This is not some inconvenient item on your to do list that you need to quickly strike out as “done”. This is someone’s career and life we are talking about here and it directly impacts on the company’s business and growth. It must not be taken with levity. You need to prepare well in advance in order to have a worthwhile session where the strengths and weaknesses of the employee AND plans for development and improvement are properly conveyed. You need to say “you did well” with EXAMPLES. You need to say “you dropped the ball a number of times” with EXAMPLES. Do not just give sweeping and vague statements here.

  1. You leave the employee wondering “what just happened in there????”

This is very similar to the first point but note the extra question marks. Have you ever had a boss who made you believe all was well until you got your score for the year and you are looking for space to faint? Yes, that totally sucks and yes, it happens… a lot!

Many workers who were not promoted, put on probation or even fired usually have had this experience. There is no ongoing appraisal or periodic feedback so it is really Judgment Day on your day of appraisal at the end of the year. The boss who smiles with you and never complains about your work suddenly bellows “off to the gallows. Off with her head!” or more likely “your performance was below expectation for your grade”.

At my former place of work, we had this fantastic system called a Mid-Year Review. You are reviewed once in June and again in December. After June appraisal, you sort of know where you stand and have another 5 and a half months to make improvements where needed. This ensures that there are no unpleasant surprises on the “Day of Reckoning”. It also means that bosses who don’t have the personality to speak up when they are not happy have a formal platform where this can be done. This also prevents resentment. Employees can better take a not-so-good appraisal when they have been told they were not on the right track and not when they feel blindsided.

  1. Focusing on the last few month/weeks

We are humans. We forget the events of the earlier months and tend to focus on what happened in the last few months or even weeks. This is an issue and some reports have learned how to “game the system” by becoming super effective from September and ensuring they are visible by every single decision-maker or progress-influencer. This also can work against someone who was excellent from January but, for some reason, has had slip up in the later months whether due to their fault or otherwise.  As managers, take out time to actually reflect on each employee’s year and how it has been, both good and bad, from January to December.

  1. Withholding praise

They may not get a promotion or a great bonus but if they did something well, let them know. The process of leaving a place of work and looking for a new job is arduous and emotional and I do not know many people who enjoy it. A lot of people can endure many less than perfect circumstances at work including the inconvenience of long commutes, Lagos traffic, not the greatest of pays, etc. if they feel valued and an occasional bone of appreciation is thrown their way. Don’t withhold deserved accolades.

In sum, it is important to take the appraisal process seriously and be prepared for it. Be truthful about each employee’s performance over the course of the entire year. Most people can handle negative truthful feedback especially when delivered periodically and not sprung on them last minute. Where they are doing well, please let them know as well.

  1. Follow through with developmental goals and plans.

Whilst employees are primarily responsible for their own growth, it is important, for the sake of the company, to invest time into ensuring that they are ticking off those developmental goals you both set at the beginning of the year. Ask them about their career goals too and be genuinely interested in their response and in helping them achieve them.

I hope we have all had a great year. There’s still sometime to achieve goals even as the winding down begins.





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