#279 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 6
Goodale is senior partner of Philbrook, Goodale Associates
(Houston, Texas; phone 713-877-8182; email email@example.com),
consultants in organization management.
He is author of One to One: Interviewing,
Selecting, Appraising, and Counseling Employees (Prentice
Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1992).
disappointment that was! I
went into my supervisor’s office expecting to discuss my job
performance and plans, but he did all the talking.
Then he just handed me the evaluation form and told me to
360-degree reports are useless—just a bunch of numbers in
distributions of numbers! What
do all the scores mean? Some
of these competencies don’t even apply to my job.
Who are these people who rated me?
How familiar are they with my performance?”
evaluating and discussing employee performance have become so
common that many employees complain that feedback from supervisors
is inadequate or misleading.
Despite innovations such as “360-degree” and
“competency-based” evaluations, surveys continue to indicate
that most employees and
supervisors find that performance evaluation—more recently known
as performance management—often does more harm than good.
The answer, and the solutions, require a close examination
of why performance
management is done, what
is evaluated and discussed and how
the process is carried out.
Much Scoring, Not Enough Discussing and Planning.
management supports two objectives:
1) to evaluate the past—document the quality of employee performance
and results, and communicate decisions regarding salary increases,
promotions and so on; and 2)
to plan the future—discuss employee performance and results and
set plans for improvement. But
since the vast majority of organizations formally review employee
performance once a year, managers try to achieve both objectives
in one meeting.
management is an annual event, it becomes an annual failure.
in spite of best intentions to discuss past performance and plan
the future, managers find themselves delivering the annual report
card and defending the scores that employees object to.
Furthermore, 360-degree feedback methods in which employees
receive feedback from not only their bosses, but also co-workers,
customers and staff, are already being questioned because they
overwhelm employees with scores.
Solution: Score Annually, but Discuss and Plan as Often as Necessary.
members and supervisors discuss the quality of recent performance
and then set plans to develop the employee and improve his or her
performance as an essential, natural part of their jobs.
“Informal” performance management takes place during
day-to-day feedback and discussion as supervisors and team members
review work in progress.
management can also be done in “semi-formal” reviews conducted
every few months or at the end of a project.
But when these discussions take place with rating forms,
they become too formal and ineffective.
One secret to effective performance management, therefore,
is to conduct informal and semi-informal discussions as often as
necessary—no forms and no scores (more about how to do this
addition, annual salary review interviews are necessary to sum up
the year’s performance and discuss administrative decisions
based on employee performance.
Forms Don’t Apply to the Employee’s Job.
performance evaluation forms are typically created by human
resources departments or consultants, supervisors often have
difficulty applying them to their employees.
Problems arise when evaluation forms ask supervisors to
rate employees on personal traits, such as maturity, attitude,
personality, initiative, dependability; or on competencies like
interpersonal skill, job knowledge and organizational skill.
First, employees often become defensive when they receive
general personal comments like, “you rate only 3 on a 5-point
scale of maturity,” or “you have poor interpersonal skills.”
Second, employees often disagree with the supervisor’s
ratings because the characteristic being evaluated wasn’t
directly observed. Third,
evaluations of employees in vague, subjective terms like personal
traits and competencies may lead to charges of discrimination.
Solution: Give Feedback about Job-related Results and Performance.
One key to
effective performance management is to discuss information that
employees understand and can use to develop themselves and improve
their performance. Therefore,
employees, team members and supervisors should participate in
creating the evaluation form (see my paper “Seven Ways to
Improve Performance Appraisals, HR Magazine, May, 1993, p. 77).
Useful feedback is behavioral
(not personal traits), specific
(not general competencies) directly observable,
and clearly job related.
results and performance, meet these standards.
Supervisors and employees are aware of the results
employees achieve. For
example, exceeding or failing to meet sales quotas, or producing
or failing to achieve quality assurance standards.
Employees, team members and supervisors can discuss
specific results achieved and set targets for the future.
and team members also observe how employees perform specific job
responsibilities that enable them to achieve results. For example, employees may manage time poorly, communicate
well, object to changes in procedures and argue with team members.
During feedback and planning discussions, the appropriate
parties can discuss how well the employee performed these
responsibilities and make plans to improve performance in each of
Much Top-Down Communication.
dislike performance management because they feel like a punitive
parent sitting in judgment. Unfortunately,
annual review meetings force them into this role as they walk in
with completed evaluation forms and begin the discussion.
Furthermore, 360-degree feedback reports delivered in hard
copy or electronically, are entirely top-down.
Solution: Listen and Probe First; Talk and Prescribe Later
An obvious way to
avoid this top-down style is to encourage employees to talk about
their own performance before
the supervisor or team members give feedback.
This can be done during day-to-day discussions and in
“semi-formal” reviews conducted every few months or at the end
of a project. As
stated earlier, these periodic reviews can be done very
evaluation forms and ratings.
It is possible to reinforce positive performance, identify areas of
improvements, and set performance goals without scoring employees.
The secret is to
draw out the employee’s views of his or her performance and
plans for improvement by asking questions.
Supervisors and team members can always add points later in
the discussion if the employee doesn’t raise them first.
This approach can
also be used during the annual performance review.
To ensure that employees are prepared to talk about their
own performance, supervisors can schedule the performance review
ahead of time and ask each employee to prepare for the meeting by
considering his or her own performance and results and by setting
work goals and developmental plans.
To ensure more two-way communication, the supervisor or
team member can invite employee input and provide feedback and
ratings at the end of the
approach can be easily transferred to all types of performance
discussions—day-to-day feedback, periodic “semi-formal”
reviews, and even the annual event.
Most people are aware of what they do well at work and what
they need to improve and, if given the opportunity, they will
identify their areas of strength and also constructively criticize their own performance while making
plans for improvement. If
they don’t, supervisors and team members can propose ideas for
improvement later in the discussion.
Exercise in Upward Communication
criticism” is a phrase commonly associated with performance
management, and many supervisors struggle to find a way to tell
employees that they are performing a job responsibility poorly and
need a different approach, a training course or something else.
Unfortunately, many employees feel personally criticized
and become defensive.
Initiate-Listen-Focus-Probe-Plan technique below provides a
powerful tool to avoid such defensiveness.
Try the following exercise with one of your employees or
co-workers. This is
not a performance review; it’s just a job-related discussion.
Begin with a general question about his or her performance.
would you rate your performance during the last six months?” or
“How do you feel about your performance during the last
If you get a
general response like, “Fine,” or “Pretty good,” or “8
on a 10-point scale,” follow up with a more focused question.
“What in particular comes to mind?” or “What have you
been particularly pleased with?”
Your objective is to discuss a positive
topic raised by the other person.
mentioned that you were particularly satisfied with….
Let’s talk further about that aspect of your job.”
How Probe: “How
did you approach…?” or “What method did you use?”
Why Probe: “How
did you happen to choose that approach?” or “What was your
rationale for that method?”
Results Probe: “How
has it worked out for you?” or “What results have you
what you know now, what would you have done differently?” or
“What changes would you make if you worked on this again?”
In hundreds of
training courses, about 80% of the people questioned in this way
have made specific suggestions to improve their performance in a
part of their job that they
feel they have done well.
Furthermore, when asked about aspects of job performance to
improve, they also set specific plans. Even more encouraging, after the training, supervisors and
team members report more relaxed and positive two-way
communication in both “semi-formal” and formal performance