It happened again. The phone rang a few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon at 4:30. It was an Executive Director who was at her limit with an employee who had worked at the organization for more than two decades. The caller proceeded to tell me this employee had never performed very well and could she fire her? We talked for a bit. I asked the ED whether she had ever given feedback to this employee. Did the employee receive regular performance appraisals or just general information about job performance? The ED paused and said, “”No,” and agreed to have a conversation with this employee in which she would create job goals and give specific and concrete examples of what constitutes excellent performance. I happened to see this ED two weeks ago and asked about her problem employee. The ED said that much to her surprise, the employee was doing great. When the ED asked the employee what accounted for the improved performance, the employee said she finally understood what was expected of her. The difference that good feedback makes cannot be overestimated.
Performance management is the process of giving feedback to help employees progress toward achieving predetermined goals in their job and for the organization. Usually performance management is a human resource system where individual employees receive a regularly scheduled performance appraisal from their supervisors. Often the performance appraisal is done on an annual basis. Organizations spend a lot of time designing the perfect form. Yet, the most perfect form doesn’t do anything if it isn’t used. Supervisors and employees report that they don’t like the process generally. Supervisors complain about the time, the discomfort of giving feedback and the fact that in this day of tight budgets, pay increases don’t usually follow. Employees don’t like the process since feedback often comes too late to correct a negative problem and supervisors forget to recognize the good work employees generally do.
Good performance management, whether in the form of feedback or a formal performance appraisal, helps employees know they are valued, first. Second, they learn which behaviors they should continue and which they should stop. Some statistics suggest that when employees are terminated, almost 50% of the time, employees say they didn’t know what was expected of them. And, employees often report that they are motivated by appreciation for a job well done. Something a performance appraisal process can embed is what the manager does to clarify expectations and to give positive feedback.
Nonprofits frequently ask is there a “best” form? As suggested above, there is no one right form. A few considerations as to the form’s construction can include:
- Does the form measure what is important to the organization?
- Are the evaluation criteria job related?
- Do the criteria reflect the highest priorities of the organization, department and job?
- Do employees and supervisors regard the form as relevant?
- Do supervisors and managers understand and buy into the purpose of the form?
- Does it include:
– Important identification information
– Instructions for completion
– Defined performance criteria
– Performance levels/ratings
– Specific performance examples supporting ratings for each criterion
– Space for employee comments
– Signatures with dates (employee, supervisor, higher level of manager and/or human resources)
Most human resource books include sample forms as well as some websites. One such website is Wikipedia, which references a great, long publication from the Department of the Interior that serves as a guidebook and also includes a sample form. Again, the point of the form is to use it. Don’t make the form too long or too complicated with the calculations of the ratings. This will keep the most diligent supervisor from using it.
Once a form is designed that is appropriate for the organization, its culture and systems, the hard part of a good performance appraisal is the feedback session with the employee. The most productive sessions will include the supervisor:
- Providing a comfortable and uninterrupted setting, indicating how important these discussions are.
- Being candid and truthful.
- Describing the specific expectations and how the employee did or did not meet them.
- Focusing on the job, not the person, by using specific examples of what leads the supervisor to give the particular feedback. Make sure the feedback describes job-specific behaviors to support comments.
- Asking employee for his/her input or comments.
- Being an active listener.
In smaller organizations, conducting regular feedback sessions can be done without an elaborate form. In larger organizations, a unified approach with a consistent form is a good idea. When done on an ongoing basis, performance appraisals are much more than just another human resources’ “to do.” Evaluations can acknowledge good employees and help retain them as well as serve as a corrective tool to limit poor performance. In addition, performance appraisals are good documentation if the employee/employer relationship goes badly. And performance appraisals can help you not make those panicky calls late on Friday afternoons.
by Deborah Dale Brackney