Planning for Performance Management:
Where to Start?

Most managers dread the yearly exercise of conducting performance reviews with their direct reports.  Surprised?  I'm betting that if you are a manager, you read that first sentence and felt some relief that you are not alone.  The irony is that if a few simple steps are followed, this process can not only be easier, it can actually be a productive process both for you and your employees.  Let me show you how.

The best place to start, particularly with a new employee, or with an employee who is in a new role, is with the actual position description for the job in question.  Hopefully you have position descriptions!  It's surprising how many companies do not have formal, written position descriptions for all jobs.  If the job in question does not have a formal position description, take a few minutes and write down what you know to be the essential duties and responsibilities of the position.  Think about both the technical competencies required and the behavioral requirements of the job.  As examples, technical competencies could include knowledge of a particular software program or the ability to speak a particular language, or expertise in a particular interviewing technique.  Behavioral competencies could include the ability to communicate well at all levels, an expertise in understanding complex situations, or an ability to build trust between management and labor.  Whether you've used an existing position description or created a list of requirements, you now have a place to start planning for Performance Management.

Now think about both your own goals for the past year AND your manager's goals for the past year.  You can plan for a performance management conversation with your employee only when you have a good grasp of goal content at least at your own level and  one level higher.  Obviously, this employee's goals may well be more tactical than your goals and the goals of your own management, which will clearly be more strategic than tactical.  Once you have prepared for a Performance Management conversation by making sure you understand the job itself and by making sure you understand the goals, you are ready to move forward with the next step of planning for Performance Management.

First, how were the goals of the job for this time period communicated to your employee?  Hopefully, your organization does require that written goals be developed for each person for the coming year.  Start by taking a look at performance against those goals.  Sometimes the goals have become obsolete, but still remain in the goals document.  If this is true in your case, make sure you revisit employee goals at least quarterly in the coming year.  It's an unusual company today which can set goals in January and not revisit them until the following December.  Things just change too quickly for this to work in today's environment.

Now think about how this employee's work and performance could have been expected to support the goals you have identified.   At his level, what influence could he reasonably have been expected to exert on the outcomes?  In other words, what part of goal completion may have been out of his control?  As an example, suppose one of your performance measures for this position is to have a 95% on-time shipment rate to customers.  But if your facility was hit by a tornado and shut down for 3 weeks for repairs, the attainment of this goal may have been beyond the control of your employee.  If, on the other hand, a pattern of poor planning and follow-up can be identified such that shipments were often late, you are dealing with a different situation.

Consider another example.  If your company is one which does not re-visit goals during the year, how has your employee handled this situation?  If it's clear that Goal A is no longer viable, what work has your employee replaced Goal A-related work with?  Has he simply had less to do, or has he embraced a replacement project?  The best outcome in this situation is that the employee has come to you with suggestions for valuable contributions he could make now that Goal A is no longer on his to-do list.

To summarize, you are considering the following when planning for Performance Management:

  • Do you, as the manager, have a clear understanding of the goals of this position and how they support your goals and the goals of the organization?  Does your employee have this same understanding?
  • Do you know what technical and behavioral competencies this employee should display?
  • Have goals been clearly communicated?  If so, has the employee had the tools and resources necessary to succeed with this goal? 
  • Are there any influences out of the employee's control which could have impacted his success?
  • Have goals changed during the year?  If so, how were the changes communicated?
  • If some goals became obsolete, what replaced them, and how were the replacements identified?

Many managers regard Performance Management conversations with dread because they don't approach the process as just that----a process.  They see it as a time for conflict and even anger and confrontation with employees, and it just does not have to be that way.  If you discuss performance against the ideas in the summary above, you will be able to approach your employees' performance objectively instead of subjectively or even emotionally.  You and the employee will discuss what role the job plays in the overall success of the organization, what the goals of the job have been over the last year, and how he has performed against those goals.  If there have been short-falls, you can discuss those as a common problem to be tackled and solved, not as a personal failure.  You can talk about any additional support or resources the employee may need.  And you place the responsibility for good performance squarely where it belongs---on the shoulders of the employee.

One final reminder.  Performance Management is not just an end-of-the year conversation.  It should be an ongoing, living process done throughout the year.  Done well, it is actually one of your most powerful tools for supporting your own success by supporting the success of those you supervise.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.