Being a manager is not an easy job. When I was younger and I was dreaming to become one I was sure it is easy to handle it. Well, experience proved me it is not. You have to balance company’s interest on all levels, you have to be a model, to be a human, to teach, to listen, to know when to offer support and when to let your team to manage by themselves in order to learn so on and so forth. It is a challenging and extremely interesting position, it is a job with good times, with satisfactions and with hard times. And it is a continuous life lesson for me: about people, about myself, about unexpected situations, about problems and happiness.
One of the challenges of managing a team is reviewing people’s performance. I have designed and implemented in the companies I have been several performance management systems and I feel I am never done with improving them. They are never detailed enough, objective enough, clear enough.
This is what I have learnt in my experience as performance reviewer, but also as a person who gets reviews and feed-back.
I have also connected reviews with good practices in providing feed-back, because their performance review is a feed-back with major impact on the employee future in the company. And here are the results:
Performance reviews are deeply connected with job description and career path
The first thing I have done was to create job descriptions that include a lot if details and I made sure all job descriptions fit a career path level. In short, for each career path level exists a detailed job description used as base for reviews.
This way each employee knows with as many details as possible what it is expected of him considering the career level and the job he/she has. He/she also knows what it is needed to learn and do in order to move up on career ladder and the manager is supposed to offer support in this development process. On the other hand we have avoided this way reviews that include Senior expectations when the subordinate is at Intermediate level.
When the manager fills in the feed-back regarding the quality and quantity of work he/she has all the details that are connected with the job description and the performance level that it is expected.
Here are some examples, extracts from review content:
The employee is accurate in his/her decisions regarding HR interview: rejection or for technical interview.
The employee creates detailed and accurate HR interview reports in order to sustain his/her decision regarding HR interview result.
The employee is accurate and prompt in making the hiring offers.
Efficiency – employee’s code is fast and economical, when possible optimized.
Extensibility – The employee write extensible code (it is easy to add new features).
Simplicity – the employee doesn’t use ten lines when what is needed can be written in five.
We have clearly defined the soft skills connected with job description and company’s profile
In each company communication, teamwork, reliability etc. are important. Sometimes they are more important than the technical knowledge itself. Many times having the right attitude towards work and team, being able to communicate efficiently help an employee cover easily the knowledge gaps and perform well in a short time.
We have decided to define clearly what do we mean by good performance in this communication, initiative etc., because we have noticed a very high level of subjectivity and misinterpretation in these areas. So we wanted to provide freedom to employees to have their own personality, but to follow some good practices regarding professional attitude. We expect professional communication, efficient information exchanges, not a talkative person; we expect teamwork focused on getting expected results, not friendships. People can communicate personal information, they can become friends, but our professional expectations are different then personal relationships between employees.
Also, all managers have to have the same definition of these skills, no matter their own personality or personal understanding of the concepts.
Here are couple examples:
The employee makes sure he/she understood what he/she has to do or is expected from him/her by follow ups or meeting minutes
The employee is generally calm when he/she explains something.
The employee keeps his superiors and team members continuously informed about the status of his tasks and the implications of his actions.
The employee can provide accurate estimations concerning his tasks and those of his team members
The employee finishes his/her work respecting the deadline
The employee announces when a dead-line cannot be met and provides solutions for the problem
We have chosen an assessment system that is familiar on worldwide level and we have clearly defined it
In our experience people understand the best the marks and this understanding is available on international level. Everywhere people can understand that 1 is the lowest level and 10 is the best level for anything that is assessed. So, we have implemented a system from 4 to 10, 4 indicating dismissal and 10 promotion.
In order to make sure, like in soft skills case, that all managers have the same understanding of the assessment level, we have made clear the significance of each level.
Here are some examples:
4 – Unacceptable performances, dismissal
6 – Rather weak performances, 60% filled in expected performance, improvement plan to be discussed and agreed;
10 – Exceptional work, in the top 5% of excellent performers; 100% filled in expected performance;
We have implemented as mandatory procedure to have comments in reviews, at the end of each general criteria
So, yes, we have made it as easy as possible to managers to fill in the reviews. We are using an automated system, they have detailed criteria, clear definition, but in our experience this is not enough. People need to have something personal from the manager, not only marks, they need examples in order to understand all the aspects of reviews and what they need to do further.
So, managers cannot finish the review unless they make comments for each general criteria and they have to discuss life with their employees about the feed-back content. This way we achieve several objectives: employees understand the feed-back in deep details, they get future objectives to reach and they get concrete examples connected with their performance review result. On the other hand, this direct communication helps in creating a closer bound between subordinates and their coordinators, helps in creating an open communication between the two parties involved.
We have implemented a frequent review system
Most of the companies have a performance review each year, in December or January. We have noticed a major bias in reviews, meaning no matter how objective the managers plan to be they will always be influenced by the last 2-3 months performance instead of evaluating the whole year results. It is not bad will or managers being unprofessional, it just human beings and the way they are influenced.
So, we have implemented a 3 times per year review – for juniors and intermediates, and a 2 times review per year for seniors and coordinators.
This way we make sure that people have frequent feed-back on their performance; that we have a frequent overview on employee’s results at work; that we reward good performance immediately; and that we do not allow poor performers to make their way on team’s expense (but we detect them fast and implement improvement plans).
Each person wants to evolve, to develop, not only personally, but professionally. Professional evolution is most visible when the employee is promoted to the next career level. As we are explaining above, we have created a career path for each function in the company and we made sure that each career level has a very detailed job description attached to it.
We have trained the managers to use career path tool in several ways:
To review employee’s performance according to experience level. This way they have realistic expectations in terms of performance and we avoid situations when it is expected from a Junior to perform as a Senior and the marks are very low, even if the person has good results for his/her level.
Managers have to decide at each review is the person remains at the same level or he/she should be promoted. They cannot finish the review unless they make this decision clear first. This way we have trained them to always keep in mind to use the career path as guidance in their reviews.
Career path is an excellent, free motivation tool. As we have said earlier each person wants to evolve and having a next level of career well define gives them objectives to reach. These objectives are formulated by managers in review in a clear manner in order to offer a concrete guidance for subordinates’ development.
Formulating SMART objectives is one of the hardest thing to do as manager. We have provided trainings to managers in this area and we have also included a short definition in the review, so that coordinators will have access to theory every time they evaluate somebody’s performance.
Also, we have included in our procedures as being mandatory to discuss these objectives with each employee and make sure they are well understood. This way employees know very well what they need to do in order to become better and better.
But this is not enough: in order to learn more people need guidance also in choosing the best learning resources. So, we have included in our review form a section that asks from managers concrete examples and recommendations for employees in their improvement directions: books, articles, sites, forums, actions, certifications they need to take and that are sponsored by the company. This way employees get the best support in their professional development.
Monthly request for feed-back
Last, but not least, we are asking from managers on monthly basis for feed-back on excellent performance and on very poor performance. This way we make sure that managers are aware that performance review does not take place every 4 or 6 months, but it is a continuous process; that it is an important part of their job description to continuously provide feed-back to their employees; that we reward with performance bonuses the excellent performers and that we detect and help poor performers before the issues become unsolvable problems.
Managing excellent and poor performance
Most of the employees have an average performance, meaning they generally do exactly what it is expected from them, considering their experience and knowledge. But what do we do with excellent performers and with poor performers?
With excellent performers is pretty easy: they receive raises, performance bonuses, they are promoted to the next career level, they get new responsibilities, they are praised in public, they receive awards during company’s events.
With poor performers things are more delicate, mostly because we need to get to the root of the problem first. We need to understand if the person not performing well because it was a recruiting mistake, because he/she was assigned to tasks that do not fit well enough to his/her level of knowledge and experience, if we offered all the tools and documents necessary for him/her to perform at expected level, if he/she has a good, supportive relationship with the direct manager or if it is just bad will (sometimes it is).
The review, discussions with both: manager and employee, reveal the cause and generates the actions.
If the person was reviewed wrongly during recruiting process we need to figure out if there is another position in the company that fist better to him/her. They can accept or not.
If the person was assigned to unfit tasks the coordinator will have to change this
If the person and coordinator seems to have a deep incompatibility we move the person on a different project, same job description and follow his/her performance for the next 3-4 month to see improvements
If after analyzing all causes we conclude that it is bad will, that the person has a bad attitude towards work and its results we have discussions about it and implement a warning period with improvement plan on all levels: technical and attitude
If we conclude that there is nothing we can do to help the employee perform better we initiate dismissal, according to law
HR talks and satisfaction surveys
At least twice per year we perform one to one discussion with each employee in order to collect feed-back about the company, managers, assigned tasks, confortability with the project and procedures and so on. Also, once per year we ask the whole company to fill in a satisfaction survey that has the same objectives, but it collects information in a more structured way.
This is how we collect improvement suggestions regarding the performance systems and this is how we have managed to make better and better every year.
Is it a perfect performance management system? By far no. We still have things to improve, concepts to define better, and rethinking the whole system while the company grows and develops is mandatory.
But we do think it is a good system, functional, that helped us develop our teams, reduce turnover, have more productive teams who trust the management and follows it.