For any enterprise to succeed, everyone in that enterprise needs to meet certain performance standards. If these performance standards aren’t being met, then the business may fail to achieve the minimum results it needs to remain solvent—let alone grow.
Managing the performance of employees in a set process can be complicated, but having such processes in place is key for getting your employees to maximize their potential. The typical performance management process has the following elements:
- Planning. This is where employers set goals and discuss expectations with the employee.
- Assessment/Results. This is where the employee’s performance over a specified period of time is analyzed and compared to the performance expectations set earlier.
- Recognition/Feedback. Here, the employee is given feedback about their performance. Recognition for accomplishments as well as opportunities for improvement should be addressed in this phase of the process.
- Career Development. For this phase of the process, the employer works with the employee to develop or improve the employee. This can include training, setting performance improvement plans (PIPs), and other measures. This career development should not only meet the immediate and projected needs of the organization, but enhance the strengths or eliminate the weaknesses of the employee as well.
Performance management processes are supposed to help employees work to the best of their abilities. However, not every such process succeeds for every company. If your own performance management process is failing to produce results, then it might be missing one or more of the following:
1) Clear Communication of Expectations
One of the foundational steps of any performance management process is to set clear and achievable goals for the employee to strive for. When goals are not clear or objective, they can actually cause the employee to become disengaged since they don’t know what criteria you’re assessing their work on.
For example, “do your best” is not a clear and objective goal for an employee to achieve. It’s too vague a statement to be an effective motivator or to serve as a standard of assessment. Under such a “goal,” an employee would never know exactly what level of performance you’re expecting of them.
Articles by Gallup cite “unclear and misaligned expectations” and “ineffective and infrequent feedback” as primary reasons why employee performance management systems fail.
So, one way to fix a failing performance management process is to provide employees with clear and specific goals to meet—something like “Produce X units per day” or “Close Y deals each week.”
Also, consider turning the planning phase of your process into a collaborative effort, in which employees have some say and feedback. This helps to increase engagement and buy-in from the employee since they feel that they’ve at least have a say in the goals you set. It also helps management keep their performance goals more realistic, since employees have that chance to provide feedback/pushback on more aggressive or unachievable goals. In fact, according to the Gallup article previously mentioned, “employees whose manager involves them in goal setting are four times more likely to be engaged than other employees.”
Another way to improve communication is to hold meetings about employee performance with greater regularity. Leaving employees to struggle through their work for months on end without feedback is not going to help them course-correct in time to make a meaningful impact. By holding smaller meetings about performance goals more frequently, you can provide meaningful feedback in time for the employee to make the necessary course corrections before their next assessment—which makes the whole process feel fairer.
A once-a-week meeting to go over the preceding week’s performance is probably ideal for most workplace settings.
2) Personalization of Goals
Not every employee is going to be able to meet the same performance goals across your organization. A goal that is aggressive, but also achievable, for an employee who has years of practical experience simply isn’t going to be a fair standard to hold a new employee to.
To personalize goals, you may need to maintain a record of an individual employee’s performance and track how it trends over time. This lets you see if an employee is improving, stagnating, or even dropping in performance. Having a record of past performance gives you something to compare current performance to, so you are better-equipped to set achievable, yet aggressive, performance goals.
Also, you may want to take into account each employee’s individual skills and previous training when setting personalized goals. The expertise and experience of an employee will likely have a strong influence on their ability to complete specific tasks.
This can help employees enhance their individual performance without overwhelming them.
3) Performance Improvement Plans
When employees lag behind in their performance during an assessment period, there could be any number of reasons why. Simply telling the employee to “hit their goals or else” is not sufficient to significantly impact performance. In fact, Forbes lists “Frequent threats of firing” among their 6 Stupid Things Managers Do to Kill Morale list by Travis Bradberry, the author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of TalentSmart.
Instead of providing an “or else” ultimatum to coerce employees into trying harder, try creating a detailed performance improvement plan for that employee to follow. This will require a significant amount of effort, because you’ll have to:
- Gather information
- Create a description of the gap between expected and actual performance
- Clearly state the action plan for closing the gap
- Describe the consequences for not following the plan/achieving desired results
- Evaluate the plan of action and the overall PIP with the employee
The time and effort spent on the setup can be worth it, however. Creating a PIP and presenting it as an opportunity for the employee to grow can help keep them engaged by showing that you are invested in the employee’s continued development.
It is important to present a PIP as an opportunity for growth if possible, rather than as a punishment. If the PIP is seen as a punishment or an impending sign of termination (which, if termination is on the table if goals aren’t met, you need to tell the employee that), then it could cause the employee to become disengaged from their work.
One way to do this is to create PIPs for even top-performing employees, brainstorming ways to make your most successful employees even better. This helps keep PIPs from being seen as a punishment—instead, they’ll be seen as something that management just does to help everyone improve their performance.
These are just some of the biggest issues that many organizations have with their performance management processes. To get more insight into what your performance management process might be missing, get some advice from leading experts on personal productivity in Big Think+.