Performance Management: Moving Beyond the Annual Review

Performance management is a hot topic these days, and along with change management, you’ll find the business section of the bookstore overflowing with titles on the topic. But for most managers and business owners, performance management is what you think about with a sense of guilt, feeling that you should be doing written performance reviews on your people, but not knowing how to find the time.

To really manage the performance of your employees, though, there are a few basic things you can do to ensure your employees are giving, and gaining, the most possible in their positions. Yes, as an HR Director, I of course recommend written reviews, but if you can do these simple steps, you will be managing performance, and contributing to the success of your organization.

True performance management starts in the hiring process. Often in the rush to fill a position, we overlook such basic things as whether the person will be able to be successful in the position. This goes beyond asking a candidate to describe their relevant work experience. You want to use the experience of the interview to tell you as much as possible about the potential employee. Are they very nervous? Plenty of people get nervous in job interviews, but if you’re hiring for a sales person or front-line client contact, you are probably looking for someone who appears confident in any business situation and can be a strong representative of your company. Don’t ignore the signs in the interview process. Just as you wouldn’t hire an excessively nervous person for a hard-driving sales position, pay attention to what the candidate tells you about themselves. If they describe themselves as non-confrontational and gentle, you probably don’t want to hire that person to do your collections. It sounds obvious, but many managers pick up on positive traits in a candidate, and ignore the rest of the story, at their peril.

Another simple action that managers can do to manage performance is pay attention to where your employees are making mistakes. Do you have someone who sits at your desk and nods when getting instructions, but then goes off and does things their own way, unsuccessfully? Do you have an employee who, when confronted with a mistake, claims never to have been trained on it? In the first case, you can help your employee by ensuring that they are taking notes, or by training them verbally while they physically go through the procedure. Those are two different ways of communicating information and accommodating different learning styles. For the defensive employee complaining they’ve never been trained, consider following up training with emails or written procedures to reinforce the learning. The bottom line with this action is that as a manager, you can choose to treat mistakes as annoyances or as coaching opportunities, and managers that choose the latter are truly managing performance.

A third guideline for managers is to be more direct than you think you need to be. It’s amazing to me, even though I’m guilty of it as well, how often we assume that we’re on the same page as people we’re working with. We assume that they know what our goals are, and the end result we’re looking for. What I’ve found, though, is that employees can deliver the best results when they understand the most about the problem and the desired resolution. So rather than being vague with your deliverables, be specific, be clear, and be thorough. Sometimes spelling it out on the front end can save clean-up and repairs on the back end.

Managers are responsible for making sure that resources are utilized for maximum effectiveness with minimum effort, meaning that you are being as efficient as possible. This means that managing performance throughout the entire employment cycle, and not just at annual intervals, is essential in successfully doing a Manager’s job.

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