Performance appraisals are meant to be the most important part of performance management. Yet, at many companies, performance appraisals are only used to document past performance. These traditional appraisals often discourage two-way communication and discourage employee participation. Rather than using this type of performance appraisal, managers should rely on a system of structured feedback to manage, regulate, and improve performance.
Employees are hungry for feedback about their work. Feedback by definition is verbal and immediate and should be provided frequently. If an appraisal becomes the only time when feedback is shared, opportunities for managing and directing performance are continually missed throughout the year.
Frequent, informal conversations about work can be as effective, or even more effective, than a structured approach to evaluation. Frequent interaction allows for the opportunity to talk about important matters and make corrections as necessary. Feedback should also be a two-way street that gives managers insight into ways in which they help or hinder the progress of those who work for them. The best way to find solutions to common work problems is through collaboration and collaboration requires conversation.
Frequent interaction also helps to build trust and to build relationships. While most feedback should be informal, and on-the-spot, there is also a need for planned feedback. Planned feedback helps keep managers on track. Problems can be confronted and successes celebrated sooner when feedback sessions are planned on the calendar. Some experts recommend “check-ins” every six to eight weeks, bimonthly or quarterly. These planned sessions help to make everyone accountable for feedback.
Frequent interactions also help when negative feedback needs to be delivered. When problems are discovered sooner, they are easier to correct. Some managers are known to save up a year’s worth of negative feedback to deliver at an annual performance review. This can be shocking and demoralizing to the employee. Small, manageable doses of negative feedback can help an employee grow and improve. And, since human behavior doesn’t work like an on/off switch, it will usually take a few conversations to move toward a more desirable behavior.
In reality, it can be difficult for managers to deliver criticism without experiencing negative fallout. Managers who act as coaches and not judges build a relationship that is a partnership.
Ratings are also often counterproductive because ratings are simply judgments. Many people react to the rating itself and can’t hear the information supporting the rating. Improved performance can really only come about through proper coaching, guidance, training, and employee support. Conversations that open up a dialogue about performance are particularly helpful for improving performance.
Human resource managers should audit their performance management system to ensure that their system allows for dialogue. If the system is not future-oriented or does not incorporate employee involvement, it should be replaced or changed. Progress reviews scheduled at periodic intervals throughout the year can create opportunities to uncover problems, celebrate successes and find ways to improve.
Managers and employees must collaborate to make performance management a success. Traditional systems will achieve the desired results. Effective communication is truly the key to increasing productivity.