HR employees have a tough job. They communicate bad news frequently: org changes, reduction in force announcements (RIFs), changes to benefits and more. There’s one role that HR employees have mixed emotions about — employee performance reviews. When they go wrong, they go terribly wrong. In fact, issues usually boil down to these:
- Manager failure. The manager didn’t make expectations clear or hasn’t talked with the employee about poor performance.
- Support system failure. Middle managers, executives and HR Business Partners are unable to help managers.
- Limitations in pay or promotions. Even if there’s a great employee performance, additional budget isn’t available and there’s no career advancement opportunities.
- Unequal calibration among departments. Some managers have lower expectations; some managers expect more. Employees suffer the consequences with limited excellent reviews available.
- Lack of documentation when there’s poor performance. The manager hasn’t documented how the employee can be successful.
- Employee failure. The employee didn’t do the things asked to improve performance.
It’s frustrating to be in HR because really, most of these issues come down to better communication. Don’t fret – there are a few things you can do that you are in control of:
Do away with annual employee performance reviews
There’s a growing sentiment that annual performance reviews aren’t needed. Companies like GE, Adobe, Netflix and more – according to Fast Company – are doing away with the annual performance review. Many more companies are moving in that direction, including Microsoft. In fact, the Harvard Business Review indicates 70% of multinational companies are heading toward elimination.
Why do away with performance reviews?
There’s a lot of time and energy devoted to them – employees’, managers’, department heads’ and HR professionals’ time – which costs the company. In addition, many times these reviews don’t accomplish the intended goals: improve performance, enable career development and reward good performance.
When employees receive reviews they don’t believe are fair, they’re less engaged, which impacts productivity. They’re also more likely to leave, which costs companies in turnover (roughly $50,000 on average per employee). Typically employees who resign are many times good performers, too. That means you’re reducing your workforce of productive people.
1. Give your managers and leaders training
Assuming you can’t do away with the employee review, ensure your managers are trained and they have clear expectations. In other words, set them up for success. Develop training that includes:
- Communication. Cover how to give feedback, when and how to cascade messages and more. Frequent feedback helps managers and employees. Your internal communications peers would love to help here. Often a manager’s lack of communication is a barrier to organizational success, impeding information and decreasing employee engagement.
- Company values. Make company values clear. Include how to apply values to everyday circumstances, include your values — such as diversity, innovation, integrity and everything else that’s important.
- Company organization. Everyone in your company, especially managers, should know about your customers, products, services and goals.
- Compliance. Cover what’s legally required, such as sexual harassment training and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, as well as how to document performance.
- Processes and systems. Discuss how to approve vacation, where to get key forms on your company’s intranet, communication tools and more.
- When and where to seek help. Seeking help is important. Managers should have a support system of peers available to discuss issues that might arise. Peers make it easier to share information and help each other. A mentor program, where executives mentor managers, can also help.
Ensure training is given at least once a year, catching newly promoted managers and offering a refresh to other managers. Make that training available online for easy refreshers.
2. Give managers time to manage
So many organizations expect managers to be full-time producers, even if they have a robust team of people reporting to them. Producing is important, but it leaves little time to manage people.
Add “managing people” into manager job descriptions. Then, depending on the number of people, give them a percentage of time to spend on this. Your organization can determine the right amount. Managers can then use this time to set up regular meetings – preferably at least every two weeks – and take care of administrative tasks from approving vacation in your HRIS system to talking with peers about issues or ideas.
3. Give them a place to exchange information
You may not be able to physically enable them to socialize, but you can give them a corner of the intranet to share ideas and information, review training and access key forms. You can also set up two-way communication vehicles with executives and managers, where executives address these employees. Internal Communications and Information Technology teams can help you do this. Again, if this improves managers cascading information, Internal Communications will jump at this chance.
Also, work with Internal Communications to schedule regular manager meetings. Giving your managers visibility into your executives’ perspectives and enabling interaction is good for the company.
4. Make your managers accountable
Now that managers understand what’s expected of them and have time to do it, they should be held accountable, including your executive team. When executives demonstrate what’s expected, managers accept and adopt those behaviors and skills.
If during the employee and manager calibration process there’s a discrepancy, don’t just take the manager’s information and call the review done. Inject an HR Business Partner into the process to discuss discrepancies and use that information in the manager’s review. HR Business Partners should side with the employee whenever there’s a question.
Consider asking employees to rate managers. It may make the process more honest and help managers in their primary responsibility: taking care of people.
5. Conduct 360 reviews
Don’t just take a manager’s feedback, ask peers and customers – internal and if appropriate, external. Enable the employee to determine who to ask or go to the people they often work with. Use those results in determining the value of your employee. This review information is less biased and more robust, informing both the employee and the manager. For example, employees may be excellent at customer service for internal or external customers, but may need help with team dynamics. Managers then know exactly where to focus their efforts to support employees. Employees get valuable information that can help with career development and growth.