In order for a company to succeed as a whole, its managers need to help their individual employees succeed by effectively managing their performance. All managers can benefit from these reminders.
Managers’ Attitude Matters
“The attitude of managers is critical,” said Jeannette Seibly, Human Performance Coach and Consultant, SeibCo, LLC (Highlands Ranch, CO). “Managers must have a mindset for the employee to win.”
The goal is to evaluate the employee’s performance, not attack their character; to build the employee up, not tear them down. This shouldn’t be a “gotcha” kind of meeting, said Seibly. Nothing in the assessment should come as a surprise to employees.
Seibly also noted that too many managers go into evaluations frustrated because they do not know what needs to be done to fix a performance deficiency. This “frustration will come across more than anything else” during the evaluation, she warned. She suggested that the manager should “ask a boss or ask a mentor” for guidance.
Communication Skills Are Key
Whether having an informal performance coaching conversation or conducting a formal annual performance appraisal (PA), managers should be reminded of these best communication practices.
Be specific. Sweeping generalizations can too easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood. Employees need to know exactly what they must stop doing or what they should continue to do.
Support the assessment with evidence. Evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be tangible (e.g., a letter of praise from a customer); the manager’s visual observation of an example of stellar or substandard performance can suffice.
Written PAs should include narrative comments to support ratings/rankings. Copying comments from the employee’s previous reviews or only changing a few words here and there isn’t acceptable.
Set goals. Focus on improving or sustaining performance in the future, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Negative feedback should include steps for improvement.
Take protected class and protected leave out of the picture. Watch for signs of illegal discrimination. For example, age shouldn’t be noted as the reason for an employee’s inability to learn new technology, just as leave taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act shouldn’t be used as evidence of an attendance problem.
Talk with employees, not at them. Some managers try to come across as more authoritative than necessary in order to be taken seriously. More times than not, however, this will backfire and put employees on the defensive. Use the following approach.
Do use a collaborative tone. Instead of telling the employee they should do this and they should do that, ask for their input on how to improve or maintain performance. You want “a two-way conversation,” said Seibly.
Employees should be allowed to explain their actions and question the assessment, within reason. It’s good to know what’s on the employee’s mind; if the employee’s thinking is flawed or the manager has misunderstood, this is the time to clear the air.
Don’t sweep any awkwardness under the rug. For example, a recently promoted manager may have difficulty criticizing a friend and former peer. The manager should acknowledge this awkwardness and stress that the meeting is professional and not personal.
Do use the sandwich approach. Seibly recommends saying two positive things, followed by two changes the employee needs to make (make them doable!), and then end by making two more positive points. This approach is “so much more positive and powerful than anything else you can do,” said Seibly, who cautioned against listing more than two changes at once for fear of overwhelming the employee.
Don’t apologize for negative feedback because doing so gives the impression that the assessment is inaccurate.
Reprinted with permission from Personnel Legal Alert, © Alexander Hamilton Institute, Inc., 70 Hilltop Road, Ramsey, NJ 07446. For more information, please call 800-879-2441 or visit www.legalworkplace.com.