If your organization does formal annual reviews it is a good idea to have periodic check-ins with your team throughout the year. This gives both you and your team a chance to make sure everyone is clear on the expectations for goals and objectives and if measured performance is being met.
Reviews, Who Needs Them?
Regardless if your organization has official reviews or not, it is a good idea to meet with individuals on your team to let them know how they are doing. Periodic feedback not only helps them, it also helps you. Waiting until the annual review sets both of you up for failure.
Even if your organization does not conduct yearly reviews, having information on employee performance can help you justify raises or even promotions. In the case of poor performers, this information will help you justify those performance improvement plans, or performance probation plans as I like to call them. And in the unfortunate case where you have to terminate someone, you don’t have to start from scratch with documentation.
What Is in a Review?
Each organization has its own guidelines and structure it uses for performance reviews. From evaluating metrics, to 360-degree peer evaluations, to categories and rating systems, every organization does things just a little different.
In my organization, we know that there is more to an employee than metrics and numbers. We evaluate people on how well they handled their job responsibilities, competencies like teamwork, collaboration, customer focus, problem solving, and communications. We also evaluate them on accomplishing goals that were set at the beginning of the review cycle.
The key to a successful evaluation is to be as objective as you can when setting the criteria. Likewise it is important to provide specific and relevant feedback that is constructive and helpful. Saying something like, “You need to improve on your communications skills,” is not specific or helpful. Using examples that include a time and situation where the employee did well or struggled is more valuable to everyone than saying, “You need to get better!” Trust me I have been both on the receiving end and the delivery end of those types of reviews.
Ideally you should evaluate your team at least on a quarterly basis. But who really has time for that? If you do, great. Do it! If not, at least try on a six-month basis. Here is another thought: I try to meet with my team individually every two weeks for at least 30 minutes. This allows me to know where they are and what is on their mind and let them know how they are doing. We don’t cover every item on their performance review, but we do talk about the goods, the bads, and the uglies when they happen. I document things then and place it in their file so at the end of the year I am not guessing or, worse, making things up.
We don’t cover every item on their performance review, but we do talk about the goods, the bads, and the uglies when they happen.
One of my pet peeves is a manager that does not give an accurate performance evaluation. You may think you are being a nice person by not telling someone they did not do well. But, in reality, you are setting them up for failure. It can also be damaging to your team because chances are everyone else knows this person is struggling, too.
My role in the organization I work for is to meet with struggling employees to help them improve work performance or help them figure out this job might not be for them. I recently acquired an employee that was struggling at his job. I was his last resort before termination. When I reviewed his last five years’ worth of performance evaluations, they all said he was a good employee. In fact, a few said he exceeded expectations. When I asked his previous manager about this the answer was, “Well I did not want to be the bad guy and tell him he wasn’t getting a raise this year.” Nope, instead, the person got the same percentage raise as those who did meet expectations.
I had my work cut out for me because I was not willing to go to our Human Resources department to ask to put him on a performance probation plan. Instead I worked with him on an unofficial plan that laid out all of the areas he needed to improve on and ways to get there. A year later, he actually did get an honest “Meets Expectations” review and is performing much better at his job. Who would have guessed just having an honest discussion and laying out all of the issues with him would have done the trick?
The goal of doing performance evaluations is to provide your employees with real, relevant updates on how well they are doing. If they are struggling, it is better to let them know as soon as you notice, not wait until the end of the review cycle and tear them up then. If you want a successful team, start with each employee and keep them steered in the right direction all year long. Get them in the right seat on the bus; don’t run them over with it.
Thomas Wilk is an IT manager at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has become a performance improvement leader, helping employees find their way along their career path. As a mentor to managers, he helps them develop leadership skills so they can better engage with their staff. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and is currently working towards a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in the Public Management program. To see more from Tom, visit
his YouTube channel , and follow him on Twitter @spiller150.