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Developing an Individual Plan for Performance

Chris Doxey

Development and performance planning can be a challenge for both new and experienced managers and leaders. Although several good performance planning models are available, applying them can sometimes be daunting. Throughout the process, however, both managers and teammates are responsible for staying engaged and fulfilling meaningful roles.

Team-Dynamics

Although we might think we’ll remember extraordinary efforts of our teams and will make sure they're acknowledged at review time, our attention often is drawn on to the next big project, and it’s easy to forget the contributions they have made. It’s best to stay current and give both constructive criticism and appropriate pats on the back throughout the year, rather than waiting until review time.

Best Practices

  1. No surprises: Good managers model “healthy confrontation,” by addressing issues as they surface. This ensures there will be no surprises during the official review session regarding the performance assessment. Supervisors should, however, be cautious about the possibility of operating in a punishing or punitive mode. Rather than motivating the staff to do better, this mode proves to be counterproductive.
  2. Self-evaluation: Self-evaluations are a great tool for both managers and teammates. I’ve always asked my staff to self-assess their performance. This helps me to understand their perceptions of how they are doing, as well as ensure their and my expectations are in sync. It also serves as a reminder for me of what they have accomplished over the year, as well as how they might have progressed in areas I previously cited as needed improvement.
  3. The apreciation log: It’s a good idea to ask teammates to keep an “appreciation log,” in which they record accolades and notes of gratitude from coworkers and superiors throughout the year. I often refer to this as a “kudos” file and still keep one for myself today. Not only will this practice evidence team spirit and document how others perceive employees, but also serves as a reminder to them (and to you) of many easily overlooked little things that require so much effort over the course of a year or review period.

The Manager’s Responsibilities

  1. Initiate the performance review process.
    It is critical that the manager establishes clear expectations at the onset and ensures that all team members are fully educated and reminded about the entire performance review process. Make sure that all teammates are familiar with the performance review form, process, and rating system. Without clarity and an in-depth understanding, some team members may have unrealistic expectations of what their performance rating should be. After conducting a group session with employees to ensure transparency and clarity, managers might want to ask the team to each schedule his or her review. Putting this power into their hands sets the stage for a better session.
  2. Document your input, referencing the job description, and performance goals.
    Base performance on an established job description, which periodically should be updated to reflect changes, current responsibilities, and goals and objectives established at the beginning of the year. The manager also should make notes throughout the year, documenting milestones and progress.
  3. No surprises, please!
    As soon as performance issues arise, negative feedback should follow (in private) so that the employee has an opportunity to correct the situation.
  4. Hold the performance review meeting.
    The manager should go over the performance review with the team member, discussing in detail any aspects that need explanation, recapping the discussion with a summary, and ending the meeting on a positive note. Occasionally, especially if the manager has not done a good job communicating throughout the year, there may be disagreement. If the meeting takes a negative turn and the manager cannot facilitate resolution, it’s important to end the discussion and reschedule with upper management or a human resource representative in attendance.
  5. Update and finalize the performance review form.
    The team member should have the option to attach a written response to the assessment. In my experience, if an action plan was needed, I always asked the associate to develop it. The manager and employee should agree to the steps proposed in the plan and sign the form. The action plan should be reviewed every few months, usually during one-on-one follow-up meetings between the employee and the supervisor.

Improving Performance by Establishing Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are not just a job description, but a set of priorities. They are an important element in performance planning and reflect management/team member consensus. Objectives should be clearly stated targets with as much specificity as possible and linked to larger organizational goals. This enables each team member to see where he or she fits into the organization’s big picture.

Many companies have embraced the concept of “management by objectives” (MBO), designed to increase organizational performance by aligning goals and objectives. Ideally, the objectives set at each level support those at the level above and feed into the organization’s goals for the year. MBO includes ongoing tracking with key performance indicators and feedback throughout the process. Employees at all levels can readily see how they are contributing to organizational success. Team members and supervisors alike can easily monitor performance and milestones, to ensure their focus remains on track.

Drucker’s MBO Concept

Introduced by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book, The Practice of Management, the MBO concept suggests that the “activity trap” should not bog down managers to the point that their main objectives are overlooked. In addition to using MBO for top managers during strategic planning, companies are including all supervisory employees in the process. In essence, the MBO principle consists of focused goals and objectives throughout the organization, with specific attention on individual objectives.

In essence, the MBO concept includes Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based (SMART) objectives that cascade from the top of the organization. The concept also involves participative decision-making, performance evaluation, and feedback. These objects usually correlate back to the overall objectives of the company in a hierarchical manner.

Six Tips for Reviewing Performance

In his article, “Use the Performance Review to Motivate Subordinates,” psychologist Gary Vikesland indicates that team members often are nervous about whether they will receive an accurate evaluation of their performance. He acknowledges that, because conducting performance reviews is not usually a manager’s favorite responsibly, many supervisors delay or even skip the task. Tips for ensuring employee performance reviews are accurate:

  1. The performance review is for the team member and is not about you! Your employees need to feel that the review is focused on them and their successes or failures.
  2. The most accurate performance reviews result from a yearlong process of evaluation, documentation, and guiding.
  3. Use the previous year’s review as a benchmark standard, and if you have managed a team member for less than six months, include the input of his or her previous supervisor. If the supervisor is not available, gather feedback from other supervisors who have observed the employee's work.
  4. Keep the performance review as objective as possible and make sure the employee is not blindsided.
  5. Keep an electronic file of the performance review and bring a hard copy for the team member to the review session.
  6. Professionalism, both in writing the review and in your presentation to the team member, is an important standard.

A performance review process may result in a corrective action plan if there are issues to be corrected. The leader should be familiar and comfortable with coaching techniques to use while working with the associate through the corrective action process. It’s also important to note that an employee performance review can be used as supporting documentation in legal proceedings, should wrongful termination action be taken.

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