Performance Reviews

Performance Reviews in the workplace Part 1 – The Dreaded Reminder

By on January 8, 2019

Each new year represents a blank slate, giving everyone an opportunity to begin anew. The most common way people go about this, is by setting Resolutions. Majority of the times these resolutions are common across the board with a few tweaks here and there.

On a personal front, there are the usual ones (but unfortunately very short-lived in some cases):

  • Reduce/increase weight by ‘x’ kg
  • Learn to play a new instrument
  • Read ‘x’ number of books by the end of the year
  • Travel to ‘x’ number of destinations

Professionally, individuals have resolutions around:

  • Complete ‘x’ number of courses by year end
  • Get ‘x’ number of certifications by year end
  • Get placed in ‘dream job’ at ‘dream company’
  • Or one of the most millennial aspiration, “Quit job to focus on your startup”

While the magnitudes may vary, the intent to achieve the goal will more or less be the same.

These resolutions are also present in the workplace, although framed in a different manner. Where an aim is a resolution in a non-professional environment, it is deemed a goal in the workplace. Considering individuals work in a team and for the company, the impact can be felt by one or more stakeholders directly related to the goal.

For example, the goal for a salesperson could be to close 3 deals within one quarter. This is not an isolated goal but will actually contribute to a much larger purpose i.e. the team’s objective to collectively close 15 deals within the given quarter.

This gets us to the process of goal setting in the organization, which in itself could be a subset of performance reviews. Depending upon the work culture and practices followed in the workplace, there are different approaches adapted for the entire review process.

Before we get to discussing the impact of goal setting on individuals, how about we discuss the whole process? Right from setting goals at the start to performance evaluation and giving feedback at the end.

How the process is conducted is primarily influenced by the goal setting methodology adapted by the company. For instance, companies that follow popular agile goal setting methods are bound to conduct more frequent reviews as recommended by these methodologies. Whereas, some companies could still adhere to annual or semi-annual performance reviews.

This is best explained by considering the following two situations:

Situation 1:

At Acme Inc., annual performance review is still a standard procedure for evaluating employee performances.

It’s almost the end of the year and Ray (Senior Manager) has been informed by the HR team that he needs to conduct the annual reviews for all the employees directly reporting to him. There are approximately 10 employees in Ray’s team, John is one of them.

John is a software developer employed at Acme Inc who reports to Ray on a weekly basis. Ray is well aware of John’s progress on some of the recent tasks assigned to him.

Ray: John, you have completed last month’s initiatives well within time, as expected of you. Although, what all did we do in the first 5-6 months this year? I can’t for the life of me recollect those initiatives.

John: I had updated you on every month’s progress!

Ray: Yes, but we should have documented it as well. Too bad. What I’ll do is share a form with you and you can answer all the questions as best as you can. Hope you have a sharp memory. Once you submit your responses, we’ll just get this process over with.

Note: Ray is not alone in this thought process. There are a few other managers out there, who have followed the same pattern. This phenomenon is called as the Recency effect, one of the psychological biases that occur during the review process. Insights from the start of the year are often forgotten and that can greatly affect the overall review process.

This is something most of us have experienced all too often. Like other managers in similar situations, Ray has put the burden of collecting this information on the shoulders of John and other direct reports. A prospect that has met with resistance or half-hearted attempt to get the process over with.

If you were in John’s place, how would you react to this situation?

  1. Try to ensure every bit of information is identified and reported
  2. Gather bare enough to get it over with as soon as possible
  3. Ignore till the last minute and discuss directly in a face-to-face meeting
  4. Just go with it and play along

Situation 2:

At Capsule Corp. it is a standard practice for employees to set short term goals, usually for a period of 1 month to 3 months. They do not follow traditional methods of performance management, not unlike Google, LinkedIn and other progressive companies of the Silicon Valley.

Matt is a marketing executive working under Rebecca, Marketing Head at Capsule Corp. While it is the end of the year, Matt and Rebecca have already had 3 performance review meetings at regular intervals throughout the year.

Rebecca: Hello Matt. We need to set up a meeting to discuss our progress on the initiatives that we set in the third quarter. First of all, congratulations on meeting your goals! We now have a steady stream of an average 50000 daily new visitors on our website.

Matt: Thank you Rebecca. This has largely been possible due to your constant support and encouragement.

Rebecca: Let’s just agree it was a combined effort!

Matt: Sure. So what do we want to discuss in our meeting? I’ll prepare accordingly.

Rebecca: Well, let us go over the entire plan that we set in September and how we have measured up against the expected outcome.

Matt: Sounds good. I’ll also have a list of initiatives that I believe can help us in the next quarter.

Rebecca: Yes, that was going to be my next request. Okay then. Now that’s all figured out, let us meet next Monday.

Matt: I’ll set up a meeting on your calendar.

In all the previous meetings, Rebecca has carefully documented all the tasks performed by Matt in the period, his achievements as well as shortcomings, including the feedback given to him in these assessments. It is easy for her to identify if Matt has conformed to the feedback given in each preceding meeting and made a change to his behaviour/actions as suggested.

Compared to the first situation, this situation lies on the opposite end of the spectrum. This one is a more essential yet less common approach towards performance reviews i.e. collecting and documenting key information at regular intervals throughout the year.

In the next episode/article, we will discuss about the next step in the employee performance review process:

Part 2: Preparing yourself for performance reviews

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