Staff performance planning may not be at the top of your list of enjoyable manager tasks -- but it's one of your most important responsibilities. Calvin Sun offers some pointers that can help ease the process.
When done properly, performance planning need not be an event that both managers and their subordinates dread. In fact, the process really can lead to improvement. Here are some tips to help managers turn the task into a positive experience for all concerned.
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#1: Try to view the process as a "win/win" situation
If you view the process as "you against your subordinate," you've already lost. Your subordinate will sense that attitude and will react accordingly, seeing the process as a means by which you will "get" the subordinate. Instead of reaching for greater performance and achievement, that subordinate will work defensively, so as to avoid making mistakes. To borrow a sports analogy, that subordinate will play not to lose instead of playing to win. However, if you view the process as "win/win," both you and the employee will benefit. In the next point, I'll explain why.
#2: One hand washes the other
Such an attitude makes sense, because if you think about it, both of you can help the other. By properly guiding and coaching your subordinate, you help him or her to work better. When that subordinate works better, it reflects well on you.
Once you have that attitude, be frank about sharing it with the subordinate. Use the "one hand" saying if you want. In any event, tell that subordinate that the two of you need each other, and each of you can help the other to succeed.
#3: Develop mutually agreed-upon criteria
Whatever criteria you establish, make sure that both you and your subordinate agree on them. Otherwise, you open yourself up to possible charges that you were setting up your subordinate to fail. If nothing else, unilateral measurements may cause resentment and resistance in that subordinate. Of course, you don't have to completely accept the proposed measurement criterion, but rather can negotiate with the subordinate. The important point is to gain such input from the subordinate.
#4: Use measurable and objective criteria
Any criterion you decide on should be measurable and objective. In other words, you should be able to apply a quantitative analysis to that criterion. A criterion of "Answer incoming calls promptly" means different things to different people. However, a criterion of "Answer 80% of incoming calls by the third ring," or "Keep abandoned calls at a maximum of 5%" can be measured.
#5: Use realistic criteria
When setting criteria, make sure they're realistic. Of course, your subordinate often will let you know quickly and directly if a criterion is unrealistic. Still, take time to review it yourself. Can a subordinate achieve the criterion without spending 100 hours a week at the office? Can the subordinate achieve the criterion and still handle other assigned responsibilities? If not, review and revise the criterion.
#6: Set priorities
Let your employee know which objectives are the most important and which are less important. That way, the employee can plan and manage his or time accordingly and can set priorities for day-to-day tasks. Don't make every objective "priority 1." Doing so is meaningless and defeats the purpose of setting priorities.
#7: Distinguish between performance measures and conditions of employment
You or your company might have specific actions or behaviors that are conditions of employment rather than performance-based criteria. In other words, doing certain things, or failing to do certain things, won't hurt your evaluation -- rather, they could get you fired. In some companies, attendance and punctuality might be a condition of employment. Even if an employee was a top performer, he or she could be fired for constantly being a no-show at work or being chronically late. If you have similar items, be clear with your employees about this distinction.
#8: Set a definite time for the meeting
Have you ever seen a minister or judge talk casually to a man and woman, then casually say to them, "Oh, by the way, you were both single before this, but now you're married"? Of course not. A wedding is a special time, and involves a special ceremony. For that reason, we prepare for it, and publicize it. Then, when it happens, we know to treat the moment with special significance.
I'm not saying that you should send out announcements and invitations to a performance planning meeting. I AM saying, though, that it should occur at a time agreed upon by both you and your employee. Both of you should realize that at that time, the meeting will occur. Such a meeting shouldn't, therefore, happen casually by the water cooler, or during a hallway meeting. In this way, your employee knows that the meeting is important.
#9: Ensure consistent criteria
Software developers concern themselves with traceability of requirements -- that is, ensuring that each requirement for a software module relates, directly or indirectly, to a strategic objective of the organization. In theory, any requirement that fails this traceability test should be struck from the requirements list.
In the same way, be sure that your criteria are consistent with each other and with department and company objectives. A classic example of "criteria clash" in a call center is having a measurement regarding minimum targets for caller satisfaction, plus another measurement for maximum call duration. If your subordinate is penalized for taking too long for a call, he or she might be tempted to try to shorten such calls. However, in doing so, the subordinate might be creating dissatisfied callers.
#10: Carefully consider meeting locations
Where should you work on performance criteria and later, conduct the evaluation? Usually, these sessions occur in the manager's office. In this case, consider sitting on the same side of the desk as your subordinate, rather than on the opposite side.
Although privacy is important, be careful about meeting a person behind closed doors, especially if the other person is of the opposite gender. To protect yourself against potential false allegations, it's best if the office has a window, so that other people can see you even if they can't hear you.
If the office you use has no window, consider leaving the door at least partially ajar. Or consider an open location, such as a Starbucks or your company cafeteria. You'll have less privacy, but if you hold your meeting during a non-peak time (say, 10 AM or 3 PM) it might be enough. An additional advantage is that such a place is "neutral" and might be less threatening to your subordinate.
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.