Creating an effective employee performance management system

If your employee performance management system isn’t effective—in other words, your managers aren’t fulfilling their responsibility to write, approve, and timely deliver their employees’ performance reviews—here’s the first question to ask yourself: What happens to the manager who does this? Not submitting all of his reviews on time?

All too often the answer turns out to be “nothing,” or at least nothing uncomfortable enough to prompt the manager to act. Managers often find that it’s easier to endure toothless complaints from HR when employees don’t receive performance reviews than it does to actually evaluate subordinates. As a result, appraisals are pushed aside so that “real work” can be done, and your employee performance management structure is destroyed.

Initiating hardball consequences

Make sure there are some real consequences if you don’t get employee performance reviews on time. For example, holding off on raises until paperwork is up to date creates a strong incentive to get them done on time. This is especially true when HR has the power to deny retrospective raises to save managers who simply didn’t get around to handing them in on time.

No manager wants to explain an employee’s late salary increase to him – especially not if the salary increase is only held up because the manager did not submit the appraisal interview on time. This strategy is called “Building Accountability”. It’s a stubborn approach, but all you do is insist that managers play by the rules.

set deadlines

A gentler measure is to simply ensure managers know exactly what to do and when to do it, using a checklist that includes the key dates of the employee performance management cycle. And make it easy for them to do what you want—make sure forms and procedures are readily available, and that someone is on hand to answer the inevitable questions.

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Both approaches establish shared responsibilities. Not only are managers required to have their employees’ performance reviews written, but HR must ensure that the employee performance management process is a model of best practice. Forms should reflect the reality of people’s workplaces; Managers must be able to assess all the subtle elements of both outcomes and behavior. Training and other support must be available just-in-time; and what is expected should be made crystal clear. Without all of these elements, HR bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for not creating a system that encourages excellent employee performance management.

Sharing the honey

But the consequences aren’t the only area where HR is dropping the ball. We’ve talked about arranging negative consequences for those managers who don’t do what’s expected. But remember — honey influences behavior better than vinegar. How often does HR provide positive consequences for managers who do well in their responsibility for evaluating their employees’ performance?

A simple email from an HR rep to a manager saying he was impressed upon reviewing the performance reviews she had written, how seriously she took responsibility and that they were all submitted before the deadline. Also copy their boss in the email.

Providing Gentle Reminders

It’s important to have a mechanism in place to remind managers when key dates are approaching. This is one of the great advantages of online systems. Well-designed online systems greatly complement employee performance management efforts by providing managers with at-a-glance information about work to be done.

For example, a dashboard screen can tell them which employee reviews need to be written and when they’re due, which reviews have been submitted by subordinate managers and are awaiting review and approval, and which subordinates need to submit themselves. Ratings or opting out after a review has been written and discussed.

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An online system can be set up so that managers (and their subordinates) will automatically send regular email reminders and alerts whenever a deadline for action is approaching if a deadline is ever missed. Finally, a good online system can track the current status of conducting appraisal interviews for different organizational units. With this information, you can tell the sales manager that the percentage of completion in his department is only 84 percent, while manufacturing and accounting are at 100 percent.

Light a small fire

The role of HR in creating an effective employee performance management system. Senior managers also have some responsibility for ensuring that the company’s expectations for the quality and timeliness of employee performance reviews are met.

Each senior manager should review any evaluation written by a junior manager before that manager discusses it with the employee. This one-to-one review process ensures a level playing field as the senior manager can ensure that all of his juniors are applying similar standards and expectations to their subordinates. He will also learn who takes the responsibility of employee talent management seriously by reviewing the reviews and seeing how honestly they are written.

Reminder of the power of shame

Shame is a powerful motivator that is often overlooked. There’s nothing wrong with getting managers to do what they’re supposed to do.

How you do that? The easiest way to get shame working for you is to ask a senior executive if they’d like to be kept updated on the status of the completed employee appraisal—they’ll invariably say yes. (Executives always want to know the status of everything). This is your license to report accurately who is and isn’t on time with their employee performance reviews.

Create a short report, starting with “As you requested, I’ve listed the current status of completed assessments below,” followed by nothing but two columns of names—one with “On Time” and the other with “Overdue.” Send copies of your report to everyone on both lists. They can probably count on an immediate response from managers on the overdue list to complete their assessments and get on the good list.

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Again, an online system can provide executives with up-to-the-minute information on the status of all employee performance management activities without HR having to feed them it. And leaders can have a powerful influence in creating an environment where 100% judgment is the norm.

Create foolproof accountability

At a large oil company, the CEO and his VP of HR developed an employee performance appraisal process that was a model of simplicity: a requirement that every manager discuss 13 open-ended performance questions with every subordinate in March of each year.

The only writing the system required was a memo from each manager to the CEO by March 31st each year. The memo states whether or not the manager had all of his calls – if the calls were not made, the memo had to explain why. And the reason had better be good, explained the VP-HR, because on April 1, the CEO picks up the phone and starts making calls. “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to do?” He asks any manager who hasn’t completed the performance call assignment. As the VP-HR explained with a mischievous smile, “You never want to get that call from Roy.”

Employee performance management is a necessary tool to ensure that your company’s employees are doing their best. Your managers are the catalyst for this, and they need both incentives and consequences to ensure the job gets done. A checks and balances system helps keep the process focused and effective.