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The Death of the “Wish List”

Posted by David Wight in Business Management, Human Resources, Organizational Change | 0 comments

review time Business Concept time for review Business team hands at work with financial reports and a laptop

The “Wish List” was the name employees gave for the Performance Review process at a major insurance company where my friend worked. At the beginning of each year, employees set or were given a list of objectives to accomplish by year end. This “Wish List” then went into the person’s desk drawer, only to be looked at again shortly before the end of the performance year, because the person’s Performance Review was coming up. Sound familiar? This is just one of the problems that occurs when companies rely on objectives as their criteria for evaluating performance in their Performance Review Programs.

Performance Reviews have long been a source of unhappiness for both managers and employees. Some companies. however. are starting to change their process, even eliminating the year-end evaluation and instead, having managers provide ongoing feedback to employees during the performance year.  If your goal is to get the best possible performance from your people, these are certainly step in the right direction but here are some additional suggestions to make process even more effective.

1. Eliminate the final performance evaluation and its tie to compensation. This changes the tone and quality of meetings the employee and manager have throughout the year.  It makes them more effective by eliminating any incentive for the employee to “lowball” or set easy objectives.
Without that incentive, employees will be more willing to take ownership of and set objectives that are more difficult and have greater risk. This simple change increases employees’ motivation and has a dramatic impact upon the results they achieve.

Doing away with the final evaluation also builds flexibility into the process by allow the manager and employee to change the objective when conditions change that are outside the control of the employee. Currently when that happens, the organizational response tends to be “Sorry, but those are the breaks,” because they fear that this will be used as an excuse to lower the bar when an objective hasn’t been met. Just imagine the impact of this response on the motivation of the employee much less the credibility of the Performance Review process when conditions have changed.

2. The meeting between the manager and employee at the beginning of the performance year is critical. This is where they establish a flexible “contract” or framework for the upcoming year. This contract has three components:

• What results should the employee accomplish during the year and how are they aligned with the results the manager is responsible for achieving.
• What behavior should the employee continue or change during the year?
• What actions will the manager take to support what the employee’s is trying to accomplish
(either a result or change in behavior)

Part of this initial framework includes how often the manager and employee agree to meet to check on the status of attainment of objectives, and discuss any changes in behavior that they have agreed upon. What’s working?,,,What’s not working?…What does the employee need to do differently to meet a particular objective?…What additional resources and support does the employee need from the manager?

3. Make the employee responsible for scheduling these meetings, and taking any notes. Employees need to take ownership of their own performance…the sooner. the better. Too often we hear that employees want more performance feedback. My question is, “What prevents them for asking for it?  Isn’t that what adults do?..Take action to meet their own needs?”

At the end of the performance year, the employee and manager meet to recap the year. This should be a learning experience for both parties addressing the question of “What have we learned that we can use going forward?”

4. The employee maintains the only record of these meetings. They aren’t sent to HR or kept in anyone’s personnel file. They aren’t kept by the manager because that makes them the property of the company.Why is this important?  Just knowing that sometime in the future another manager could see these records distorts the interaction between the manager and employee in the present….just as giving “constructive” feedback in public is counter-productive.

In response to the common complaint, ‘We need these records to support  terminating poor performers.” …that’s nonsense. 90% of the time when a manager wants to terminate an employee and goes to the person’s previous appraisals all they find are glowing reviews. Now they’re left with information that conflicts with the action they want to take.

The answer here is simple, when an employee’s performance deteriorates to a level where a manager is considering termination, the manager works with HR to remove the person from the above Performance Review process and they go onto a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP. That should give you all the documentation you need.

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