- Include examples of acceptable or poor performance.
The easiest way to encourage yourself to provide proof of your perceptions is to use the phrase ‘‘For example’’ at least three times in an individual performance appraisal.
Managers often make sweeping comments about perceptions without documenting the factual circumstances that justify their points of view. You could therefore easily turn a perception statement like ‘‘Your planning and organizational skills are satisfactory, but you sometimes require additional assistance in this area’’ into something more concrete and instructional for the employee by including an example.
- Document your efforts to support your employee.
You should document the efforts you’ve made to help the employee meet performance standards throughout the review period. When writing annual performance appraisals, for
example, you should include the fact that you gave the employee a copy of the attendance policy, paid for her to attend a workshop on dealing with interpersonal conflict in the work
place, or encouraged her to take an accounting course at a local college. Such documentation will serve as evidence that you acted responsibly by attempting to proactively rehabilitate the worker.
- Use the terminology “needs improvement” cautiously.
In reality, stating that performance or behavior ‘‘needs improvement’’ is not the same as stating that it does not meet company standards or is unsatisfactory. Similarly, documenting that ‘‘Richard has been spoken to regarding excessive absenteeism and tardiness’’ does not convey that his performance was unacceptable.
Don’t assume that the employee understood (or a jury would agree) that just because you spoke about performance which needed improvement, it was assumed to be substandard. Instead, clearly document when performance is unacceptable, unsatisfactory, or fails to meet standards.
- Expand your basic ideas and strengthen the clarity of your message.
When documenting core competency or technical issues, expand your basic ideas by employing a ‘‘by . . .’’ format, like this:
Regularly places support staff in positions of leadership by appointing them subject matter experts in particular technical areas or by selecting them for workshop/seminar facilitator roles.
Similarly, when documenting future development goals, you could easily strengthen the clarity of your message by applying the ‘‘I expect you to . . . by . . .’’ format. For example,
it would be simple to turn a statement like:
‘‘In the upcoming review period, you must improve your client relations skills and better utilize your time.’’
into a more instructional, future-oriented statement by applying the ‘‘I expect you to . . . by . . .’’ structure, which would look like this:
‘‘I expect you to improve your client relations skills by following up with customers within two hours of their initial calls, by meeting them in their offices rather than asking them to come to yours, and by maintaining weekly contact regarding the status of their work order processing.’’
- Allow for comments from your employee.
The best way to prepare yourself and your employee for the meeting is for each of you to fill out complementary forms that cover two major areas:
- Job Analysis, which is an evaluation and analysis of what the job entails. It identifies and assigns weight to each of the employee’s areas of accountability.
- Performance/Work Habits Review, which assigns a numerical rating for each characteristic.
You can create your own forms to best suit your needs, or you can use the samples in Chapter 3 of Productive Performance Appraisals.
Ask your employee to come to your performance review meeting prepared to discuss the following:
- Job performance since the last review
- Personal career objectives
- Problems or concerns about the present job
- Things the employee would like to see change—personally and for the department in general
- Goals for improving future performance and productivity
Bringing it all together
These tips should help to remind you to complete your thoughts and provide appropriate examples for your statements. Selectively added to the annual review at strategic points, it will add critical mass to the statements that you make and justify your perceptions.
They will likewise help you clearly outline your performance expectations and how they will be concretely measured.
Clarity in your written message will not only protect your company from potential outside legal challenges; it will help build a shared sense of open communication, a greater sense of partnership, and increased accountability with your workers.
Get a head start on performance reviews!
Don't let performance review season sneak up on you again! Download our free resource: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Effective Performance Reviews.
Inside the guide, you'll get:
- A performance review preparation checklist
- 245 performance review phrases to rate employees on the top 6 skills of the future (i.e. adaptability, diversity, teamwork, and more)
- 6 performance review writing tips to clarify goals, expectations, and feedback
It's never too early—or too late—to practice communicating with your employees more effectively and efficiently.