How many of us have given or received a completely useless employee assessment or annual review? Personally I’ve received some version of an annual “smile sheet” at 3 different places of employment. By “smile sheet” I mean that form you fill out at the end of a presentation which says whether or not you liked the presenter, learned anything, etc. But this wasn’t lunch-time learning. This was a year of long hard hours I had worked in pursuit of that corner office.
You could argue that my expectations were set incorrectly each time, but does that make it my fault? If you tell me that we’ll sit at year end and do a review of how I did, what should I expect? For an assessment I received at a company I recently worked for, it was held at year end and coupled with my bonus check distribution. Supposedly determined by my performance. Obviously.
I was looking forward to it for weeks. The day arrived, and I sat down and retrieved my notebook filled with a long list of questions regarding why we do what we do, suggestions for what we might change, and most importantly a readiness to hear exactly how I can get better in the new year. I was ready to discuss my strengths, my weaknesses, and find out more about all the opportunities for advancement. I couldn’t wait to hear what my boss and upper management thought of the job I was doing. For one, I worked my ass off on the project that got the most eyeballs in the 3rd quarter and we were extremely successful. I couldn’t wait to talk about it. This was going to be great.
Ten minutes later I walked out of the office carrying a bonus check (for the same amount as the checks my peers had received) and wearing a blank look of confusion. For all my preparation, it turned out that my annual review consisted of my boss’s boss telling me the following:
- We like you
- We see that other people like you
- You show up on time, we like that
- You seem to really know what you’re doing
- We look forward to another great year together
That’s it. When I started to ask a few of my questions the big boss told me, “This isn’t really the meeting for that. You can take some of those up with little boss later.”
Now as much as I would like to piss and moan about poor me, the truth is that the employees are not the ones getting the short end of the stick with these kinds of reviews. It’s the company that’s losing here. The employee assessment, when done properly, is an annual process that can open up the exact conversations needed to propel your company from an average company, to an industry leader. When done right.
There are 3 steps to effectively using the annual review and employee assessment to strengthen your organization.
- Articulate – the expectations the company has for the employee
- Ask – the employee to recap the period from his/her perspective
- Assess – the situation taking into account the management and employee perspectives
The first step is to Articulate the expectations. It is extremely important that this is properly communicated BEFORE the employee slaves away for hours on end. Remember, at best, you might not get the maximum performance from your employee. At worst, this employee may be hurting your company from lack of understanding of what he or she should be doing, and how it is to be done!
The second step, Ask, is really code for ‘opening up a two-way discussion.’ After you’ve articulated what is expected of your employee, you are most likely measuring results along the way to determine if the tasks are being done to your satisfaction. You probably can answer that without talking to your employee. But … if you want to glean the best ideas from all levels of your company, you have to open your ears and close your mouth. Are there any things that are happening at the front line that management doesn’t know about? Anything that might be done better? The annual review is a great time to do this. And remember that your best employees will want to talk about their job. The most invested employees need this dialogue to stay invested.
Finally the third step is to Assess. You now will have all the information you need to properly assess the individual and the role. (Notice I said “and the role.”) This step should be a straightforward process if the first two steps are already completed. You have already articulated the expectations of the role and with the proper amount of detail. You’ve measured the results along the way, so you will know if any gaps exist in performance vs. expectations. You’ve also received feedback from the employee and their perspective of the successes, challenges, etc. This feedback not only enhances your ability to properly assess the individual, but you can now truly evaluate the role in your company as you’ve defined it. This role assessment is extremely valuable. Is the employee a true star or true underachiever? Or is it possible that the role design could be improved? Are there any systemic blockages to high performance? Are you asking too little, and creating a ‘slam dunk’ performance but underutilizing your resources? All good questions that serve your company well to answer.
The employee assessment process is not a mysterious, clandestine practice needing a decoder ring or secret handshake. It’s much easier than that. But it is a chance to truly evaluate much more than just the latest hire. Tell ‘em. Ask ‘em. Assess ‘em. Just like that.