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Wrestling With The Annual Performance Review

As HR professionals we are supposed to be all about motivating, coaching, goal setting, recognizing and rewarding. The tough part is to “redirect” bad behaviors, document the unacceptable, mediate the near to impossible, and yes, to occasionally dismiss the incorrigible. If that isn’t enough challenge, we must oversee an integral part of these activities: the annual performance review process.

Why is it that supervisors hate to do performance assessments? During my career as an HR professional in higher education, I disliked performance review time. Supervisors did not want to be bothered with the task of preparing the documentation and were seemingly ill at ease in talking with their employees about their goals and expectations. They did not want to attend training to better prepare them for the task at hand and would procrastinate to well beyond the deadline for conducting the reviews. Some, at the highest levels, would simply ignore the entire process. One executive stated, “_____ knows how he is doing; I’m too busy to mess with such trivia!”

Among my favorites were the supervisors who were unable to bring themselves to rate anyone less than excellent. Then when an employee’s performance became so bad that disciplinary action was required, there was that “perfect” performance evaluation lurking in the file to jump out and discredit the supervisor’s accusations of long term problems.

One of the perennial complaints of both supervisors and employees is that performance review forms are not designed to be objective, or that they are simply a one-time snapshot of the most recent performance. We have all heard about the “halo effect” and the “sin of recency.” In fact, there is an entire cadre of terms to describe the short falls of reviews.

Has your experience with annual performance reviews been positive? Did you believe your own was done well? Did you receive the kind of feedback you needed? What types of formats do you believe to be best: forced ranking, 360-degree, pure narrative, multiple choice . . . ?

As HR professionals we are supposed to be all about motivating, coaching, goal setting, recognizing and rewarding. The tough part is to “redirect” bad behaviors, document the unacceptable, mediate the near to impossible, and yes, to occasionally dismiss the incorrigible.

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