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Creating an Effective Employee Performance Management System
By Dick Grote

If your employee performance management system is not effective – in other words, your managers aren’t meeting their responsibility of getting their employee performance appraisals written, approved and delivered on time – here’s the first question to ask: What happens to the manager who doesn’t turn in all of his appraisals on time?

Too often it turns out that the answer is “Nothing,” or at least nothing sufficiently disagreeable to get the manager to act. Managers often discover that it’s easier to put up with toothless gripes from the personnel department about not getting employee performance appraisals done than actually evaluating subordinates. As a result, appraisals get pushed aside so that “real work” can be done, and your employee performance management structure is broken.

Initiating Hardball Consequences

Make sure that there are some real consequences for not getting employee performance appraisals in on time. For example, withholding salary increases until paperwork is up-to-date creates a powerful incentive for getting them done on time. This is particularly true if the human resources department has the clout to refuse making salary increases retroactive to rescue managers who just didn’t get around to submitting them on time.

No manager wants to be in the position of explaining a subordinate’s delayed salary increase to them – especially if the boost in pay is being held up simply because the manager failed to submit their employee performance appraisal on time. This strategy is called “building accountability.” It’s a tough-minded approach, but all you’re doing is insisting that managers play by the rules.

Establishing Deadlines

A gentler measure is simply to make sure that managers know exactly what they’re supposed to do, and when they’re supposed to do it with a checklist that provides key dates of the employee performance management cycle. And make it easy for them to do what you want – make sure forms and procedural instructions are readily available, and there’s someone on hand to answer the inevitable questions that arise.

Both approaches establish shared responsibilities. Not only are line managers required to get their employee performance appraisals written, but HR must make sure the employee performance management process is a model for best practices. Forms should reflect the reality of people’s jobs; managers must be able to assess all of the subtle elements of both results and behaviors; training and other support must be available in a just-in-time basis; 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 employee performance management excellence.

Sharing the Honey

But consequences aren’t the only area where HR drops 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 does. How often does HR provide positive consequences to managers who are doing a good job of meeting their employee performance appraisal responsibilities?

A simple email from an HR rep to a supervisor saying that in reviewing the employee performance appraisals she wrote, he was impressed by how seriously she took the responsibility and the fact that they were all submitted before the deadline. Copy her boss on the email, too.

Providing Gentle Reminders

It’s important to have some mechanism to remind managers when key dates are approaching. That’s one of the great advantages of online systems. Well-designed online systems greatly complement employee performance management efforts, providing managers with at-a-glance information about tasks to be completed.

For example, a dashboard screen can let them know which employee performance appraisals need to be written and when they’re due, which appraisals written by subordinate managers have been submitted and are awaiting their review and approval, and which subordinates need to submit self-appraisals or sign off after an evaluation has been written and discussed.

An online system can be set up to automatically send managers (and their subordinates) regular reminders every time an action date is approaching and email red-flag notifications if a deadline is ever missed. Finally, a good online system can track the current status of employee performance appraisal completions for different organizational units. Having this information will allow you to let the head of the sales department know that the completion percentage in his department is only 84 percent, while manufacturing and accounting are at the 100 percent level.

Lighting A Little Fire

Though HR’s role in creating an effective employee performance management system. Senior managers also own some responsibility to make sure the company’s expectations for employee performance appraisal quality and timeliness are followed.

Every senior manager should review each appraisal written by a subordinate manager before that manager reviews it with the employee. This one-over-one review procedure will ensure a level playing field, since the senior manager can make sure that all of his juniors are applying similar standards and expectations to their subordinates. He also will learn who’s taking the responsibilities of employee talent management seriously as he reviews the appraisals and sees how honestly they’re written.

Remembering the Power of Shame

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

How do you do it? The easiest way to make shame work for you is to ask a senior executive if he’d like to be updated on the status of employee performance appraisal completions – he will invariably say yes. (Senior executives always want to know the status of everything). That’s your license to report on exactly who has their employee performance appraisals in on time and who’s not performing.

Provide a short report beginning, “As you requested, I have listed below the current status of appraisal completions,” followed by nothing but two columns of names — one labeled “On time” and the other labeled “Overdue.” Send copies of your report to everyone on both lists. You can probably count on an immediate reaction from those managers on the overdue list to finish their appraisals and move to the list of good guys.

Again, an online system can provide executives with up-to-the-minute information about the status of all employee performance management activities without HR having to feed it to them. And senior managers can have a powerful influence of creating the environment where one hundred percent appraisal completions is the norm.

Creating Fool-Proof Accountability

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

The only writing the system required was a memo from each manager to the CEO every year no later than March 31. The memo indicates whether or not the manager had conducted all his discussions – if the discussions had not been conducted, the memo needed to explain why. And the reason had better be good, the VP-HR explained, because on April 1 the CEO picks up the phone and starts calling. “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to do?” he asks each manager who didn’t complete the performance-discussion assignment. As the VP-HR explained with a sly smile, “You don’t ever want to get that call from Roy.”

Employee performance management is a necessary tool in making sure your company’s employees are putting their best foot forward. Your managers are the catalyst for this, and they need both incentives and consequences to make sure the job’s getting done. Having a checks and balances system in place helps keep the process focused and effective.

Dick Grote has been a consultant for almost thirty years, specializing exclusively in the field of employee performance management. He has created employee performance management systems for several hundred of the world’s best known and most respected companies, including Texas Instruments, JCPenney, Miller Brewing Company, American Airlines, Macy’s, Raytheon, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and Herman Miller. His company, Grote Consulting, specializes in employee performance appraisal, employee improvement and talent management.

For more information about Dick Grote and Grote Consulting, visit: http://www.groteconsulting.com

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