Frequent Meetings Key to Performance Development

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Nov. 20 — Performance development should be seen as “an ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee that occurs throughout the year in support of accomplishing the organization's success plan,” a business psychologist and consultant says.

It's “a bit naïve” to think one hour of an annual performance review, out of a 2,080-hour working year, could make a big difference, Adrianne McVeigh, executive director, assessment solutions at TalentQuest, said during a Nov. 18 webinar sponsored by the Atlanta-based talent management software and human capital management consulting company.

Prominent examples she cited of employers that do weekly and even daily feedback for performance management are online shoe retailer Zappos and the Container Store. “I've been encouraging more and more of the companies I work with to do this as a part of their daily and weekly process,” she said.

Ingredients of Performance Development

McVeigh identified “five ingredients” of performance development. The first one, she said, is to ensure clarity on goals, expectations and priorities. “Make sure the employee knows what success would look like,” she said, adding, “If you have ‘problem' employees, without clear goals and expectations you can't hold them accountable.”

The second ingredient McVeigh pointed to is the need for balance—between positive and negative feedback, and between past, present and future. Some managers, she said, especially those from the “baby boomer” generation, have the philosophy that if employees are doing well, they won't hear from the manager; that will happen only if they are causing problems.

That's “very short sighted,” she said, arguing that employees need recognition and positive feedback. “Encourage the things you want to see more of,” McVeigh said, asserting that that is more effective than talking about what you don't want to see.

As for the time balance element, she advised managers not to rely on their memory of how well the employee has met goals and expectations, because people remember the bad more than the good. One should keep a record of the performance of subordinates and oneself, McVeigh said.

The third ingredient she cited is the relationship between the employee and his or her direct supervisor or manager. Trust is the foundation of this relationship, she said; employees “can accept criticism and even anger” from a manager they trust.

Managers should express belief in subordinates to build trust, McVeigh said. They should not lecture or tell, but ask questions, practice active listening, and delegate tasks, because if a manager doesn't delegate, “you're showing you don't trust them.”

Another suggestion McVeigh had is to “show it's a two-way street by asking for feedback yourself as a manager. Ask clarifying questions about that feedback and thank them.” Moreover, she argued, performance development “is not a process where something is being done to an employee.”

McVeigh's fourth ingredient has to do with “the culture of feedback,” which she said should use specific and detailed examples, be actionable, well framed, thoughtful, frequent and timely. “If you wait three months, people won't remember” what you're trying to give them feedback on, she said. She also urged making feedback “part of the organization's everyday culture.”

The final ingredient McVeigh cited is “growth,” implying that performance development should be positive, solution-focused and not personal. “It's not what went wrong in the past, but what can go right in the future; then employees view it as encouragement,” she said. That does not mean managers have to sugar coat problems, she added, but criticism should be constructive.

Managers should not make criticism personal or engage in “always or never” talk, which is common advice in marital therapy as well, meaning one should avoid telling the subordinate she always forgets to do a certain task, for example.

If a subordinate “isn't showing executive presence,” McVeigh suggested, say something like, “One thing you can do is to show more executive presence. Be more confident and bold in statements you make.” The model for criticism should be like a 15-second pit stop in a car race, she added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com