June has arrived, and you know what that means – for most of you it’s time for mid-year employee performance reviews.
I can hear the pushback already. Who has time for mid-year reviews?! My employees know what to do; they should just focus on doing it!
The better question is, who doesn’t have time for this critical leadership activity? To perform at their best, employees need feedback on a regular basis. And things change so fast these days that if you wait until the end of the year to evaluate performance, your entire organization could be way off track before you know it.
Feedback is the interaction that enables employees to learn from recent experiences (positive or negative) for the purpose of improving performance and building capabilities. When done well, it helps to:
- Communicate common purpose
- Establish clear expectations about excellence
- Maintain alignment
- Engage employees
- Track progress
- Reinforce positive performance
- Realign and improve less than satisfactory performance
Feedback is essential to a high-performing workplace because when employees don’t get it, their brains fill in the blanks by making stuff up – almost always negative. When employees know what’s going on with the company and their own performance, they don’t need to make up stuff to fill in the gaps. More important, when you tie feedback directly to the goals and definition of excellence, people can see that you’re working to be helpful and supportive rather than negative, which is the perception of most feedback.
Not the Same as Annual Evaluations
Annual year-end evaluations have a different purpose. They provide a time for formalizing the ongoing feedback you have been providing throughout the year while enabling a final review of what and how the employee performed. It’s also a time to initiate the developmental discussion for the upcoming year.
In contrast, the mid-year check-in touches base with what the employee is doing and reiterates the definitions of excellence. It’s a time for reinforcing the ongoing feedback you have (hopefully) been providing regularly, evaluating the employee’s self-assessment of their performance, and discussing any needs for realignment or urgent development.
When conducting mid-year reviews, keep these six rules in mind:
Rule #1 – No surprises! If you haven’t mentioned something to an employee prior to the mid-year review, it’s your fault, not theirs. To be effective, feedback needs to be given as close to the performance (either good or bad) as possible. One of the quickest ways to destroy trust is to blindside employees with negative feedback that should have been given months or even weeks ago.
Rule #2 – Schedule and stick to it. To reschedule, or worse, cancel without rescheduling, sends a loud message that other things are more important than the employee. Also, don’t allow interruptions or distractions during the meeting, as it sends the same negative message.
Rule #3 – Solicit input from others. This will give you a more well rounded view of the employee’s performance. Also, carefully review the employee’s file, making sure you have notes and insights that cover the whole first half of the year. Otherwise you might over-emphasize recent information over what happened at the beginning of the year.
Rule #4 – Create some notes to guide your conversation. Take a few minutes to jot down key points so you can refer to them during the meeting. This will help keep you focused and improve the odds that you will communicate what you need to.
Rule #5 – Require employee follow-up. After the meeting, have the employee send you an email or other communication that restates what he/she heard and what he/she will do differently (more, less, stop completely) as a result of the feedback.
Rule #6 – Never use “sandwich” feedback. This involves sandwiching negative feedback in between two positive statements, an approach that rarely works because it’s not transparent and it feels controlling to the employee. Instead, clearly separate the feedback about the behavior you want to continue from the things you want done differently because they’re not working well.
Keep in mind that performance management is a process that requires you to pause, think and focus continuously. The idea is to give realigning and encouraging feedback on an ongoing basis so people will achieve the results the organization needs. Then sum it up in the mid-year review, and make sure people are on track with what they should be doing.
Yes, it can be hard to carve out the time for these important conversations. And it’s even harder to end up not achieving excellence. If you wait until the end of the year to check the alignment between performance and the goals, you may end up at a destination that does not support your vision of winning and you will have lost the opportunity to get it right in a timely manner.
Call to action: Commit to scheduling a mid-year performance with each direct report by the end of June.