The Best Employee Planning and Review Approach I've Found

I'm old enough and have worked enough places, including large corporations, a government agency, and several smaller less-formal tech companies, to have experienced a wide range of approaches to performance evaluation.

I've liked some of the tools I've experienced, but I can't recall a supervisor who did the performance planning and review/evaluation process in a constructive way.  And unfortunately my experience is not unique.

I've used a process and tool with some success at a few different companies.  I think I got the basic ideas from the book First, Break All The Rules.  The authors, Buckingham and Coffman, talk about 4 keys of great managers:

  1. Select the person (select for talent, not simply experience, intelligence or determination)
  2. Set expectations (define the right outcomes, not the right steps)
  3. Motivate the person (focus on strengths not on weakness)
  4. Develop the person (find the right fit, not simply the next rung on the ladder) 
They also identify these effective performance management questions:
  1. How would you describe success in your current role? How would you measure it?
  2. What do you do that makes you as good as you are?
  3. Which parts of your current role do you like the most?
  4. Which parts of your current role do you like the least?
  5. What is the perfect role for you and why?
And they repeat this maxim: "People don't change that much. Don't waste your time trying to put in what can be left out. Try to draw out what was left in.  That is hard enough."

So, the process I've used with some success is this:
  1. Hold quarterly planning and review sessions with each employee using this worksheet.  I recommend using a Google Sheet or shared Excel Sheet or something similar that can be edited by both the supervisor and employee with version control and revision tracking.  A planning period no longer than one quarter provides a horizon that allows the employee to think of goals that are realistic and achievable within her or his power.
  2. Schedule no less than one hour for the initial planning session.  Explain to the employee that you'll be using the worksheet as the agenda for your 1-1 sessions during the coming quarter.  
  3. Discuss the employee's plans for each of the sections in the worksheet:
    1. Work to get done (projects, deliverables, tasks)
    2. Things to learn or get better at (knowledge and skills)
    3. Relationships to develop or strengthen
  4. I like the CLEAR principles for goals:
    • Collaborative - support team achievement over individual
    • Limited - scope and duration should fit within the planning period, so work can reach a state of "done" not just "in progress"
    • Emotional - or "engaging" so the employee feels attachment and commitment to it
    • Appreciable - break larger goals into smaller goals; allow the employee to feel a sense of accomplishment in each 1-1 session during the period
    • Refinable - give both the supervisor and employee permission to refine goals during the period.  Nothing kills motivation and morale more than holding an employee to a goal that is no longer relevant, valuable or achievable for reasons beyond his or her control, just because it was written down at some point.
  5. Schedule and put on the calendar for the entire period recurring 1-1 sessions to review the plan.  Make these no more than two weeks apart, with a preference for 30 minutes every week.  It's better to miss a weekly scheduled meeting with the commitment not to miss two in a row, than to reschedule one. If the scheduled weekly meeting lasts only 15 mins, no one will complain.
  6. At the end of the first planning and review period, and the beginning of the second one, plan 45 minutes back-to-back for each, i.e., the first 45 minutes as a wrap-up review for the period just ended, and the next 45 minutes to create the plan for the next period.  As you review items from the first period you'll inevitably identify items to include in the next period.
  7. As you review work completed, record actual accomplishments instead of an arbitrary % complete, always with a bias for getting things done so you can start doing other things.
Larger, more mature organizations likely will have formal performance review and evaluation processes and tools.  Many of these are tied to employee bonus pay and annual pay increases.  I've used the approach and worksheet I describe above even in those situations as a supplement to whatever process and tool the HR organization has implemented. I've yet to find anything that beats it for simplicity, clarity, and effectiveness.


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