review-240px-76806707Many small business owners dread traditional performance reviews. They can be enormously time-consuming, and usually require a lot of paperwork. Due to a variety of performance criterial and various numeric ranking systems, managers can spend hours and hours per year on the performance evaluation process. Additionally, employees themselves spend on average a week preparing for and participating in reviews. To make matters worse, managers and business owners who give these reviews often don’t feel like they’re actually useful in leading to better results from employees.

There are a few reasons why human resource executives do not feel that traditional employee evaluations are helpful:

Twelve months is too long of an interval between feedback sessions. This is particularly true for younger workers, who expect much more frequent information. Also, goal in some businesses may need to be adjusted more often than yearly.

  • Traditional yearly performance reviews can make employees feel unfairly judged, and lead to a negative relationship between worker and supervisor. This in turn can actually lead to worse performance from the employee.
  • Annual evaluations are often linked with salary or wage adjustments. Sometimes, however, a business is financially unable to provide a significant raise, leading the employee to feel that the review process is meaningless.
  • Assigning a numeric rating to employee performance in various criteria can create a false impression of scientific accuracy, and mask unconscious manager biases. And when employees are ranked against each other numerically, overall performance can go down.

Checking In

So what’s the answer? More often and casual check-ins with employees might be an alternative to the traditional review. These conversations can happen quarterly, monthly and even more often. Supervisors can use this time to recognize accomplishment and identify strengths and weaknesses, but removing the heavy administrative side of annual reviews can result in a more even conversation between manager and employee. This creates a more natural learning process for both parties, and usually leads to better performance.

Also, the more frequent conversation approach is an opportunity to discuss any recent employee actions, positive or otherwise, that are worthy of praise or counseling. Prompt positive feedback can be much more motivational than praise several months after the fact can ever be.

Prompt Response

Similarly, talking about a performance issue in a timely fashion makes it easier to resolve. Details will not be forgotten, nor will dissatisfaction be allowed to grow over time and lead to a more negative response down the road.

Usually with this check in method, there is no requirement for giving the worker something in writing. It is, however, still advisable to go back to a more formal review process if any serious performance issues persist after multiple check ins. That process should include the opportunity for the employer to provide documentation that supports a disciplinary action or termination.

Here are some additional tips for making this kind of performance review effective:

  • Remain as positive as possible. Of course, any problems should not be ignored, but the more positive the conversation, the more receptive the employee will be to accepting direction where it is needed.
  • Be specific. Give specific actions or results that are required. This prevents the employee feeling like they are being individually criticized.
  • Focus on what can be done. Keep in mind any individual constraints in ability, personal traits or resources, which might prevent an employee from accomplishing a goal. If there is a performance shortfall that is beyond the employee’s control, highlighting the issue can create more problems.
  • Avoid comparisons to other employees. This can lead to a competitive mindset that may become counterproductive.

Abandoning the traditional annual review is not realistic for all Maine-based small business. But it could be a good way for employees to receive more feedback. Business owners should make sure managers are well trained in what makes a good performance check-in.