I am starting to gather up materials for a supervisor round table in September on conducting performance evaluations effectively and with value. This post, originally posted in November 2007, came to mind so I am reposting it now with some updates. Hey, I am a little smarter now than I was then!
Rule #1 of being a manager: do not ever go into a performance review meeting with a member of your staff without preparing for it. Don't do it. Just don't do it.
If you are a manager conducting reviews for the first time or an experienced one wanting a little refresher, here is a wonderful post (with valuable comments) by Ask a Manager on conducting strong performance evaluations.
Preparation is non-negotiable. Administratively, preparations include ensuring a solid foundation where performance plans for staff members compliment and support each other in accomplishing the work, performance standards define the critical and non-critical aspects of a position, and measures of success are quantifiable.
Developmentally, preparation requires thought and introspection. Preparation requires time. Preparation requires asking yourself some questions: where do you (not another manager) stand on fully successful and exceptional as ratings and how do you differentiate between fully successful and exceptional employees? Not sure? Here are some thoughts from the HR Capitalist to consider. Be forewarned, if you can't articulate this distinction clearly to yourself before you develop your plans and your ratings, you will not be able to communicate it to your employees.
Preparing yourself is definitely one part of the performance equation; preparing your employees is the other. Encourage your employees to ask questions and keep asking until they understand what is expected, to discuss challenges in meeting or exceeding performance goals and to suggest revisions, additions, deletions to future plans. Ask them to discuss how they differentiated themselves from their peers, the accomplishments they are the most proud of, and not only the challenges they faced and overcame - but the ones they did not overcome.
Preparation is key but preparation does not ensure that all will go well. It does not guarantee that everyone will be pleased. It does not guarantee comfort. It does not mean that you, as the manager, will not wish you had said or done something differently.
Preparation means that you take this stuff seriously. Preparation means that you value your employees enough to give them the time and attention they deserve.
So do it. Prepare. A strong performance review does not just happen.