Duck ... review time is here again

Mention performance reviews to many people - bosses and employees alike - and watch them duck for cover.

Mention performance reviews to many people - bosses and employees alike - and watch them duck for cover.

Such reviews make many people nervous. Of the IT managers interviewed for this column three declined to take part - two saying the issue is too sensitive. A fourth agreed to take part but only if he isn't identified.

So, how do you prepare for the daunting exercise of evaluating your staff?

At Heinz Watties Australasia, MIS manager Kerry McDermott examines the extensive documentation built up on staff through the review process (the company has mid-year and end-of-year reviews). He then alerts the person when a review will be done - asking him or her if there are any issues that need to be discussed.

Sky City general manager IS Damian Swaffield starts with the job objectives that were laid down the previous year (formal reviews are held annually) - not just checking that these were met, but whether they are still valid relative to the business plan (which could have changed).

The use of weekly task lists (part of an overall project register which helps keep control of the company's many initiatives) means Swaffield can see how effective staff have been at achieving tasks over time.

All three IT managers willing to talk ask for employee input into how they think they've been performing. They stress that's vitally important - as is getting their input into objective setting (although they say these goals must also be aligned to the business plan).

Giving criticism isn't easy, but is often part of the review process. The Auckland-based IS manager who didn't wish to be named - let's instead call him Rick Smith - says he tries to avoid negatives, telling someone there's room for improvement rather than that their code is "rotten".

"A couple of my guys are really sensitive and it would be shattering for them to have a comment made like that."

Swaffield says it helps if you have a good relationship with people.

"If you're seen as a communicator and someone who's approachable then people will accept constructive commentary because you've been complimentary when they've done a good job and given them a bit of a rev when they've done an intermediate job; and you give them more than that when their performance is not up to scratch."

But what do you do if people struggle to meet their objectives?

McDermott addresses problems on an ongoing basis as a manager, but if it becomes serious, a person from the human resources department is brought in to look at the challenges a person is facing. The aim is to reach an agreement on how improvements can be made.

If problems continue then there will be up to two more meetings. All the problems are documented so everyone is clear about what's happening.

Smith says if someone isn't performing then he doesn't wait for a review which could be months away.

"If somebody's slacking off a bit, you really do try to nip it in the bud."

Swaffield agrees.

"If they're not performing, you've already had a damn good chat to them. If they are performing you've recognised that - not necessarily through remuneration, but through other means to let them know they're doing a good job."

At Sky City this includes access to its facilities such as restaurants and hotel rooms at no charge.

Which brings us around to the issue of rewards for performance. Should pay and performance be linked? The answers are mixed.

For Smith, a lot of work is put into keeping the two separate. This means that someone who is new, but who isn't yet meeting high standards because they're still learning, can still be rewarded for hard work.

At Sky City the pay review follows the performance review. Swaffield says the company also uses market relativity surveys to get an idea of what the market rates are - something Smith has trouble with. He says corporates, particularly in IT, have no idea what market rates are.

"I have a real problem because most of the time I have no idea what a good programmer is worth . I think I'm paying them well, but then I could be out by thousands."

McDermott believes pay reviews have to be guided by performance reviews, although other issues such as how well the company's performed are also taken into account.

So what about that old excuse - "you're doing well but the company can't afford pay raises this year?"

Smith says as a corporate there is always a problem with its parent body setting the level of wages and salaries for the coming year.

"If you were to go out and say 'I want to give all my people a 15% increase because that's the way the market's moved', then it's a huge battle to try and get that passed."

Swaffield says people may accept no or low pay increases if the general economic climate isn't good, but it will be depend what other rewards they get from their job. If they're having fun and learning, pay may not be such as issue.

Send email to Kirstin Mills.

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