Getting ahead in performance reviews

Are formal performance reviews an exercise in bureaucratic timewasting or an essential tool for assessing staff achievement?

Are formal performance reviews an exercise in bureaucratic timewasting or an essential tool for assessing staff achievement?

Job reviews cause stress for both managers and employees, recruiter and author Nick Corcodilos told Computerworld Australia. Bosses hate the paperwork and feel performance reviews get in the way of the day-to-day business, says Corcodilos, author of Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job. The flip side to this is that some staff leave because they don't get a review.

But Auckland Regional Council CIO Tony Darby disputes Corcodilos' analysis of managers' attitudes: performance reviews are part of the day-to-day job. They are essential in passing feedback between both parties, developing a common understanding of where the organsation is going, establishing a sense of purpose, outlining to individuals what is expected of them and finding out ways in which things can be done better.

In this country, it seems the larger the organisation the more formal the process that takes place. ARC stages performance reviews every six months, Darby describing them as “an ongoing process of planning, reviewing, rewarding and developing employee performance”. A review, he says, not only improves the organisation’s overall performance and effectiveness, "but also enhances the individual employee's abilities and job satisfaction”.

Darby says the role of manager is to set the direction for employees, communicate expectations of performance, define agreed outcomes and targets and provide constructive feedback on performance. The role of the employee is to participate in the process, identifying skills which could be developed and improved, and take responsibility for actively improving that performance.

Gavin Mitchell, chief executive of Kinetiq (formerly WelTech), says his firm’s reviews are quarterly and are a two-way interview, with the manager receiving feedback and suggestions for improvement as much as the staff member. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals are set for the next review and results from reviews helps in company management decisions and planning.

IT industry stalwart John O’Hara agrees performance must be specific, achievable and measurable. Agreed targets without surprises or variations in expectations must be well communicated. O’Hara recommends a look at US recruiting and hiring guru Barry Shamis of

Christchurch-based iTouch sees performance reviews as an adjunct to regular feedback like "that was a great job done" or "that could have been done better".

Managing director Phil Holliday says managers who cannot carry out reviews shouldn’t be a manager. If they cannot review staff performance, how can they be expected to manage a department, he asks.

Holliday says iTouch's reviews look at both the performance of the company and the employee and plan the requirements for career development over the coming period. But there are alternatives, he says.

“Motivating staff requires a number of different techniques, and one that works for me is ‘MBWA” -- management by wandering about. Annual or quarterly reviews are no substitute for talking to staff everyday, or for monthly staff meetings to present the previous month’s results,” he says.

However reviews are done, Corcodilos says employees should be active in their own evaluations. By arranging an informal meeting with a supervisor weeks before the review to discuss future goals and outline problems solved in the last year, it is possible for an employee to subtly but effectively highlight their value to a company.

“Why not look at your review as an opportunity to go in and essentially re-interview for your own job and convince your boss that you are worth more money?" Corcodilos asks. "Because you are talking about money and being judged it can be difficult to find the tone, but I think the best way to overcome that is to have a little review with your boss every couple of months."

Greenwood is Computerworld's HR and employment issues reporter.

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