“Annual Misery” is how I’ve heard leaders and employees alike refer to their performance appraisal process. Most complaints center around the time it takes to write them, the uncomfortable meeting to share them, and questions of the value – are they changing performance in any meaningful way?
Research from Sutton and Wigert for Gallup indicates that only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve. In fact, they say, “In other words, if performance reviews were a drug, they would not meet FDA approval for efficacy.”
In the Fire Leadership training I do, most company and chief officers confirm their disdain for their process or system and often tell me they are looking for something better. That’s a trend in the Fire Service and also in business. Some trends:
Companies and even a few Fire Departments have said goodbye to formal annual performance evaluations and hello to a model of continuous feedback;
Some organizations have kept the Annual Performance Evaluation but ditched the ratings: and
Some employers have even developed Apps that allow peers to give each other feedback
So the conversation about reviews goes on. Questions continue about whether reviews should even exist, and if so, should they focus on accountability, development, or a little of both? According to the Harvard Business Review, the main reason that companies are dropping reviews is because of these limitations:
They overemphasize punishments
Their end-of-year structure holds people accountable for past behavior only
The focus on the past fails to improve current performance or groom talent for the future
In contrast, HBR says, “regular conversations about performance and development change the focus to building the workforce your organization needs to be competitive both today and years from now. “
Whether your Fire Service organization is in or out with formal performance appraisals, one thing is clear - the role of the manager in having a greater influence on, and meaningful relationships with employees is paramount.
One way to have better relationships is to give regular feedback in a constructive, coaching style conversation. Opening communication in this way can be done immediately and is widely enjoyed by the more recent generations of employees (born during or after 1980).
How can you start? Have “Check-In” conversations using the following model (download your copy here by clicking the image below).
Select frequency to meet with each employee and stick to it (quarterly, monthly – as needed per individual)
Prepare talking points in all three categories in writing to share:
What’s going well?
What can you work on?
How can I help you?
3. Meeting should be only 15 minutes or so in length.
4. Use good coaching and mentoring communication.
5. Send finalized content by email to ensure mutual understanding.
This is a framework that may help you. I have had students add it to their leadership toolbox, and it has been successful for them. Even if they have to write a review at year-end, everything has been discussed already. The review is easier to write with information that has been reviewed and, hopefully, there are no surprises for employees.
Doing these well can increase engagement, retention, and help you plan your workforce needs in a meaningful way for all.