performance management cycleWhat happens when an employee’s behaviour falls below your expectation? Perhaps their attitude is poor. Or they make too many minor mistakes. Maybe they try really hard but they still can’t get the job done. Or maybe they can’t do the job at all.

Over the years, we have received many frustrated calls from clients who have reached the end of their rope and want to sever ties with an employee. However, as we ask the client a few questions and dig a little deeper, we discover that they haven’t taken the proactive steps they could have with the employee to prevent the frustration from building. We discover that they haven’t ever told the employee that their performance is lacking, or that their attitude is a problem. We learn that they expect the employee to “just know” how to do their job without ever having given them clear instructions or guidance. We learn that the situation with the employee isn’t new and in some cases have been happening for years, even decades!

With the start of a new year, we have already heard from some clients that they want to clean house and let the ineffective employee go. Before going down that path, now would be an opportune time to review the performance management cycle and how to effectively manage employee performance.

The performance management cycle includes the following 4 steps:

1. Setting performance standards, goals & expectations
2. Observing performance
3. Providing coaching and training
4. Giving performance feedback

The performance management cycle forms a continuous loop which should be repeated again and again, formally and informally, to ensure that you are guiding and teaching employees to do what it takes to meet the company’s goals.

Follow these guidelines to help you put the performance management cycle into practice:

1. Set the stage

  • Clearly identify company goals, targets and objectives and communicate them to employees,
  • Explain to employees the importance of managing performance and providing performance feedback.
  • Discuss the importance of giving employee feedback on how their position contributes to the success of the company, how it helps to achieve the company’s goals and targets, what the employee is doing well and what needs to be improved.
  • Highlight that good performance management also provides an opportunity for employees to give feedback to the company on how it can improve and how to make the work environment better.
  • Feedback also allows an opportunity to discuss and document goals, targets, training and how you will work together going forward.

2. Set individual performance standards, expectations and goals

  • Each employee must know what their roles & responsibilities are (the “what” of their job) and what performance standards they must meet (the “how”).
  • Review job description
    • Part of setting expectations with employees includes reviewing an employee’s job description to confirm roles, responsibilities and expectations for the position.
    • Ensure that there continues to be a fit between the employee and the position.
    • Discuss and document areas where the employee may need assistance, support or training to accomplish the duties and responsibilities of their position.
    • Set job-specific standards & expectations against which to measure & review performance.
  • Discuss company-wide standards
    • Review company standards, policies and expectations that you have for all employees.
    • Company-wide standards can include such topics as:
      • Attendance & hours of work
      • How to interact with customers or clients
      • Respect in the workplace and how to treat employees
      • Performance management standards & processes
      • Use of company computer system and network
  • Set goals with employees
    • Goals can be set to develop employees’ competency in their current position, to enhance their current role, or to develop skills & talents to take on future roles in the company.
    • Goals should be SMART:
      • Specific – clear description of what needs to be achieved
      • Measurable – able to determine if results have been achieved
      • Achievable – possible to achieve the goal, yet challenging
      • Relevant – realistic and related to scope of job
      • Time-based – need a time frame by when the goal should be accomplished

3. Review options for observing performance

  • Once performance standards are established and communicated, you need to be able to observe employee performance to see if employees are meeting, exceeding or under-achieving their goals.
  • Many options exist to observe performance including:
    • Simply watching the employee on-the-job and seeing how they are performing.
    • Asking the employee directly about their own performance.
    • Asking co-workers, colleagues or team members about how an employee is performing.
    • Reviewing performance against the standards or metrics which have been set.
    • Obtaining feedback from clients and/or customers on employees.

4. Provide coaching, training and mentoring, as needed

  • Seldom can an employee excel in a position without guidance and some amount of training, coaching or mentoring.
  • Informal (on-the-job) coaching & training:
    • Observe employees in their everyday setting.
    • Provide guidance, training & feedback, as needed.
    • Ensure that you are not micro-managing an employee.
    • Provide immediate, on-going, informal feedback.
    • Involve other employees (e.g. co-workers, team members, direct reports) in the process.
  • Informal meetings:
    • Schedule informal meetings on a regular basis (e.g. weekly, monthly).
    • Discuss strong points and weak points of the employee during the meeting.
    • Consider providing regular feedback on what the employee needs to do “more of”, “less of” or to “continue doing”.
    • These meetings are non-disciplinary in nature – are discussions only.
    • Used to motivate employees to do well and to discuss areas where you can support them.
  • Formal meetings:
    • Used to document performance progress (e.g. performance reviews, annual reviews).
    • Hold a formal meeting upon hire so that all expectations are clearly expressed.
    • Reiterate your expectations.
    • Confirm specific assistance you will provide.
    • Often used to discuss on-going problem areas as well as development opportunities.

5. Provide performance feedback

  • Performance feedback tells employees how they are performing in relation to expectations, standards & goals.
  • Feedback process is used for both positive and negative feedback, both of which are essential for maintaining excellent performance.
  • Feedback should go both ways – from the manager to the employee and from the employee to their manager. Both sides should give feedback to each other on a formal or informal basis.
  • Determine the options that make sense for your company on how feedback should be provided.
  • Possible options include:
    • Ad hoc feedback, as required, electronically or verbally
    • Informal staff meetings
    • One-on-one meetings between manager and employee
    • Regular performance review

Remember, the performance management cycle is a continuous loop of setting expectations, observing performance, coaching & training, providing feedback, setting expectations…. etc. If you were to do only one thing, be sure to conduct regular one-on-one meetings with your staff and tell them what they’re doing well, where they need to improve, and determine the support they need to achieve their goals. By doing this, you will reduce your employee headaches and improve your results.

For assistance with implementing the performance management cycle for your Vancouver-based small business, please contact Clear HR Consulting.


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