In my last post I explained while annual reviews suck. It’s easy to criticize something that is as universally reviled as performance reviews; harder, perhaps, to suggest ways to improve them. But let me try…
- First off, managers need to change their attitudes about performance reviews. Providing feedback to your employees is not a burden, but among the most important aspects of your job. Never display a ‘tude about reviews as something to get over with, irrelevant, or bureaucratic nonsense. If you think reviews are important and helpful your employees will pick-up on this and approach them positively.
- Feedback is best when delivered at the appropriate time, closer to the specific behavior or event, rather than something put on the shelf and doled out weeks or months later.
- You may find it useful to distinguish between feedback and evaluation. (Feedback is designed to provide guidance to improve performance. Evaluation is placing a qualitative judgment on performance based on criteria. Feedback is formative; evaluation is summative. It has also been described this way: “When a chef tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment,” he said. “But when the customer tastes it, that’s summative.” )
- When documenting performance that may end in dismissal, err on the side of being transparent with the employee and, of course, following all of the procedures in your employee handbook and as required by employee contracts, or state or federal laws.1
- Assertiveness training may help some supervisors and employees avoid the tendency in schools to pull their punches when it comes to potential conflict due to honest feedback as well as reduce defensiveness and blaming. It’s been my experience that many IT managers get into their roles due to their technical competence with little preparation for managing people. If all you have to draw upon is your past personal experience with managers, they may prove to be insufficient in helping you understand the nuances of human relations.
I’ve saved the best advice for last. It may also be the most controversial.
The best way to improve annual performance reviews is to do away with them!
Consider this: If you are engaged in a regular program of formative feedback, what is the purpose of the annual review? Your job as an IT supervisor is to create a culture in which their is continuous improvement in people, systems, practices, procedures, and outcomes. You establish goals in these areas and continuously assess progress against goals. Yes, there is a seasonality and rhythm to the school year that impacts what IT departments do, but the same is true in businesses with sales cycles, holidays, and quarterly and annual earnings goals. Let the academic schedule and practices regarding teacher contracts inform, but not control, how you manage feedback in your tech department.
- I have never quite understood school’s fascination with contracts for administrative employees. I do understand the rhythm of the school year and the close interaction between staff and faculty, yet How these positions need to be married to the school year and not treated like at-will employees in any other business is beyond me. ↩