Resilience is my number 1 hiring trait.
As a manager, you will have ups and downs with your employees, and your feedback should reflect this.
It’s not about harshness or power play, mind you. Receiving critical feedback may be absolutely devastating for juniors and many introverts.
However, your options are very limited and you don’t want to do any of the following that might only jeopardize the entire company:
- Stick to praising (missing out on improvements)
- Prolong tough times until it becomes unbearable
- Sugar-coat problems
- Look for a replacement because a civilized conversation is unlikely
- Deliver feedback and receive a resignation letter the morning after
See? That’s why resilience ranks as #1.
Conducting a Transparent Employee Performance Review
When it comes to the key element an employee performance review and feedback should have – it’s transparency.
Transparency is a two-way street: it requires commitment and honesty from both parties.
The best way to send and receive honest and constructive feedback is by communicating clearly, putting the time and effort, working closely with your team, monitoring the environment.
For example, here’s a message I received once from my freelance editor:
Note the hesitation in her voice. I’m not a native English speaker and I’ve asked her for an honest opinion on a guest post of mine – as detailed and extensive as possible. My response was super polite as I’m grateful for her effort and helping me achieve better results.
But people are different – which is why managers are afraid of hurting feelings. However, employee feedback is crucial in ensuring a thriving business operation.
The Importance of Setting KPIs in Evaluating Performance
Without KPIs in place, it can be very difficult to set up a reliable performance review that is free of prejudice.
There are employees who get really defensive when they get criticisms during the feedback phase.
For the most part, performance isn’t easily measurable. Often, you will find employees who show undesirable work performance including but not limited to the following:
- Produce poor quality work
- Spend half of the day slacking
- Keep pestering the rest of the team all day long
- Work slowly and inefficiently
Those kinds of performance can be difficult to gauge due to the following possible considerations:
- For every problematic assignment, they may point to their “top work”, or excuse themselves.
- Slacking may be justified as waiting for feedback, compiling, brainstorming, reminiscing.
- Pestering the team is easily followed up with “teamwork” or other justifications.
- Slow work may be faced with “quality” or the like.
Having hard data in place does not make it easier for you as data may not always be applicable, or easily comparable.
- Just because their typing speed is slower, you can’t immediately reduce a writer’s performance to slow if they only produce 1,500 words over a longer period of time.
- Every task is unique in its core so it’s not a good idea to compare a programmer’s task with the others that could be more or less complex
- Most marketing strategies take time before you can see the effects so telling a marketer their strategy is poor is not fair
Managers need to deal with these in order to lead teams towards progress. Eventually, the next step would be to put the employees on a performance improvement plan and hope they will get back on track.
Two Major Aspects of Providing Employee Feedback
Employers and managers need to be proactive in giving feedback and employees need to be explicitly open to receiving feedback if you want to avoid political correctness.
There are two aspects of employee feedback that you need to consider:
- Measurable, data-driven results for one’s work
- Subjective, personal aspects – being a good team player, adjustable to the culture
An organization may eject an employee for any of those reasons.
Setting the Measurable Areas of Employee Performance
Regarding the measurable areas, make sure that your employees comply with the company policies, guidelines, and requirements. These can work differently depending on the nature of one’s work and role in the company, such as for
- Developers – it’s important that such employee hits all of the programming goals, produce high-quality code, adhere to the conventions, limit the bugs committed, communicate clearly when completing assignments.
- Marketers – make sure that the marketer produces copy with no grammar or syntax errors, hit goals, measure all of the established KPIs, be proactive and come up with fresh ideas or alternatives for solving a problem.
- Sales Rep – salespeople must figure out what the goals are and go above and beyond. They must attend networking events, generate leads, form strategic partnerships whenever possible, be responsive to incoming emails without postponing them.
Employees don’t need to compete aggressively with their colleagues but must keep an eye on their accomplishments. But if an employee is the lowest performer in the organization, this would be a problem.
Set clear KPIs, weekly milestones, and certain quality standards to follow.
The following are key factors that need to be considered:
- Time frames
- Process workflow
- Specific goals
An employee who is failing could be due to a process that is not carefully defined or that the employee is simply the wrong fit.
The right metrics are crucial in making sure that your performance improvement plan runs smoothly.
We have coding standards and technical documentation for most web development stuff, along with sprint tasks with estimates and project-specific estimates pertaining to the monthly traffic, database volume, and concurrent users. A web developer can be subjected to a performance improvement plan or worse, termination if he continues to delay tasks or produce poor quality systematically.
There are also certain KPIs for marketing teams. Writers have a weekly average of article/word count to follow, depending on the type of content. There are certain writing guidelines including image sources, formatting, and internal link building that should also be noted in content production.
Those who work for Quality Assurance need to avoid problems across a set of TestRail tests and other checklists for testing across different browsers and OS.
Different companies can set their own KPIs but that’s how it works for the most part. There could be different KPIs with the corresponding remote teams but one thing is for sure, communication is part of it. You can use time trackers for monitoring progress in relation to time, among other tools.
Identifying Personal Areas of Improvement
In terms of any personal areas of improvement, note any deviations from the casual chit-chat at the office. If everything is going smoothly, it should be okay. If your peers are disengaged and not interested in spending time with a certain employee (as compared to other colleagues), this may be worth exploring further. The same goes for their managers.
One-on-one talks often work sufficiently. During private conversations at work, the manager and the employee can provide candid feedback and see if what to improve upon certain aspects.
It sure is a challenge with some folks. When giving feedback, I would try to slowly explain that over the course of a few interruptions until they finally get the point. It’s a balance between introducing the news to them without hurting their feelings (since most irresponsible or inadequate people are the most touchy of ’em all).
Employee Performance Review and Feedback Tools
The complicated part of preparing professional performance reviews isn’t about the tooling but rather establishing KPIs and metrics to track for every employee. Additionally, monitoring is a challenging part of keeping the culture intact (and productivity as a result).
Some workarounds present specific Slack integrations similar to HeyTaco! that thousands of teams use. HeyTaco lets you celebrate an accomplishment or send some props in the form of tacos across your Slack workspace.
This initiative includes some statistics as well – like numbers of tacos received per employee. Gathering this feedback regularly can serve as a measurement in certain cases, plus you can utilize this data for your weekly sprints (everyone loves some props).
Professional performance management tools like GroSum take it a step further. GroSum is a comprehensive management software designed to set, track and share goals, results, and feedback across your organization.
OKRs can be tracked with some timelines in place, enabling your management staff to set and monitor the right metrics that matter.
Feedback can be distributed across a broader portion of the team in an anonymized matter. This can be really handy if you wish to involve other team members and gather their feedback, too (such as colleagues working in the same department).
And, of course, performance reviews. Set time frames for quarterly or bi-annual reviews within the tool and automatically assign them to different managers across the company.
Kazoo is another great player in the employee performance space. The key areas Kazoo profiles in are Continuous Performance Management, Employee Recognition & Rewards, and Employee Engagement Surveys.
The semantics of the product are similar to what GroSum offers and the team has invested in certain templates and predefined lists or surveys you can start at first.
You can also streamline your yearly employee review by using Typeform’s employee evaluation maker. This evaluation template is design-focused and fully-customizable with images, GIFs, videos, and themes. This template is available for free and you can access it anytime to further develop your performance review workflow.
In any case, if you’ve got a process working and want to automate that further, take a look at the available templates, options, and alternatives across different industries and company sizes.
Establishing a Feedback Culture at Your Company
According to a Harvard Business Review article, the following are the four essential elements of a feedback-rich culture:
- Safety and Trust
- Personal Accountability
To enable safety and trust in your company, you have to create a workplace environment that allows the people to get to know one another, talk about emotions, and freely say “no” when necessary.
In achieving balance, there also needs to be a place for offering positive feedback that acknowledges and praises effort, not just abilities. In an Inc article that talks about tips for praising employees, I have given the emphasis on recognizing positive behaviors and actions, not only end results. Instead of just praising an employee for their work, I recommend emphasizing the qualities or traits that have led you to recognize your employees.
Companies should also normalize giving feedback. Managers should not wait for a special occasion to provide one so feedback-giving does not become a dreaded activity.
Lastly, the managers should walk the talk by being transparent and asking for feedback even when in a leadership role. Doing so will show how willing you are as a leader to be a part of the ongoing positive development in your company.
Larger teams go through evaluation and performance reviews regularly. This usually applies to both developers and managers. This is cross-checked with quantifiable results delivered by the team.
So, a senior executive would normally review the votes and opinions within the team (anonymized) and cross-reference these with the actual results delivered by the team. Great results are sometimes more stressful as underperforming teams can’t catch up, and everyone is happy when they get a lot of slack, so this bias is to be determined by compiling all pieces together.
Feedback Loops Are Critical
One of the worst mistakes the management can allow is postponing or pushing back feedback cycles.
Feedback reviews take a good portion of time. Gathering and analyzing a quarterly (or longer) period of time and all bits of feedback for every single team member is truly overwhelming.
Some teams analyze feedback in different functions or departments. In other words, multiple managers assess behavior and results for a single employee. This increases the complexity of the process even further (considering that management is busy by design and spending days at a time quarterly on reviews is expensive).
But once your process works and you reveal that during the very first interview, your staff depends on that. They can keep internal problems to themselves until a feedback review comes up. Or impatiently wait for the next session to disclose a problem in the team, the desire to switch departments, or figure out what areas they need to focus on.
Postponing feedback loops can impact motivation dramatically.
When employees feel their efforts are recognized, it boosts morale and encourages a proactive approach. Delayed feedback, however, can create uncertainty and decrease motivation.
Whether you use software or not, set your review process straight and follow through every single time. You’ll get better at feedback sessions and optimize the process more or less, writing down notes in a document every time and keeping an internal record for every employee. Or texting yourself on Slack with feedback and then compiling it every couple of weeks.
Just don’t ignore the importance of the performance review process. It’s totally worth it both financially, and when it comes to culture and longevity of your teammates.