Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Performance Appraisals - A Better Alternative

While working on a client project, I came across a great article by Susan Heathfield on Performance Management. Like me, she also thinks that the appraisal process is generally counterproductive.

My approach has been to ask people when they were last inspired to better performance as a result of a performance appraisal. I haven't gotten a positive answer to that one yet.

Susan's point is that managers don't like doing reviews and don't see any value, so they avoid completing them. As a result, HR gets to become the nag. Meanwhile, the employee feels that his review, and potential increase, is a low priority for his boss. Ouch!

The best reviews I have received came from one of my first bosses. He would periodically hold informal coaching sessions. There was never a formal review and I learned a lot from him.

My worst review came from a boss who used a behaviorally anchored system, that I designed, and gave me a perfect score. I know that I am wonderful, but perfect? Hmmm. It was not an inspiring moment for me. All was not lost. A copy of that review did go a long way in helping me land my next job.

So what do I advocate? Do coaching on a daily basis. Tell people what is working and what is not - as it happens. At the beginning of the year, work with the employee to set goals and expectations. Then follow up with them each month to review the progress. Compensate based on successes achieved.

What about the need for reviewing the softer items, like interpersonal skills, attendance, etc? If the goals are appropriately challenging, these items will answer themselves. It is very difficult to accomplish goals unless you come to work regularly and work well with others while you're there. An employee who tells you he could not accomplish his goals because of a lack of support from others has already told you his greatest weakness, but that's a topic for another day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How Should You Treat Employees in a Down Economy?

Earlier this week, I went to a meeting where the topic was the economic forecast for 2010. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The overall consensus was that our economy is going to improve and it will do it sooner rather than later.

The interesting part for me though, was the speaker who said that we need to watch how we're treating our employees now, because the economy will improve and those employees will have choices. Will they choose to stay at your firm? You would like to think so, but why not be certain?

Now, I'm not saying that you can't make tough choices, cut costs, or charge more for benefits. That's simply not realistic. What you can do is make certain that you communicate the reason for the change, what other options you considered, and then be available for comments. Better yet: ask for employee input before you choose a course of action.

Will everyone be happy? Absolutely not, but if the majority of your employees believe that you are trying to do the right thing, you'll be fine. The ones that are never satisfied are the ones that you won't mind seeing move to the company next door.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Do Performance Evaluations Add Value?

Within the past week, I've had two clients ask me about performance evaluation systems. I have some strong opinions about this topic and wrote a blog with my thoughts before deciding that this would be a really interesting topic to ask for some feedback first.

Most HR people will tell you that you need performance evaluations for these 3 reasons:

1. To legally protect the company by documenting the performance of each employee - essentially providing a paper trail that supports future employment actions.

2. To provide positive feedback for good performance and encourage improvement in the areas where development is required.

3. To ensure compensation decisions are based on a structured system that links rewards to performance.

Here are the questions that I have for you:

Question #1. Have you observed a situation where a performance review history successfully supported an employment decision? In what way?

Question #2. Have you personally changed a behavior and/or been motivated to better performance as a result of a discussion that occurred during a performance evaluation? Feel free to share your best and worst experiences.

Please share your comments on this blog. Once I get some feedback, I'll share the blog that I wrote earlier.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Think you know who's legally protected?

A week or so ago, I would have answered "yes" to this, now I'm not so sure. For years I've been training managers which classes of people are protected and highlighting the fact that straight white males under 40 were pretty much the final unprotected group. Now, that's changing.

In a recent case here in Michigan, Gorbe v. TCF Bank, the plaintiff needed to prove that he was in a protected class. However the court ruled that: "all employees are inherently members of a protected class because all persons may be discriminated against." Wow.

So what happened in Gorbe? Mr. Gorbe, a caucasian, argued that Ms. Habbas-Nimer, of Middle Eastern descent, got a job assignment that he wanted. He believes she got the assignment because of her ethnic heritage and because their bank is located in Dearborn, MI an area with a large Middle Eastern population.

As a white male who used to be under 40, I certainly haven't advocated that anyone discriminate against this group. However, it was comforting to believe that there was one safety zone for making employment decisions - kind of like when I play the board game "Sorry" with my kids, where you can land, be safe, and not have to go back to start.

Usually the managers that I've worked with have been pretty good about not discriminating based on the traditional protected classes. What I have had to fight is the urge for them to give preference to their golf and fishing buddies. Perhaps if Mr. Gorbe really wants to climb the ladder at TCF Bank, what he needs are some good golf lessons.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) Chaos

Earlier today I sent out a reminder to my clients that November 21st is the deadline for posting the new GINA poster. Unfortunately I'm just nerdy enough to spend some time on the web reading about the law and some presentations on it. One of those presentations reminded me again why normal people make fun of Human Resources folks. The attorney who wrote it actually recommended that companies NOT send sympathy cards to sick employees and/or family members because of this Act. What?

I understand that personal health information needs to be closely guarded, but really, no sympathy cards? In the past, I was one of the company representatives designated to attend the funerals of employees, spouses, and close family members. While I suppose I could have used that opportunity to grill the remaining family members about their health histories, the thought honestly never crossed my mind.

Discrimination is a bad thing for many reasons, but showing the people who spend the majority of their waking hours with you that you actually care about them, is simply good management. The goodwill that you generate will provide a lot more protection than strict adherence to a legal principle that alienates your employees. So, go to funerals, send flowers and cards, and then make your employment decisions based on each individual's knowledge, skills and abilities. That's what really matters in the long run anyway.