Effective Staff Reviews

Employing people is a big step for many small business owners and usually one that requires a lot of investment. Once the new staff member is in place and trained up to do their job, the temptation is to feel like it is a case of ‘job done’ and move on to the next thing, expecting things to run smoothly indefinitely thereafter.

Often what we miss is that an employment relationship is a dynamic situation. For one thing the motivations of your staff member will change over time. What was challenging to someone in the first six months of employment can quickly become old hat. People’s lives move on, they may need more money, they may need less stress, they get bored, they get inspired. Whatever it is, things are happening.

On the other side the business is changing too. The job description you created a year ago could be defunct, now you need more of this or that role in the business, you have no time to support the role any more so you need someone who is self sufficient, you have more time. Again, whatever it is, things are afoot.

Add to this that most likely both you and your employee want their performance to develop and grow in some way. This is increasingly important to people. The value of personal development and our lives having meaning is growing and growing. And from the business’s side, the desire to get more from employees never goes away.

In our opinion this is why staff reviews exist and why they are a really good idea. With that in mind we have some recommendations for having successful staff reviews.

Make them regular

One of the most important parts to staff review is that they are regular and predictable. One big mistake people make is to get people in for a staff review when they see things are starting to go wrong. However people will quickly make the link between there being something wrong and the staff review. With that in background you are set up for an unproductive encounter.

You need to set them up to have a predictable frequency. We feel that once a year is too infrequent. It allows problems too long to build up. More than once a quarter starts to feel like task management. Here at Crunchers our favoured rhythm is every six months.

Whatever frequency you choose, make sure you stick to it even if you feel everything is going well. Something we have to accept as employers is that staff members will find it hard to come to you with their problems or grievances. Part of the value of making them regular is that employees don’t need to worry when they are going to have a chance to raise something not working in employment, they know the opportunity will be around the corner.

Create a safe space

We can only solve problems if we can talk about them openly. Mostly that is more of a problem for employees than employers. Employees know that ultimately if they say the wrong thing, they can lose their job. As much as you can you need to remove this fear from the equation. It should be clear that whilst ultimately failing to meet certain performance standards over time might result in someone losing their job, you will not use what they say in that meeting against them but as a start point to make this work.

Employers also have trouble talking openly. We fear upsetting our employees. We fear losing them. In this we need to be brave and lead by example. If people sense you are hiding something, they will follow suit.

Make sure their aspirations and the business’s are aligned

People’s happiness in any area of their life is intimately connected with the future they see in that area. This is where you find out if the job taking them where they want to end up. It is where you will find out what doesn’t work for them in the job and hopefully what does. Try to get into their shoes and see what is important to them. If you can get their aspiration to align with something that the business needs, you are probably onto a winner. That employee is likely to be excited and motivated in their job, work hard and produce results.

This doesn’t mean we need people to have big ambitions. Sometimes someone who wants their job to carry on the same way is incredibly useful to us. But the point is to make sure you can get to alignment. There maybe some changes to make or it could become clear that the business and your employee’s paths are moving apart.

We shouldn’t be fearful of this. In fact we should make sure the possibility of either side moving on (legally) is on the table. This is healthy and neither side should get stuck in something that isn’t working. If it is clear the wants and needs of your employee has diverged from that of the company, you have the opportunity of a managed transition. If you help them with the change they need to make, likely they will try to help you with handing over to the next person.

Review Performance

We recommend to make these 360 degree reviews, in other words that your performance as an employer gets reviewed as well as their performance as an employee. This way problems are much more likely to get sorted out. You may feel someone is slow but find that you haven’t been clear with your instructions or that they don’t have the tools for the job.

We like to make this a repeated scoring system against criteria that on the employee side include attitude, knowledge and performance and on the employer side facilities, management, training and benefits. Give this scoring system to your employee in advance and then review it together at the meeting. One of the encouraging things you will probably discover is that people know where they need to improve.

Set Development Goals

As we said earlier, people like to feel they are developing, learning, and moving forward in their life. Obviously as the employer you have things you want people to improve with, but remember that your employee is much more likely to take on the development if it fits with how they want to develop, so let them be involved and shape the development goals you set.

Talk about money

Of course this is the most sensitive subject of all for employees and employers. It doesn’t need to be a topic of discussion at every review but it does need to be covered once a year. As we discussed in our blog about motivating staff we don’t believe that money is a the best motivator for employees but we don’t want it to become an issue where people feel undervalued.

Therefore it needs to be discussed openly like everything else.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Helen Sanders of Your People Partners who has supported us in upgrading our HR processes so much in the last year.

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