Performance reviews still valid

IN THE DARK: It is not productive to tell someone to do something without giving them certain details.
IN THE DARK: It is not productive to tell someone to do something without giving them certain details.

The December issue of Employment Today posed a very good question in "Have performance appraisals had their day?" writes Brian Richardson in Work to Rule.

I have long been an advocate of both formal and informal appraisals. In my opinion, they perform an extremely important role in managing staff. With New Zealand seemingly lacking in the area of staff management, it is essential that all of the tools that can help managers manage their "human resources" (oh, how I hate that phrase) are used.

In my view there are two types of performance appraisal - and I believe a good manager or supervisor should use both.

There is the informal appraisal, which should be a dynamic, contemporary tool that is constantly in use, providing both planning and feedback advice to individual staff and to small teams.

It is my belief that staff need to know what to do, when to do it, and how well to do it.

This takes some planning and means that both the supervisor and staff interact to achieve the planned output.

I don't think it is productive to just tell people to do something without explaining the context within which it is to be done and the essentials of what to do, when to do it and the expected standard. In doing so, the manager will tend to get a "buy in", with staff getting to feel part of the project and attaching some importance to it.

In a manufacturing scenario, for example, it is as simple as telling staff what they are going to be making today and who it is for (even if it is just for stock).

From a negative perspective, if the manager has to discipline a staff member for non-performance, the employee will not be able to say that they were not told what, when and how well to do the job.

If a staff member needs to be disciplined, it is essential they were told what to do, when to do it and how well to do it.

In other words, the manager's expectations must have been spelled out to them, otherwise they could successfully argue that they were never told what the performance requirements were - and therefore cannot be disciplined.

Most supervisors keep a diary with them. All they need to do is to note down in their diary that they set out their expectations to staff on that day and this may help them prove, if they need to, that they met the initial procedural requirements for warning a staff member. They can also note down a warning, or praise for something done well.

In terms of motivating staff, it is always better if employees feel they are part of a team that is working together, even in a small way, to achieve a greater goal. When people feel they are active members of a team, they will almost always work better and be more productive.

When it is time for the annual appraisal, it will be easy to review the year and collate the diary notes to see what the person did well and what they didn't do well.

The aim of that part of the appraisal is to avoid "surprises" (such as warnings or other disciplinary action) and ensure that staff are confident that their achievements during the year will be recognised.

In my opinion, the annual performance appraisal should be 25 per cent review and 75 per cent planning.

Again, it is about setting expectations for the future so that staff members know, in broad terms, what they are going to be doing for the next six or 12 months. They can then plan their private life around what is required of them in their working life.

Both management and staff members can plan what they will be doing during each part of the year. They can see where they fit in in terms of where the employer is headed. You can look at what training might be needed or offered; opportunities to change roles; opportunities for promotion or transfer; or areas for improvement (by both the employee and the employer).

Generally, it should be a goal-setting exercise.

Even for something as simple as a cleaning role, goal-setting can be important. The aim is to make the employee feel wanted and that their contribution to the employer is valued. If they are not made to feel important, then they will question why they are there.

It is important that a formal record is kept of that planning and review process so that, when it comes time to evaluate performances, you can see what had been agreed upon as a target level of performance. This is often the part that puts managers off, but the paperwork can be a very simple single piece of paper. You do not need to write a book as some "HR professionals" recommend.

In my view, the broader definition of performance appraisal means that it is an essential, dynamic, tool for the successful management of staff.

If used well and wisely, performance appraisals can produce exponential improvements in productivity.

» Brian Richardson is an employment and human resources adviser at Preston Russell Law. E-mail questions to:

The Southland Times