A well structured and managed monitoring and evaluation system is key to the success of any size of business. Based around the ’performance cycle’ principles, and backed with robust documentation, engaging training, and a full understanding from all involved, evaluating performance can be motivational, help employee understanding, and move the team forward together. But where to start?
Discuss and agree objectives
The performance cycle - as the name would suggest - is an ongoing, cyclical process, which starts with a thorough understanding of the individual job role, team aims, and overarching company objectives (to the extent that these relate to the individual). The setting of clear, high quality objectives is not necessarily a strength of all employees, and the coaching skills needed to perform a balanced, inspirational review, do not always come easy to managers - training, robust processes, structures and paperwork can help your team get the best out of your monitoring and evaluation system.
Through conversation (or a series of conversations), an employee agrees with his manager the objectives they are to achieve in the next review period - which will generally run for three, six, or twelve months depending on the system adopted. Objectives may be very clear cut and business focused - in sales organisations, for example, where target setting used hard measures; or more related to behaviours, skills or longer term achievements. In the latter case it is especially important to write objectives in a SMART style to make them transparent and clear, and to back them up with structured job descriptions designed to truly reflect the individual role. Whatever review system and period is used, objectives should be written down and formally agreed to - usually with a real or electronic signature - to ensure clarity on all sides.
As a manager, it is important to balance this stage of the process between the ’bottom up’ - those objectives related fully to the individual employee’s specific job description, strengths and interests - and the ’top down’ requirements for team members’ achievements to add up to the overall company aims. Some systems require a downward cascade of objective setting to achieve this - in which the most senior managers set their own objectives before moving on to agree the aims of their direct reports, and so on. Managers using a coaching style with their teams to make objectives the genuine result of a two way discussion and debate, will find their staff are more engaged and ’bought into’ their agreed aims - and therefore much more likely to actually achieve them!
Informal progress updates
Objectives agreed, teams must schedule in regular, informal reviews, to measure progress against their aims. These could form part of a manager’s one to one meetings, or be a team discussion if objectives are similar or shared. Even outside of these conversations, performance should be an every day discussion, allowing a manager to acknowledge achievements and monitor progress through simple questions and ’water cooler’ chats.
There should be nothing surprising about a formal evaluation or review - and with regular informal discussions about performance, a manager can make sure his whole team is clear on their achievement, feels recognised and appreciated, and any short-fall in the desired standard is addressed quickly rather than left to fester and become a larger problem.
Formal, regular reviews
The final stage in the performance cycle is the one people most readily associate with a monitoring and evaluation system - the formal performance review. This should not be a thing of dread - reviews should not become annual ’telling off’ sessions, but rather a balanced two way discussion recognising what has been achieved against the objectives set. It is an opportunity for feedback, recognition, adult discussion about issues arising, and - in the case of poor performance - agreement of corrective action.
Evaluation systems usually require a measure to be applied to achievement - if only for the purposes if recording and rewarding - which may be based on a number ranking, a traffic light system, or descriptors such as ’achieved’ or ’exceeded’ against objectives set.
The management skill during formal review meetings lies in being able to coach and coax out agreement about what has (and has not) been achieved. Taking an ’ask rather than tell’ approach, going into meetings well prepared, and aiming for about seventy to eighty percent of the talking to be done by the reviewee will help make sure the meeting is a success. Ensure that feedback given is ’data based’ - using solid examples to illustrate the behaviours, success or issue discussed rather than vague or opinion led assessment.
For a monitoring and evaluation system to be truly value adding, it must be an ongoing process understood and applied to all team members. Systems which are perceived to be used for only the top (or more commonly, the bottom) performers, or only certain organisational levels are seen to be unfair and may actually damage morale and performance. Furthermore, a good evaluation system must be seen to have consequences. Good performers should be rewarded with progression or recognition, and those not delivering on agreed objectives should be subject to measures designed to improve their performance - failing to act on the outcomes of performance reviews results in the better, more proactive employees becoming disheartened, and -ironically- the poorer staff becoming complacent.
By investing time in creating a tailor made performance monitoring and evaluation system for your business or team, you will be able to sharpen the focus of every staff member, helping them understand and deliver a good job for you. Coupling this with robust performance improvement and reward processes will ensure the performance cycle brings your business continuous improvement and greater success in the long term.