Let me begin by stating that I’m not a fan of the annual performance review. For most business leaders, managers and employees it’s an incredibly stressful and painful experience that does little foster improved productivity or employee engagement. According to Mercer’s 2013 Global Performance Management Survey, roughly 1 in 3 organizations around the world say that improving managers’ ability to have candid dialogue with employees has the greatest impact on the overall performance of an organization. Mercer’s analysis revealed that the two components of manager skills that matter the most are linking performance to career development and setting SMART goals. Smart goals are specific, measurable, ambitious but attainable, relevant and time bound.

Part of the problem is that the focus of the annual appraisal is on past performance. Combine that with a timeline that’s a year long and you begin to understand why it’s virtually impossible to impact performance. As an organization you wouldn’t wait a year before you checked on financial or operational performance so why would you do that when it comes to what most organizations say is their biggest asset…their people? You have to be much more nimble than that to be able to effectively change direction, or shift gears, depending on the situation you’re faced with. 

Here’s a sure fire way to take the pain out of the process, improve performance, positively impact employee engagement scores and make the process an enjoyable ongoing coaching conversation:

- Check in more frequently than once a year. My suggestion would be once a month as a minimum and perhaps more frequently depending on the person. Have you ever asked how often they’d like to have a check-in conversation with you?

- Get them talking about what they’ve done well over the period of time since you last checked-in. Over time more and more of their accomplishments will be directly related to the SMART goals you have established together. That means that what they’ve accomplished should be directly linked to organizational goals and ultimately the strategic plan. Before they come to the meeting ask them to write a list of their accomplishments and get them to connect those accomplishments to positive outcomes for the organization.
  • What have you accomplished over the past month?
  • What are you proudest of and why?
  • How has what you’ve accomplished had a positive impact here at the XYZ Company?

- Establish 2 or 3 new SMART goals for the next period or review any outstanding goals and determine if the employee is on track for successful completion. If they need additional support or resources you'll find out much earlier in the process.

- Get into the habit of providing feedback on the SMART goals you have established together. (See the download below for a great goal setting template you can .)

- Don’t be afraid to ask them for an evaluation of how you’re doing as their boss. How else will you know how best to support them in their efforts?

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