November 13, 2015
For most companies, the overwhelming answer is annually. But as Paul Falcone pointed out in his book 2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals (AMACOM 2012) and Paul and Winston Tan recommended in The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit (AMACOM 2013), reviewing performance and attainment of goals once a year probably isn’t enough for most workers under most circumstances. Too many things change too quickly in business these days, and plans have to be tweaked and rearranged on a fairly regular basis. So, if reviewing performance and providing feedback against pre-established goals is the launching pad for effective performance-related communication, then determining appropriate followup intervals is the logical next step in this yearlong trajectory.
In the seminal book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999), authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman gathered data from the Gallup Organization that resulted from interviews with 80,000 managers in 400 organizations, looking for the talents that made individual leaders stand out among their peers. Their research found that, according to the Gallup study, the strongest leaders formally spent on average four hours per employee per year discussing performance, style, and goals compared to most organizations’ one hour. That’s a four-fold increase in formal feedback based on four quarterly reviews plus the annual performance review process.
And that would only make horse sense: In a knowledge economy marked by high levels of disruptive and shifting technology and intense global competition, more formal feedback—not less—would benefit both leadership and staff. Ask your staffers at the time of the appraisal meeting when they’d like to meet with you again to determine progress against their goals and performance benchmarks. The ideal answer is quarterly: three-month review intervals are healthy in terms of reviewing annual goals. So, if your subordinates suggests a quarterly follow-up, simply ask them to send you a calendar meeting marker for quarterly meetings spread over the next twelve months.
Notice, however, that it’s important that they send you the calendar invitation. This is their career and you’re offering to help, but always treat adults like adults and allow them to take the lead in seeking out your guidance, not vice versa. That being said, don’t be swayed by supervisors who say, “I don’t need to formally meet with my employees regarding their performance throughout the year because I provide them with feedback every day.” That’s a bit of a cop out . . . The goal is to create a performance culture—one in which performance and goals become part of the fabric that connects everyone to everything, that allows the company’s senior leadership team to measure and manage the “muscle” known as human capital. Exercised correctly, a renewed focus on performance excellence can yield outstanding results in terms of company turnarounds and driving company performance and productivity. But it has to be uniformly implemented with senior leadership support. Otherwise, one-off supervisors who unilaterally opt out of the program will kill its effectiveness and value.
What if someone only wants to meet in six months to review their goals and progress? That could be okay too. Depending on the individual’s level of independence, role knowledge, and tenure in position, quarterly meetings may not be necessary. Our best recommendation, though, is not to allow an entire year to slip by without discussing performance feedback and progression toward goals, challenges, blind spots, and the like. That’s because the goal statement is in many ways the glue that binds the leader and subordinate together throughout the evaluation period. That individual development plan helps you both keep your eye on the ball, bond together in overcoming unforeseen obstacles and challenges, and celebrate intermittent achievements that can be “bulleted” on a resume or on next year’s annual self-evaluation form.
If this sounds to you like the annual performance feedback and goal-setting processes are really more of a verb than a noun, you’re getting the picture. Too many companies and organizational leaders see the annual performance appraisal as a form rather than an ongoing process of engagement, interaction, achievement, and celebration. “Performance appraisal” becomes a one-size-fits-all mandatory annual “paper chase” that is endured so that you could justify giving a subordinate a particular merit increase or bonus. And then all that paperwork goes into the individual’s personnel file, never to see the light of day again until the following year. What a lost opportunity—The process is the point of it all! What gets measured gets managed, and measuring and managing the human capital asset will be the primary differentiator between successful and mediocre companies in a knowledge-based economy.