No Surprises

When I was a new manager, and one who avoided conflict like a cliché, I had a very hard time telling people when some aspect of their performance was poor. So I’d delay and delay until the annual review, and then disgorge all the problems at once to the unsuspecting reviewee. Needless to say, the conversations did not go well.

Since our fiscal year ended June 30, it’s once again time for formal annual performance evaluations here . A couple of months ago the managers gathered together for some training on doing employee reviews. One of the good reminders was, “No one should hear anything at their annual review for the first time.” The point is not so much about how to do an annual review as it is about how supervisors should be interacting with employees all through the year.

  • Keep current with employees. People deserve regular feedback on what’s going well and where improvement is needed. When it comes to management theory, this is not rocket science. It’s just plain common sense. Unfortunately, I have not always practiced this. It’s generally easier to stay in touch with people about problems, but it’s arguably just as important to let them know regularly what they’re doing well.
  • Keep short accounts. Don’t let problems simmer and stew. Or as a wise man once said, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” If you’ve got a problem with someone’s performance, deal with it sooner rather than later. If you let it sit, things can grow out of proportion.
  • Be ready to hear their side of the story. As a manager you want to look at the whole picture. Maybe they didn’t have adequate training or clear enough instruction or enough dedicated resources or time; as their supervisor you may be able to modify the environment so that employees can better flourish in their tasks.

One exception to the “no surprises” rule: sometimes a problem surfaces just before an annual review. This can happen, for example, if you are conducting a 360 review in which you survey the employee’s supervisees, peers within and outside the department, and perhaps key customers or suppliers outside the organization about the employee’s performance. If something new does come up, it is legitimate to raise it in the review in a preliminary way, though not in a way that would affect final performance appraisal or recommendations for promotion or salary adjustment.

As was the case for one new supervisor here, perhaps the best evaluation you can receive from your employees about their annual review is: “No surprises here.”

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.