By now you may understand that the performance appraisal process is part of an ongoing year-round process of giving constant feedback and support, making sure people know what is expected, and setting goals for the future. However, understanding the performance appraisal process in theory and actually sitting across from an employee and following through are two very different things. If employees always behaved the way they do in theoretical books, life would be easy. Unfortunately, people don't always respond predictably and knowing how to handle difficult performance appraisal situations is imperative for holding on to good employees and gently transitioning poor performers out of the organization to someplace where (you hope) they'll be a better fit.
For just these situations, I've developed key points that you'll need to remember. I've given this system the perhaps corny acronym HAPPY, with the hope that it will be easy to remember and that it will lead to at least happier, if not happy, reviews. The key points to hold onto as you're talking with a difficult employee about a challenging review are:
Honestly tell the employee exactly how you see the performance situation.
Ask for their feedback about what you've said and listen to their response.
Partner with the employee to find the solution.
Persist until the change you've requested happens.
Y Remember why you do performance reviews (to help people learn and grow) and ask yourself why they would want to improve.
What's in it for them? In the next sections we'll drill down on each of these in order to flesh out how to do each one.
Honestly Tell the Employee what you think
First you need to be clear about the problem yourself. Have you honestly assessed what the problem is, come up with specifics that are "doable" and behaviorally specific? If not, you need to go back to preparation. You should come into the session well prepared to explain what the problem is and why it's important to your organization's goals, values and success. If it's not affecting individual or team performance relating to these goals and objectives, STOP! You need to ask yourself some hard questions about why you're even raising this issue.
Ask for Feedback
Once you've given your honest, specific assessment of the problem, you need to sit back and listen. Be prepared for the employee to be angry, arguing or in denial. At this stage you just want to listen. Sometimes allowing the employee to ventilate all their feelings and concerns, can be very therapeutic for them, even if you're not agreeing with what they've said.
Listening is one of the hardest skills to learn. Here's an effective listening checklist to help you see whether you have effective listening skills:
Don't use roadblocks that stop people from talking, such as:
- ADVICE: "You should speak to your boss about it."
- WHY QUESTIONS: "Why did you do that?"
- REASSURE: "You'll feel better about it tomorrow."
- CRITICIZE "If you hadn't procrastinated…"
- INTERRUPT: "That's nothing. Listen to this…"
- RELATED STORIES: "I had the same experience last year."
Continue to ask open-ended questions to get the whole story:
"What happened next?"
"What was your reaction?"
Summarize employees' statements so they know you've heard them.
"So you believe that…?"
"What you are saying is…"
Ask "what next" questions so they discover their own answers:
"What have you done to resolve the problem?"
"What else do you think could be done?"
"What have others tried in similar situations that worked?"
Partner with the Employee to Find a Solution
Partnering is an approach to conflict that tries to put two or more people on the same team and put the problem on the opposite team. You and the employee are not enemies, in this model; you are just two people jointly trying to solve a problem.