Piss Poor Performance Revews

Performance AppraisalAccording to SHRM and NCMM most organizations give themselves a poor grade for managing performance reviews.  They cite a number of obstacles including:

  • Time
  • Lack of training
  • More important priorities
  • Varying appraisal standards

What grade would you give your organization?  And why?


Staying out of trouble: the importance of progressive discipline

Progressive discipline is an essential tool for management, particularly when it’s combined with good documentation and communication practices. Progressive discipline systems are designed to help employers apply fair, consistent disciplinary decisions. Proper documentation and communication strengthen the legal defensibility of those decisions and protect the company from false accusations.

Mutually beneficial
A structured system understood by both managers and employees takes some of the guesswork out of the relationship. Employees aren’t wondering what penalties could come next, and managers can be confident in their disciplinary decisions.
The ultimate goal of correcting undesirable conduct requires communication and collaboration, particularly in the early steps of the process. Because each step is progressively more serious, the system starts with mild “penalties” such as coaching or supplemental training. The employer and the employee can focus on what will work best for the employee to improve his conduct and avoid more serious discipline down the road. Employees are often invited to participate in the problem-solving process and can work with the employer to develop a performance improvement plan (PIP). Involving the employee in the process will increase her engagement and likelihood of success.

Typical steps, essential elements
Generally, progressive discipline systems follow five steps: (1) coaching or reviewing expectations; (2) oral counseling; (3) written warning; (4) suspen¬sion; and (5) termination. Throughout all steps, there are certain elements managers must maintain. First, the employee must be informed explicitly of the unacceptable behavior and understand the specific actions that constitute the unacceptable behavior. Likewise, the employee must be made aware of what desirable behavior looks like. Perhaps most important, the employee must be informed of the manager’s expectations moving forward and the consequences of a failure to comply.
While most progressive discipline systems loosely follow the structure above, the specifics can vary. In a unionized environment, the system is usually sub¬ject to negotiation. A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) often contains detailed provisions addressing progressive discipline. Therefore, if you have union¬ized employees, your managers need to be acutely aware of the disciplinary provisions in the CBA. A violation of a contract provision will be taken very seriously by the union and could escalate to arbitration or litigation.

Proper documentation is key
The safety net provided by a progressive discipline system is inextricably dependent on proper documentation by management. With proper documentation, the system can successfully establish the employer’s effort to correct misconduct before considering more damaging disciplinary action. Then, if an employee is ultimately discharged, management can be confident in its decision. (For additional advice on the right time to terminate an employee, see Jerry Glass’ “Words on Wise Management” column “Are you really documenting performance” on pg. 5 of our March 2014 issue.)
Effective documentation before, during, and after the process serves as a solid record when facts are called into question, demonstrating that the company acted in accordance with its policies and procedures, and encouraging cooperative behavior.

All documentation not created equal
Illegible shorthand notes cannot be considered proper documentation. For your documentation to be effective, you should use your own words, write chronologically, be specific when possible, date and time stamp all documentation, provide the informa¬tion to all parties involved, and always file a copy.
Documentation should not be tedious or overwhelming. If you make it a habit to maintain simple records and follow the above guidelines, it will become second nature. Just ask around—most managers who properly document the disciplinary process have thanked themselves for it later.

Author: Cassandra Lewis a labor analyst for F&H Solutions Group.

Originally published in Words on Wise


Are you really documenting performance?

Clients often ask for advice on the right time to discharge employees who are unable or unwilling to improve their performance over time, even after being given a performance improvement plan. Unfor­tunately, there’s no set answer because every circum­stance is just a little bit different.

Request all written documentation

When reviewing a case, I always keep in mind how a third party might look at the documentation. Specifically, what am I looking for?

• Good two-way communication between the man­ager and the employee. What was the employee told in terms of expectations? How did the em­ployee respond to the manager?

• How complete is the documentation? Is it a com­pilation of the supervisor’s notes, or is it more structured, with details in chronological order? Is it easy to read and follow?

• Are there any photos that can supplement the nar­rative? For example, if an employee hasn’t fixed a machine properly or didn’t complete an assign­ment, can that be demonstrated through pictures?

• Are there any signed documents in which the em­ployee has acknowledged either a conversation or a specific plan for improvement?

Insist on speaking with the manager

It isn’t enough just to rely on written documen­tation. It’s critical to talk with the manager to get the details behind the written documentation. What’s missing from the written documentation that could come back to haunt the company during a vigorous cross-examination from opposing counsel in court or during arbitration? I may have multiple conversa­tions with a manager until I can decide whether the company has a strong enough case to withstand the scrutiny of a judge or an arbitrator.

In addition, sometimes the manager has to rely on a direct supervisor for information. In that case, I now have to be concerned not just about a manager’s performance documentation but also about a supervi­sor’s notes.

If the company is in a unionized environment, the union has a right to review the documentation in your possession. A union’s request for information could be fairly extensive and include e-mails, phone records, notes, and other related documentation.

If the company is involved in litigation, the em­ployee’s attorney will make a very broad information request.

Have a good idea of what the employee will say

My approach is often to play devil’s advocate with the manager so I can “pressure test” just how strong a case is and determine whether we’ve missed any­thing in the performance review.

Advise termination

If the steps above are to my satisfaction, then I ask one last set of questions before I advise a client to discharge an employee. Will the termination of this employee at a particular point in time create issues in the workplace? Is the employee being discharged right before profit-sharing checks are distributed? Is the company in negotiations with the union repre­senting the employee? Is there other news that could negatively affect the employee’s view of the company? Was the employee popular, or someone who was well respected?

Bottom line

My best advice for documenting an employee’s performance, whether it’s in a memo, e-mail, or letter, is to draft the document, walk away for a little while, and then come back and review it again. As you’re re­viewing what you wrote, imagine you are the oppos­ing counsel. Could an attorney question your motives, or is the statement written in such a way that it could be misconstrued or misinterpreted? If the answer is either “yes” or “possibly,” keep working until you feel comfortable with what you have written, any sketches you drew or photographs you took as part of an inves­tigation, or any attachments you may have included in your documentation.

Author:  Jerry Glass F&H Solutions Group

Originally published in Words On Wise

To ‘Rank and Yank’ or Not

Does your organization need forced ranking? An overlooked source of guidance sits within your quality improvement framework.

“Zero defects” is a popular slogan, but quality management warns that not all defects are equally bad. Zero defects can impede quality if you try to drive out every defect. Optimal process improvement is applied only where its value exceeds its cost.

In November, Microsoft ceased its long-held performance management practice of force ranking employees, just as Yahoo introduced the same practice. Does your organization need forced ranking? An overlooked source of guidance sits within your quality improvement framework.

The Microsoft announcement emphasized the company’s goal to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources, stated, “No more curve. We will continue to invest in a generous rewards budget, but there will no longer be a predetermined targeted distribution. Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.”

Yet forced ranking can clarify performance differences and allow (or force) managers to improve or remove low performers. One Forbes report suggested that Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, “inherited a workforce that was bigger than it needed to be and riddled with paycheck-cashing clock-punchers. Precisely because it’s so big, figuring out who the slackers are isn’t easy.” This description may overstate reality, but it illustrates the point that forced ranking has value when restructuring benefits from better revealing high- and low-performers.

David Calhoun, the former CEO of Nielsen Holdings who had a 27-year career at GE, has defended the forced ranking system, saying, “At GE there was only one objective … to force an honest discussion between your manager and you. And there’s nothing that quite forces that more than employees knowing … how that manager ranks them, and then asking that manager, ‘Tell me where I rank and tell me why.’”

Let’s retool this debate using quality management principles: Performance management, including forced ranking, should be applied when value exceeds cost, and that depends on the consequences of the defects discovered and corrected. The defects are unaddressed poor performance (lingering problems) or unrewarded high performance. This helps explain the Microsoft/Yahoo distinction.

By scrapping forced ranking, Microsoft will likely see some high performance not rewarded as handsomely and some poor performance lingering longer. That’s a good trade-off if the lost value is less than the increased collaboration created without forced rankings. Microsoft used forced ranking for a while, which may have removed most low performers, so the value of detecting low performance is less. Microsoft may also now be better at rewarding high performance without rankings.

By adding forced ranking, Yahoo will incur new costs (in managerial time and effort, public backlash, employee resistance and internal competition). That may be worth it if its workforce is too large, and poor performance is costly and hard to identify. The defects of unaddressed poor performance and unrewarded high performance are more consequential at Yahoo, so the quality improvement value of forced ranking is greater.

Microsoft and Yahoo have engineering-driven cultures, where leaders make quality improvement investment decisions like this every day. Hopefully, those leaders are as rigorous in decisions about forced ranking.

One thing suggests they could do better. The quality improvement discipline suggests that a single approach is rarely valuable for an entire process, let alone an entire organization. Targeting matters. Yet, Microsoft and Yahoo both seemed to make these decisions for their entire workforce. We know the consequences of high and low performance varies across jobs, so one-size-fits-all is almost certainly not optimal, just as with software or any other process.

How will your organization decide about forced ranking? Too often, it is with anecdotes or a one-size-fits-all solution that swings from one extreme to the other. A better answer may be as close as the quality improvement processes you already use.

Originally published in Talent Management

5 Ways to Engage Employees

Engaged EmployeeThe most important component in building an engaged workplace – the engaged employee! How do we ensure our employees come prepared and motivated to demonstrate high levels of engagement, and to inspire their peers to do the same?

Here are five ways in which we can work to ensure this is the case:


  • Selection of skilled and motivated candidates for employment
  • Development to increase their chances of success
  • Recognition of accomplishment in meaningful ways
  • Celebration as a team for milestones on the journey together
  • Connections to mentors, leaders, customers and others

Selection of engaged and prepared employees is the product of a well-planned recruitment and on-boarding process. The process should be designed to determine that candidates have the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in the role, and also to create an environment as close as possible to the one the candidate will experience as an employee.

It is important to allow the candidate to express themselves freely, ask questions, and to provide information that will allow you to assess their ability to respond to the types of challenges they will face on your team.  You will want them to be able to assess the organization and determine if it is a good match for them.

You will want to specifically address their level of engagement, and their feelings about a highly engaged work environment. Once selected, the integration of the candidate into the work environment should not only include specifics about their role, the organization, policies and procedures, but an introduction to the engagement culture of your organization, behaviors associated with it, and individuals who will support the new employee in this environment.

Development of the new employee should include not only technical and business skills, but abilities directly related to the engagement culture and process. These might include: facilitation, mentoring, negotiation, critical thinking ability, and presentation skills.

Special attention should be paid to the performance review process to ensure it is consistent with engagement goals, meaningful, and performed with a focus on the employee’s long term success. It should be timely, so it can benefit performance, and not just occur as a requirement to justify compensation. It is also important in the review process to capture contributions the employee is making beyond their job description, and to note talents and abilities not used in their current position, that may benefit the organization in the future.

Recognition of accomplishment should be conducted in a way that is meaningful to the employee and not “status quo.” It should reflect the employee’s accomplishment and highlight behaviors associated with engagement. Other individuals involved in the accomplishments being recognized should be allowed to contribute.

Considerations in deciding upon recognition should include:

  • what motivates the employee
  • who should be involved in the recognition
  • who the recognition should come from
  • who should be present
  • how there recognition reflects the employee’s skills, personality and interests
  • how the recognition will help the employee to be successful in the future

Celebration of success supports engagement and should involve the groups involved, or possibly the entire company. It is important to set, meet and celebrate milestones together. As appropriate, celebrations may include family members, customers, and other groups involved with, or who benefit from, the accomplishments being highlighted.

As in the home environment, connections play an important part in the success of employees and their level of engagement. These connections should be formed from the time the employee arrives, and may include:

  • leaders, mentors, colleagues, customers, community partners, industry members, representatives of professional or trade organizations, and others who enhance the employee’s work experience.

Connections provide balance, advice, and a positive sounding board for employees seeking to develop their level of engagement. Who are the individuals who have helped you to be successful at work? In what ways have they inspired you? In what ways have they been present in your professional development and recognition experiences?

Embedded Engagement: It is a Process

We have discussed the ways in which building a culture of engagement in the workplace is like building a healthy home environment. One necessary component in this process is, well, process.

An organization dedicated to an engaged workplace will develop its processes in a way that supports this effort. It may seem odd to talk about processes when we are discussing culture, but when we think about it, isn’t this where the rubber really hits the road in an organization?

Everything is process in the workplace. Almost nothing gets done without it. And in this maze of competing processes lies one of the greatest opportunities for engagement to become lost, and never to be found again. There are even processes for shaping the processes.

Sadly, in the situations that provide the great opportunities for engagement, this opportunity is often overlooked or ignored. This is because these situations often involve urgent or unexpected developments.

They can lead to a reactionary response, designed to ensure secrecy and “hierarchical” behaviors. However, if the mission and culture of the organization are not being considered, and all employees who may create value included, the result may in fact not be responsive or confidential, because it will lead to further problems down the road.

Take, for example, two companies with urgent customer satisfaction issues. Both companies consider themselves to be dedicated to engagement, valuing the benefits of an engaged workplace to their organization.

However, the first company responds to the situation by bringing together a small group of individuals, on a “need to know” basis. The conversation in the room is mostly one-sided, and focused on gaining agreement, assigning blame, and protecting those not directly accountable from the incident being deflected toward them.

This process is being conducted quickly, so the organization can get back to its normal discussions, engagement practices, and celebration of those things that are going well. But does it really speak to engagement?

In the second company, a different approach is taken. There is sincere interest in not only solving the immediate customer problem, but creating a learning experience to ensure this customer, as well as others, have increased confidence in the company in the future.

Discussions include all employees who can contribute, and whose work impacts customers like this one. There is a dialog in which everyone is allowed to participate, and a solution is agreed upon and implemented.

Leadership is informed, the customer is made aware of the solution and the company’s commitment, and the developments are shared with all employees who support customer relationships. In this company, the problem is not likely to occur again, and if it does, employees will be better prepared to handle it.

This is one of the situations in which it is most important to “walk the talk” about engagement.

There are many other types of processes that should be examined to be sure they support the engagement effort. These include:

  • employee selection and on-boarding
  • employee development
  • performance reviews
  • strategic planning
  • budgeting
  • product launch
  • customer relationship management
  • project management
  • crisis management
  • community relations
  • media relations
  • meeting and event planning
  • employee recognition
  • employee surveys

In what ways does your organization design processes with engagement in mind? In what circumstances does this not happen? Do these circumstances usually have to do with unplanned or emergency situations? How can you better use these opportunities to create better results through the engagement of your employees?

Feedback to Inspire

I believe feedback can inspire, motivate, activate, encourage, enthuse, stir, drive, propel, energize, and awaken confidence and performance.  I have seen it occur.  However it can also…

Dampen, dull, decrease, lessen, lower, diminish, reduce, suppress, smother, asphyxiate, and choke confidence and performance.

My research and experience show that there are a number of factors that influence the outcome.  Here are a few of the big ones:

  1. The provider of the feedback: Why, how, when, and where are as important as the what.  Many times the feedback they provide says more about themselves than the person they are providing it too.
  2. The receiver:  History and experience with feedback play a specific role in how someone interprets feedback, as well as personality preferences.
  3. The relationship:  The relationship between the people involved plays a role.  People respond based on patterns.  If there is a relationship pattern it will be difficult to break and they will have to work at it.
  4. Organizational Culture:  Culture of the organization plays a significant role.  If the culture is based on fear and distrust it can be difficult to inspire.
  5. Diversity:  Cultural and generational differences impact how the message is received.  With all of the best intent, positive attitudes, skills, and technique sometimes we are just unaware of customs, style, and cultural backgrounds.

However, all of these issues can be worked through, improved or overcome and the provider plays the biggest role.  So providers of feedback…lets aspire to inspire!