When my oldest child was eight years old, I stumbled upon a brilliant method of doling out consequences for less-than-desirable behavior. Instead of telling her what her punishment was, I asked her to decide on the punishment herself. Invariably she came up with a more harsh punishment than I would have suggested – often more harsh than I could support. 

But what really struck me about the approach was how much she hated the process of creating her own consequences. On one memorable occasion she stomped her foot and ran from the room screaming “Why can’t you just punish me and get it over with like normal parents?”

Though we went through our fair share of trials and tribulations on the way to adulthood, now she is 25 years old and one of the most personally accountable, self-disciplined people I know. Can we blame it all on forcing her to come up with her own consequences? Certainly not, but even she credits that early accountability as among the most influential experiences of her life.

This reflection comes to me as I help clients prepare for the oh-so-common annual employee review process.

Recent publications indicate that human resource professionals are beginning to doubt the value of the employee review process, and many companies have abolished it altogether. 

Considering that most employee reviews consist of a manager making a hasty and vague list of canned desired improvements and delivering them impersonally in a 15-minute stress session, this is not surprising. But isn’t there room for meaningful employee-manager exchange about goals, objectives, accomplishments, and potential?

I think there is, but it requires commitment and preparation on the part of the manager to achieve. It starts with engaging the employee in the process from the very beginning. It starts by asking the employee to be his own reviewer.

When asking employees to prepare a self-review, suggest that they answer the following questions:

  • How did my performance contribute to my department’s achievement of our strategic goals?
  • What was the impact of my performance on the challenges faced by my teammates? Did I accomplish goals that were set for me during my last performance review? (Please be specific.)
  • Please explain how you understand and are working to convey the company brand? Please explain how you understand and are working to convey the company philosophy (or principles)?
  • Were there any actions or factors that inhibited your work performance? If so, please describe:
  • The new skills I have developed and demonstrated are:
  • How did these new skills add value to your team or the company?
  • How can my supervisor facilitate my contribution to the achievement of my personal goals?
  • How can my supervisor facilitate my contribution to the achievement of the company goals?
  • My goals for next year are:

Managers should answer the same questions for each employee they plan to review.

On review day, set aside enough time (45-60 minutes) and a private space to have the discussion. Ask the employee to present his review first, in its entirety. 

Once the employee has completed his review, the manager should first acknowledge all the things about which they agree, congratulating the employee on accomplishments and offering support for improvements the employee wishes to make. 

After that, the manager can offer insights from her own review that did not appear in the employee review. Finally, invite discussion about those points and come to agreement about the most positive goals and objectives for the coming year.

One of the most common objections I hear to this approach to annual employee review is that it will take too much time. 

My answer to this is usually to retrieve a copy of the P&L/Operating Statement for the year. The largest company expense is almost always product cost. The second largest? Human resources. The ultimate key to competitiveness lies in the excellence and happiness of your employees. Invest in that, and you are investing in profitability.

ANDREA HILL is a business owner and writer. She owns Hill Management Group, LLC, with the brands StrategyWerx and SupportWerx. StrategyWerx is Andrea’s platform for serving small business owners. Learn more at werxblog.com.

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