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How to monitor performance

28 April 2005 by

Every good employer will informally, and perhaps unconsciously, monitor an employee's work, enthusiasm and progress in their job just by watching them.

Like writing job descriptions, taking the time out to formally assess the staff and keep written records of it may seem like a fruitless exercise. A "keeping an eye on them" attitude is all you need, isn't it? After all, you know whether they're doing a good job or not.

Well, yes and no. It obviously depends on the size of your team, but when was the last time you simply asked your staff how they were getting on, whether they were enjoying the job, and if they wanted to go for a promotion or take up some new training?

In other words, a good appraisal, or performance review as some call it, is as much for your staff as it is for you. In a busy work environment, it's easy to take them for granted and not really know how they're feeling. It can also be hard for you to let them know if they're doing a good or bad job.

A performance review is a quantifiable way of assessing whether the employee is doing their job as defined by their job description, whether they are enjoying it, what objectives they want or need to achieve before their next review, and what training and development plans they want or need.

How performance reviews are done

The appraisals are usually carried out by the person most likely to know the employee's work and how good or bad they are at it, ie their immediate manager or supervisor. In a small team, for example in an individual restaurant, then the manager could carry out all the appraisals. This has the added benefit of helping the lower members of staff believe the head boss is taking an interest in them.

Reviews are usually done once a year, although in a high-turnover industry like hospitality the frequency could be increased to encourage motivation and feedback.

The tangible end result of an appraisal is a written document, so it's useful to have a set template that all managers can use. This will help senior management keep track of employees with whom they have no real day-to-day contact and make sure that all staff are given equal reviews. There is always a danger that without a set format a performance review can become an argument if there are areas of disagreement.

This template can consist of a number of set questions. A few examples follow, but note that they are all worded in a positive way. Try to use phrases like "Targets that weren't realised" rather than "Things they did wrong". It may sound a bit over-cautious but an ill-chosen phrase can really damage motivation and respect.

Typical review questions

Here are a few general questions:

What do you think you've achieved this year?

What targets or achievements haven't been realised?

How do you think you could improve on your performance last year?

How do you think you get on with the other members of staff/the management?

And then more specific ones:

What objectives do you think you should aim for in the next year? List them.

How will you measure whether you have achieved these aims?

What training would you like to attend next year?

It is usual for the employee and the manager to discuss the answers and agree on what is written. This encourages feedback and helps the manager gain a true picture of how the employee is doing and what they need in the coming 12 months.

It sounds obvious, but make sure you let the employee know that this is their opportunity to say whatever they like. Listen to any complaints or grievances and record these on the form, along with what you both need to do to resolve them.

Also, try to be constructive with any criticism you have of them. It doesn't help to lambaste them with all their failings. Tell them that there are aspects of their work that you feel they are unmotivated in and try to agree a plan of action to resolve the situation. Sometimes you may discover that someone you thought was a bad, lazy employee was only that way because they were bored and needed more responsibility to stimulate them.

At the end of the form, set out a written list of what exactly both you and the employee see as the key tasks and requirements for the year ahead.

Performance reviews aren't perfect

While they're necessary, these kind of one-to-one formal appraisals aren't the answer to staff motivation and morale problems. Line managers tend to hate doing them because they are time-consuming and can easily turn into a griping session if not handled properly. But used in conjunction with regular team meetings, social events, feedback sessions etc, they can help. Holding performance reviews is an acquired skill, however, and anyone expected to do them will ideally have specific training.

by Andrew Davies

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