Ask employees to complete a performance evaluation and they may groan or roll their eyes. Many performance appraisals are completed simply to tick another box on a manager’s “to do” list. However, both attitude and productivity should improve if you introduce a meaningful, year-round culture of coaching.

“It’s so much easier to do the ‘production side’ – the weeds, seed, breeds, feeds, money, cash flow and marketing, than it is to lead and manage people,” says Jolene Brown, a professional speaker and family business consultant from West Branch, Iowa. “But it’s the people who do all that production. We are in the people business.”

She points out that it is a leader’s job to make sure they:

  • Define the job responsibilities with standards to know the job is done well
  • Assure the person doing the work has the necessary skills, personality, education and experience
  • Listen for new and better ideas
  • Coach, correct, praise and celebrate for continued employment
  • Document reasons for ending employment according to a pre-determined processes

Assessment Meetings
“Having a specific assessment meeting allows the employee to learn the areas of his or her success, as well as areas of improvement,” she adds. “It’s also a time for listening and showing you value the employee and their ideas.”

And what if a manager feels their employees “should” know what to do and how to do it by now? Brown says “should” is a word of assumption, mind reading, frustration and even resentment.

“With all employees, a leader’s job is to make sure the job is done to the standard explained, not assumed,” she says. “Without a clear definition of the job and its responsibilities, a leader has no right to complain. Remember, people perform to the lowest standard the leader and/or the business team tolerates.”

While it may seem that the process of conducting performance appraisals and employee coaching takes time out of an already busy day, Brown says this is time well spent and is critical to the success of the operation.

“Leaders understand that working on the business makes for better working in the business,” she says. “Focusing on this critical task at a scheduled, structured time will free up many hours of frustrating crisis management time. When done well, it also helps to build teamwork, honors employee contributions, corrects behaviors at a minor (not crisis) level, appreciates good value, and encourages continued, strong performance for both the leader and the employees.”

Donald L. Kirkpatrick, the author of “Improving Employee Performance through Appraisal and Coaching,” suggests that the performance review process should be continuous.

 “Many frustrations and failures occur because employees don’t understand exactly what’s expected of them by their supervisors,” says Kirkpatrick. “They put forth much effort doing what they think is wanted, rather than what is wanted.” The author outlines eight steps that can help managers dig deeper than that once-a-year form – to gain real understanding of how an employee is doing, what motivates him or her, and the tools each person needs to succeed.

Eight Important Steps
Kirkpatrick recommends the following eight steps to maximize employee performance:

  1. Make the job important. People who feel their jobs are important are more likely to do their best work.
  2. Select the right person. Usually the match of the job and person aren’t perfect. One must also consider the potential of the person applying for the position.
  3. Clarify what’s expected. Identify significant job segments and develop standards of performance.
  4. Train the person. No matter how well the person matches the job, some training is always necessary.
  5. Evaluate performance and communicate the appraisal. People want to know how they are doing on the job, and it is the responsibility of the manager to tell them.
  6. Help the person improve. The appraisal should measure how well the various parts of the job are being performed, identifying the employee’s strengths, as well as the aspects of the job where improvement is needed.
  7. Build and maintain rapport. To build a climate of mutual trust and respect, the manager must try to understand and meet the employee’s needs and wants, not just those of the organization.
  8. Reward for performance. Reward for performance only. Rewards can be monetary or nonmonetary.

Implement the Process
When attempting to really understand employees and what they need to succeed, Brown says “simple is best.” She recommends using a one-page questionnaire that asks these questions:

  1. What are the primary strengths you contribute to this business?
  2. In what areas could you improve your performance?
  3. How can I help you do your job better?
  4. What is the plan to improve your skills and abilities?
  5. What are the key goals you want to accomplish in the coming year?

As a business owner, inform all employees and the manager of why evaluations are important and what you expect as an outcome, and how evaluations will be executed. Then, set a deadline. Both evaluators and employees should participate so it’s a two-way discussion. The first three questions mentioned above should be answered by both parties.

Conduct the evaluation interview and allow the employee to share his or her self-evaluation first. The evaluator responds by adding or confirming the employee’s points. When this is completed, the evaluator can address the final two questions concerning self-improvement and goals. Finally, summarize the evaluation in written form and provide the employee with a copy.

Brown cites an example of how a performance appraisal following these steps helped improve a working relationship. She says an employee answered the question, “What can I do to help you do your job better?” indicating that the boss’s micromanagement made him feel he wasn’t trusted or good enough to do the job. He asked his boss what he needed to do to prove he could do the job. They decided on a short weekly conversation so the employee could give an update on the work done. This allowed the boss to ask questions and be assured the job was done.

 In family-owned businesses, Brown says, “I believe in operating as a business-first family. This means we honor the family so much we better do the business right. A performance appraisal is one of several tools that increases our productivity, profitability and peace of mind.”