Conducting clear-cut performance reviews
Performance reviews are probably the single most important discussions you’ll have with members
of your staff. Although performance reviews are traditionally a once-a-year event, some companies
are now doing them twice a year. Regardless of the frequency, a professionally-done review should
be done just like you should do your taxes: The end result should be the formalization of 12 months
of regular discussion, feedback, analysis, and evaluation. Do the work in small bits all year, and
you will be ready when the big moment arrives. Neither you nor the employee should be shocked at
what is discussed.
Key areas of evaluation
Areas that you want to consider when reviewing an employee’s performance include:
Quality of work
Is this person providing excellent or mediocre work? Not every staff member will give you
spectacular performances. On the other hand, not every staff member is compensated spectacularly.
But your needs as a manager may be such that this person fulfills certain other critical functions:
They may be a team member who keeps others enthusiastic about the project, for example, or sets a
good example for keeping focused, or has a deep knowledge of company history and provides long-term
perspective to decisions.
Most roles have job descriptions and some job descriptions are even written down, but almost no job
description adequately anticipates the real-world demands of the position. It’s important for every
employee to understand the real goals of the department and how he can help achieve those goals.
Changing market conditions, changing project demands and priorities and changing technical
capacities all require employees to be flexible about their tasks. Has this employee adapted well
to the fluid requirements of the job?
Creativity in solving problems
Along with flexibility about their job descriptions, good employees are often creative in solving
problems. Five new employees started Monday, but only four laptops were delivered; a creative
employee might find one in the test lab to tide everyone over. The rush order for two new servers
needs a manager’s signature, but she called in sick today; a creative employee will find a manager
from another department or the manager’s boss to get the order started.
Can this person communicate well? Does he send clear, easy-to-read email or does he send rambling
email messages that take 10 minutes to read and are still difficult to understand? Do he speak well
in meetings, does he make personal attacks, or does he say nothing at all? Technical people are
often not great communicators because their jobs often don’t require tremendous amounts of
interaction. But there is a base level of information exchange that every job requires, and a base
level of interactive behavior that every organization requires. If a person works in a group, there
are certain standards that must be met.
Today’s technology can be used in many different ways and when multiple technologies are combined,
the possibilities can grow exponentially. Innovation is an attribute for finding new ways of doing
things — or doing new things. This could be anything related to simplifying processes, reducing
errors or finding additional uses for existing tools.
Going above and beyond requirements of the job
Many employees view their work as nothing more than a job, a day’s work for a day’s pay, and have
almost an adversarial stance about doing anything more. Can you fault someone for doing only what
they are supposed to do? However, for those who view their work as more of a “career” than a “job”
and seek to be promoted and move up, going above and beyond the job requirements is one of the best
ways to achieve those goals. This can include helping out co-workers, volunteering to do the more
challenging tasks, working on items that no one else seems to want to do, etc.
Coordination and collaboration with others (particularly those they don’t have direct
“Plays well with others” is another way to describe this attribute. It simply means that you work
well with others on a team. This could apply to situations where a large team is formed for a
particular project, as well as the case of individual contributors that periodically have to
interact with others. It also includes gaining the respect of those you work with. To do all this
well requires a number of skills and traits: interpersonal, influencing, leadership, communication/
listening, trust, adaptability, compromise and relationship building.
Managers look for accountability in their employees primarily because it makes the manager’s job
easier. A manager prefers knowing that when an employee is assigned a task, it will be done, and
the manager won’t have to do regular checks to ensure that work is progressing. Accountability also
means that the employee will recognize what their own responsibilities are, and will not sit around
waiting for the manager to tell them what to do.
If your staff isn’t accountable, you end up as a micro-manager. On the other hand, it’s up to
the manager to make employees feel accountable through follow-up, project assignments, stated goals
and objectives and a clear statement of the job requirements, as well as the impact to others when
things don’t go as planned.
Ability to complete assignments in a timely manner
For most companies today, timely performance is critical. Gone are the days when deadlines were
approximations, and missing them had few consequences. “Just-in-time” no longer refers to an
inventory technique; it now is often used to describe how entire departments and companies act in
response to market conditions.
Be clear about your expectations for timely performance and let your staff know you’ll be using
that as a criterion for evaluation. Also let them know that you are being evaluated on that basis
as well. Installing the new phone system on Monday instead of the Friday before may be suddenly
required, but create an environment where people feel comfortable suggesting coming in on Saturday
(or at least discussing if it is necessary).
Ability to pick up new skills on their own
The IT world changes so quickly that it’s an employee’s fundamental responsibility to help herself,
her department and her company stay current. Every department has the programmer still resting on
his legacy coding skills; encourage your staff not to become that person.
Ability to work with and enhance the work of other staff members
You may have a Windows administrator with superlative technical skills but zero people skills. Let
him know that your IT department is a team, not a random collection of individuals, and everyone is
expected to interact professionally with each other. Snarling or swearing at anyone else who
touches the system isn’t acceptable.
Many a manager has had to say, “You don’t have to like all your fellow IT department members,
but you have to treat them with respect.” This is a common problem with technical people and one
way of solving the issue is to inform them that their behavior in this area is part of their
Ability to manage short- and long-term projects
Every employee in IT is given projects, some long and complex, some short and simple. Inform your
staff that their ability to handle projects is an element you will be evaluating when it comes to
review time. Many employees might not think in project-related terms; they think their task is to
get the new laptops installed in the Sales department in the next two weeks (and not see how it
relates to the bigger goal of a new sales-force automation system implementation).
Of course, that is a project, a set task with a specific goal, resources and a timeline. For
some levels and tasks, as long as they finish the projects on time and under budget it isn’t
important for them to think in project management terms. But those who do see the bigger picture
and take the long view may have brighter futures.
Guidelines for reviews
Don’t forget: both you and the members of your IT staff are salaried professionals.
Act as such and treat them that way. Your respect will be rewarded.
As mentioned above, preparing for a review is often a year-long process that ends with the written
evaluation and the meeting with the employee. As such, a performance review shouldn’t contain any
surprises for the employee, especially bad surprises. Any negative comments that you include in the
review should be items that you’ve discussed with the employee multiple times in the course of the
It’s important to remember that a performance review is the company’s formal assessment of the
employee’s performance. Be as objective as possible. Remember reviews of your own performance.
Often the most contentious items are the subjective ones. With this in mind, your performance
review should be full of examples and specifics to back up your assessment. Providing quantifiable
accomplishments and measurable goals helps you remain objective.
Also, remember that other people will read this review in the future. Other people in the
company, for example, may read this review when thinking about transferring the employee into their
department. Or the person may leave and may later reapply at your company. Be sure that your
comments accurately reflect the employee’s performance.
Carefully record details
The more specifics you can provide, the more valuable the review will be for the employee. And the
more specifics you can provide now, the more understandable it will be in the future. It’s hard to
recall the incidents you need when you’re looking back on the past 12 months. Review your own
status reports for ideas. During the year, jot quick notes to yourself on scraps of paper that you
toss into the employee’s file. While this sounds like a great idea in theory, it’s in fact
something many good managers do on a regular basis. Details matter, and memories fade. Record them
as they happen and both you and the recipient of your work — for this is real work that managers
have to do — will be better for it.
When reviewing these notes, take the long view. Try and look over the course of the entire year
and remember that you probably wrote those notes when something was going particularly well, or
particularly poorly. Perhaps those comments are right on target, or perhaps they represent an
emotional high or low.
As you prepare the review, you can also ask the employee for her own list of accomplishments
(and areas they think they can improve upon) over the past 12 months. This can help jog your own
memory and help you understand what the employee considers her greatest achievement. Additionally,
it helps you see what the employee thinks were her most important contributions.
All of us are manager ..at least for our self. So, are you ready to review your own performance ?