Many project managers dread giving performance reviews as much as they dread giving presentations. Why is that? Well, much of our time in project management is spent building and nurturing relationships to get things done, so when we have to give a performance review, it can be very uncomfortable to evaluate performance of trusted team members, whether we are delivering good or bad news. To that end, I want to share five steps you can implement in your next performance review to achieve greater results. When I think of performance reviews I think of sports, because sports team members work together for the same result, to win. Similarly, the performance review is all about learning how to support someone so they can do their best in a role. We provide the training, skills, practice and feedback to make that person better for greater results. With that in mind, let’s look at the performance review.
What is a performance review?
Not to be circular, but if you Google performance review, it’s a review of performance. We can do a little better than that. If you think about the result you aim to achieve on your project, then that is the objective. Essentially, your objective is to strive for results and deliverables, and you need team members to perform to get those things done. You decide a person’s role and the deliverables they are responsible for; the review is a periodic check to evaluate performance and see how they are doing and what support they need to get the job done.
What are the benefits?
The first benefit of the performance review is better results. If it’s done in the proper way and the person gets support, guidance and candid feedback is exchanged, another benefit is that you will get valuable input so that you both win. People like to know you are there to support them. The benefits are both tangible and intangible.
There are five steps to this process: defining the performance review, preparing, conducting, writing up and then communicating the results of the performance review. Let’s break it down.
Step 1 – Defining
A performance review needs to be formally documented, in that it’s agreed upon, very specific and measurable. People need to know what is expected of them. You don’t want anyone to feel like they have been thrown into a job without knowing what their job responsibilities are, only to be told later that they missed their objective. We are to define the role they are playing, clearly. What are the results and the deliverables that they are responsible for, and what are the metrics? How are you going to measure to see how are they doing? We always measure, right? We measure how fast our kids are growing. We measure how fast we are at swimming, biking or running. We use metrics in our every day life, so in similar fashion, set metrics to measure a person’s activities against the results you are trying to achieve. Then, reward behavior when objectives are met, and support when they are not being met.
Step 2 – Preparing
The performance agreement is part of the preparation, where you sit down and agree in the beginning to use it as your baseline. Then you gather results, perhaps by asking the person that you are evaluating to provide you results. Ask, “How are you doing? Show me your deliverables.” Pull any kind of metrics that you can use so that you have facts. You do not want to guess, make things up or go by hearsay-something you heard at the water cooler.
Step 3 – Conducting
When you sit down and conduct the review it’s important to make sure the person is relaxed. After all, they are one of your team members. If someone is nervous and upset or defensive right off the bat it will not lead to good results. Let that person know you are there to support them and to talk about deliverables and results, not attack them as an individual. Be very respectful and just look at the things you agreed upon. Look at where they need to be, and where they really are. Then, look at what things you need to put in place in order to meet those objectives, and talk about those next steps.
Step 4 – Writing Up
Write up everything you covered in a document for later review and agreement. They may give you input on how you as the project manager can grow and develop and support them, or may have ideas for training or other improvements. Include the metrics so you both can see the baseline, where they were to be, and compare to where they actually were. Lastly, be sure to include next steps so you can review and track those.
Step 5 – Communicating
After you’ve conducted the performance review and written it up, meet with them again. Simply approach it by saying, “This is what we discussed, and what I documented. I just want to make sure this was your understanding.” If it wasn’t fearful enough conducting the interview and writing it up, it’s necessary to also communicate the result to them effectively. Remember to always be respectful of the person and look at results and metrics, not attack them as a person. Be respectful to the performance agreement; it is the agreed upon, specific and measurable document you must always track by. You may need to tweak it, but once you agree on the outcome, review the next steps and set a time to meet again. The more frequently you do performance reviews, the better the results. Don’t wait until the very end to figure out everyone missed their objective.
II. Useful materials for project performance review