Today, employees want more feedback than ever before, says Sylvia Hepler, owner and president of Launching Lives, LLC, where she works as a career development specialist for managers and executives.
“Midyear reviews, recently making a comeback, let you give what people seek and companies need,” says Hepler, who is also the author of Learning Leadership Through Loss: How to Leverage Personal Pain to Help Yourself and Others Succeed at Work. “Whether you’re clarifying expectations, exploring skill set leverage, developing performance improvement plans, generating creative ideas, outlining incentives, or dissecting people’s use of time, these interactive mid-point meaty discussions can be the catalyst for getting your staff and your business back on track. Don’t underestimate the worth of that.”
Hepler then tells a story that all employers, managers and HR professionals can learn from. Here’s what she has to say:
“Many years ago I hired a communications coordinator for the fourteen county nonprofit organization I led at that time. Toward the end of Susan’s second interview I identified the success criteria against which her job performance would be assessed. In that discussion I explained that her first formal employee evaluation would take place after six months and that, going forward, she could expect one-on-one reviews at regular six month intervals. Upon hearing this Susan’s eyes opened wide with obvious shock. Leaning forward in her chair, she studied me and said quietly: “In my current job I rarely get annual reviews at all. When I do get them, they are quite a few weeks late. I’ve worked at this company for six years and have received very little meaningful feedback. To be honest, it’s a little bit like walking around in the dark. I don’t mean to complain, but it’s been an unfortunate, frustrating situation.”
Throughout a lengthy and varied career I’ve known only a handful of supervisors who told me they actually enjoyed the employee evaluation process. Privately, too many managers admitted to procrastination mainly because they didn’t know how to do it well. They had never been trained. How sad. Since I, personally, felt energized by the whole thing, I walked away from those conversations feeling like an odd duck.
So – why was I motivated to evaluate my staff when scores of my colleagues and associates were resistant to fulfilling such a critical responsibility? The fact was that no one had taught me how to do it effectively either. As a brand new supervisor, I just took the trial and error plunge. Placing myself in the role of observer, I paid close attention to what yielded winning results and what didn’t. Using some creativity and common sense, I adjusted and refined the process over the course of two decades. Seeing the golden opportunity in employee reviews, I never was bored. I looked forward to each and every one of them. Imagine!
Somewhere along the line, though, I concluded that waiting twelve months to shine the limelight on individuals actually did them—and the organization– a huge disservice. Too much time had passed, and important issues tended to get lost. Once that realization hit me, I introduced the mid-year review to my team. Skeptical at first, they grew to appreciate it. Like me, they came to understand its multi-faceted value.
5-star tips for conducting six month staff evaluations:
Interested? Check out and implement the following five-star tips for conducting six month staff evaluations from Hepler and watch what happens in your shop:
- Eliminate the element of surprise: Emotionally and practically prepare your employees for mid-year reviews. Don’t spring the concept on them out of the blue. You want to avoid or reduce the fear factor—not exacerbate it. During group meetings educate folks about the purpose and benefits of this exercise. When you choose to make this wise investment, you’re likely to get staff buy-in. Believe me, that goes a long way. Clarify the content components, the specific process, and the time commitment. Invite questions. The day I announced my decision to introduce midyear reviews, four pairs of eyes stared at me with a blank expression. One person asked “Why do you think that’s necessary?” Pausing briefly to formulate a cut to the chase response, I said: “To eliminate any surprises in December. I know you’ll be relieved to hear that.”
- Acknowledge the past and present but focus on the future: The mid-year review provides an ideal opportunity to recognize and celebrate employee accomplishments from the previous six months. Because such conversation typically inspires most staff to do more and do better, it matters. Be careful not to slight achievements, both large and small. You want to build upon these, use them as a springboard for sparking people to commit to the next steps and higher goals you envision for the second half of the year. Be smart and sincere about it. Says Hepler: “I once conducted a mid-year review with a woman who required a lot of encouragement. As the two of us identified modest projects she’d completed in advance of established deadlines, her face beamed with pride. We took a few minutes to feel the joy. Then I asked: ”So what do you think you can do now?” I challenged her to up her game.
- Address problems and plan solutions: As I matured as supervisor, I realized that employee problems fall into three buckets: performance, behavior, and internal/external environment. Whatever the category, I was obligated to address all problems as they arose. Intuitively, I grasped that waiting was the kiss of death for individuals, teams, and companies. Partial engagement doesn’t automatically increase. Anger issues don’t just evaporate. A toxic culture can’t heal on its own. Mid-year reviews offer the ideal venue to call a spade a spade and figure out how to change what isn’t working. Says Hepler: “I had to do that with a part-time employee who compiled research findings and wrote summaries off site. Over a few months the quality of those documents had deteriorated. I couldn’t submit them to our state government in their current condition. When his mid-year review rolled around, I confronted him. Together we agreed that his reports would improve if he produced them in our office rather than at home.”
- Examine the use of time: Contrary to what most folks believe, our number one challenge isn’t lack of time; it’s how we choose to invest our time. If you’re supervising staff, it’s your duty to make sure they are crystal clear about their work priorities. When people have this clarity, they are more equipped to fill their time with the tasks, activities, and projects that are most important to the organization. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean somebody’s productive and effective. During midyear reviews you and your employees can analyze their use of time. Consider individual job descriptions, strategic plan goals and objectives, and organizational mission and vision. In a six month conversation with my executive assistant I actually witnessed a light bulb going on inside her head when she deduced that over twenty percent of her work day was wasted on trivial distractions and inconsequential minutia.
- Engage your high performers: I don’t need to tell you how expensive it is to lose and replace people who are exceeding supervisory and organizational expectations. The cost goes way beyond money. Intelligent, skilled, and experienced high performers without behavioral problems are your company’s greatest asset. You can’t afford to have them walk out the door. Mid year reviews provide formal, focused, and meaningful occasions to engage them in thoughtful, provocative discussions that leverage their abilities, tap their ideas, and expand their interests. It’s no secret that companies grow as their employees stretch.
Think about your staff. Who are your high performers, and why precisely do you desire to retain them?
You need to connect with your why before you go into midyear reviews with these folks, says Hepler. Everything you discuss ought to relate directly to the value they bring—and can bring–to your table.
Remember this too: “While their contributions may be significant, most are not content to stay where they are,” says Hepler. “They want to climb onto the next rung of greatness. It’s your job to support them in that journey. When you do, they win and you win. You can’t beat that.”