Editor’s note: In this final part of the series, Erven covers the proper procedure for holding performance reviews — as well as what to do with the information you learn from them. Missed the first half? No worries, it’s here.

We now know that performance reviews are a crucial part of employee morale. They also help employees improve their on-the-job performance and even offer insight into how to make your farm run more profitably.

But how to do it? A manager can design a review process that is complex and time-consuming with long forms and detailed data. The process can also be simple. For managers just getting started, first mastering a simple approach makes most sense. Detail, complexity and sophistication can be added later.

Designing a review process starts with the job, not the employee. Ideally, each job has tasks, duties and responsibilities understood by the supervisor and employee through a job description. The job description provides standards against which performance can be measured. The standards dictate the data that need to be collected, what the supervisor needs to be looking for/documenting between performance reviews and judgments that need to be made.

Whatever the process, the supervisor and employee need to have two-way communication that leads to understanding and agreement. The agreement covers what has been accomplished since the last review, the corrective action (if any) that is needed, and the employee’s longer-run aspirations and plans.

The simplest approach for getting started with a process of formal employee reviews proceeds along the following general lines:

  • Analyze the job to have a basis for a job description and performance standards, i.e., expected outcomes.
  • Observe performance, collect performance data and make judgments to be able to say to the employee, “I see your three most important strengths (contributions, accomplishments) as ..."
  • Ask the employee, “What do you see as your most important strengths (contributions, accomplishments)?”
  • Say to the employee, “I see this (these two things) as most important for improving during the next six months.”
  • Ask the employee, “What would you like to improve?”
  • Move to needed follow-up by discussing possible training, retraining, needed equipment, useful information and whatever else may be necessary for the employee to meet performance standards.
  • Summarize with, “I want to summarize what we have agreed to.”
  • Conclude with a positive note, and assure the employee that there will be opportunity for follow-up including the next scheduled performance review.

This approach has several advantages for getting a review process started. No forms are required. It builds on already established positive relations with employees. Emphasis is on helping the employee improve. Compliments exceed criticisms, hopefully by at least a three-to-one margin. Reviewers can tailor it to individual employees, i.e., the discussions with new employees and experienced employees can differ as needed.

An alternative is a widely-used process that incorporates a graphic rating scale. This alternative is easy to understand because it reflects the key performance standards that come from a job description. The form should be designed to identify specific strengths and areas for improvement. It also provides an overall assessment of performance, i.e., a score.

A form needs to be tailored to each job. For example, quality, quantity, reliability, attendance and punctuality can be objective measures. Standards can be set and performance data collected for comparison to the standards. Other data points, like adaptability and cooperation, are subjective measures requiring judgment by the supervisor. Performance measures quite different from these could be chosen as dictated by the job, e.g., technical knowledge, sales volume and responsiveness to customers.

Using forms helps instruct the evaluator to rate the employee on each of the six performance areas and provide supportive details or comments. Critical incidents (specific examples of excellence or mediocrity with date and setting) can add insight about what the supervisor expects. The critical incidents can lead to training needs or adjustments in how the employee is doing the job.

A form incorporating a graphic rating scale helps most in employee performance reviews when incorporated into open and honest two-way communication between the supervisor and employee. A supervisor may choose to omit the employee comment and signature section if the section decreases trust. The section, however, can provide the employee an opportunity to make clear whatever concerns, commitments and plans that came out of the review. The employee’s acceptance of the evaluation can be invaluable in legally defending compensation, discipline and discharge decisions.

Tips for Starting Employee Reviews

The following tips and practical guidelines will help organizations succeed with their employee reviews.

  • Train all supervisors to do employee reviews before they start doing them.
  • Strive for a positive attitude toward employee reviews among all supervisors.
  • Tell employees when their reviews will be done; don’t surprise them.
  • Stick to the announced schedule.
  • Explain the review procedures to all employees.
  • Ask employees to think about their own performance, their questions and their career aspirations before discussion with their supervisors.
  • Discuss performance in private.
  • View employee reviews as an opportunity for open and honest communication.
  • Make the review communication two-way.
  • Make the annual or semi-annual formal evaluation a supplement to continuous informal communication.
  • Be prepared to deal with strong emotional responses from employees.
  • Spend some time on career implications.
  • End the review on a positive note.
  • Ask employees how the review process can be improved.

And Now?

Employees and employers like performance reviews when they are win-win for both parties. Employees will respond positively to well-planned and well-conducted reviews. The ball, therefore, rests firmly in the employer’s court.

This article has discussed the basics for getting started. From these basics, managers need to develop their own insights, preferences and techniques for successful reviews. No matter how frustrating the early going may be, the results will be well worth the effort.

Bernard L. Erven is with the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, Ohio State University.