Why bother with performance reviews? Aren't they just a box-ticking exercise? Aren't they a waste of time?
Experienced HR practitioners are well-versed in the benefits of regular performance reviews. We know they are an essential element in building an engaged, motivated workforce. In fact, it's so blindingly obvious to us that we end up tearing our hair out because the managers in our engineering organisations don't get it. And they frustrate us further because they end up asking us questions like the ones above.
From my work in this sector, I have found that this problem arises because we are trying to influence by using HR messages rather than engineering benefits. Fundamentally, these do not fit well together. The HR perspective tends to be too soft, lacking the practicality that engineering managers find worthwhile.
In this post, I'll be exploring five benefits of monthly performance reviews – examined from the perspective of engineering managers, not HR practitioners.
1. They save time on a day-to-day basis
This benefit will be realised because individuals will come to the manager with fewer ad hoc interruptions throughout the month. They will keep problems that do not need immediate resolution until the scheduled review time. When team members don't have the security of knowing they have this time, they will interrupt managers at a time that suits the team member, or when something simply happens to be on their mind.
It's easy to measure this benefit. Typically a monthly performance review lasts a maximum of 60 minutes per person. Engineering managers simply need to total up the time taken to deal with ad hoc interruptions throughout the month to see that it comes to far more than that for each individual they manage.
2. They make the annual performance appraisal easier
Managers who carry out monthly performance reviews find that the annual performance appraisal is more straightforward because they have already covered all the key points throughout the year. The annual review simply becomes a summary of these.
It's also easier because both the manager and the direct report are used to having performance conversations – they are more direct and upfront in what they have to say as a result.
Bringing all this together, the annual performance appraisal is usually shorter too – in fact, it won't need to be much longer than the regular monthly conversation.
3. They save hassle
Too often managers leave sensitive or difficult topics to fester because there is no easy avenue to address them. This means that less-than-satisfactory performance, for example, is not addressed and the problem grows. Having a regular time set aside each month is an ideal opportunity to explore the topic and find a satisfactory way forward.
And on a really practical note, the difficulty of getting someone 'out of the office' for the conversation disappears too. The meeting is already scheduled to take place away from the day-to-day workplace.
4. They keep people focussed on goals as well as tasks
Managers talk to their direct reports regularly about immediate tasks, usually addressing problems in getting the job done right now. Fixing these can feel like significant progress, but doesn't necessarily advance things in the longer term.
Monthly performance reviews allow time to step back from the immediacy of the day-to-day work and make sure that long-term goals and objectives are kept in the picture too. In this way, direct reports are far more likely to achieve these because they don't lose sight of them in the minutiae of the moment.
5. They help managers to be better performers too
An essential element of every monthly performance review is for the direct report to give their manager feedback on what is working or not working in the way they are being managed. When there is no opportunity to do this, little irritations fester and become big problems.
Direct reports also find it far more difficult to give feedback at the annual performance appraisal if they aren't used to doing so throughout the year. As a result, managers will go about their management roles blind to the problems they are causing.
While this final benefit is getting close to being a 'soft' HR issue from an engineering manager's perspective, it is still effective when taken in context of the preceding four points. After all, it's a brave manager who says he/she doesn't want or need to improve.
HR professionals are well-versed in the motivational benefits of monthly performance reviews. The problem is that they forget that these benefits aren't as compelling for engineering managers. In this blog I have shared the five pragmatic, results-focussed benefits that I have found effective in engaging these pragmatic, results-focussed individuals.
These five key benefits are:
- Save time on a day-to-day basis
- Have easier annual performance appraisals
- Save hassle
- Keep focussed on long-term goals as well as immediate tasks
- Become a better manager