A few years ago, the Dilbert comic strip, known for its satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office, portrayed employee performance reviews with this clever dialogue:
Boss: Would you like some feedback on your performance?
Boss: You’re supposed to appreciate feedback because it makes you feel valued.
Dilbert: How does listening to you belittle me about things you don’t understand make me feel valued?
Boss: Well, I don’t know. It must be an indirect thing. Maybe we should just try it and see how it feels.
Boss: I don’t actually watch you work, so I’m mostly guessing about the things you do wrong. I accuse you of being slow and disorganized! Is it working yet?
Dilbert: Yes. If that makes you go away.
The Problem with Performance Reviews
When it comes to feedback, we all want it, but none of us really want to hear it when it’s bad. Frankly though, we all need it. Feedback helps us improve quicker and do our job better. In fact, according to PwC, nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would welcome feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under age 30—and more than 75% of respondents believe that feedback is valuable. Yet less than 30% said they receive it. So why is that?
Managers report that performance reviews are their second most hated task—second only to firing someone! That’s the sad state of affairs on employee evaluations. At the heart of this aversion is the employee performance review questionnaire. Employees believe the review questions are vague & not connected to their work, goals, and aspirations.
Creating a Culture of Continuous Feedback
But there is good news. Staff performance reviews don’t have to be a source of frustration. Preparing a list of well thought out and focused performance evaluation questions can go a long way toward helping you set a positive, supportive environment, while giving employees a clear understanding of their roles and monitoring progress toward individual goals.
The following 5 questions, when asked on a regular basis, in addition to annual review time, can significantly improve an employee’s morale and quality of work.
What was your biggest accomplishment this month?
Put another way: What are some highlights of your recent work? When employees share positive information, it gives them a sense of personal pride and accomplishment; they are setting an upbeat tone for further discussion. This provides a quantifiable means to assess work, and ensure employees are contributing what you need them to.
What is your biggest challenge currently?
This is the converse side of the previous question. It lacks the positive overtone, but is a very good question, regardless, letting you know where the worker is struggling. You need to be aware of any pain points an employee encounters in his/her work, or the company culture as a whole. Once you know the problems, you can help solve them.
You also get to improve processes, eliminate barriers, and enhance productivity. When you know where your team member is struggling, you can do something about it. For most challenges, there is a solution.
What things should we do differently?
Every team member has a different perspective on the company. Your job is to amass this information and use it to improve the organization. Everyone can add value, and not just by performing their strictly-defined job responsibilities.
Team members understand that things can be done differently. A good company is one that is dynamic—adapting to workers’ needs. By incorporating “do different” questions, you show you are open to the possibility of change, and employees recognize the value that they can provide beyond their job description.
As mentioned above, everyone has a larger role to play in the company. Workers need to understand their role in improving the organization as a whole. The information you gain helps you to make the organization better. Sure, you may not be able to act on every suggestion, but now and then you’ll discover things that truly do need to change.
What additional resources would be helpful to you?
This question gives you concrete actionable information that can help a worker do more, or do it right. The question should be tempered by an understanding that you have limitations and may not be able to deliver everything they want. However, let employees know that if you can do anything to help, you’re prepared to do so.
Sometimes, managers think what employees need is different from what they actually need. You may be prepared to throw more people or money at a project, whereas the real need is a small, inexpensive fix, but you won’t know unless you ask.
Is there anything I can do to help you?
Finally, this question lets your employee know you’re human. You care about their success and well being. It is the broadest question of all, and can transcend the office, and the business.
You can spin the question more specifically to let them know you’re also available to improve their work/life balance. This type of question can go beyond strictly professional needs, allowing you to understand any personal factors that may influence their work. It demonstrates your genuine concern; you’re a real human being, contrary to the pointy-haired Dilbert bosses who lack souls.
Effective managing is about understanding, and you won’t understand unless you ask the right questions and carefully listen to the answers. It is one of your most powerful managerial tools.