One of the first things people appointed to positions of authority must learn is their authority is real, and for them to act with authority is expected. Often, when people first find themselves in the position of supervising others, they feel awkward about giving instructions or correcting behavior.
To avoid being the villain, they may put off confrontation until performance evaluations are due, a time at which it is expected to address problems. The "list" then appears, and all issues that have accumulated over time are addressed in one difficult meeting. Afterward, the evaluator is left feeling relief the meeting is over, concern his message may not have been well received, and a mild dread of the next evaluation. The employee, who was stunned to find out his performance is unsatisfactory, spends the next week or two thinking of things he wishes he had said and wondering if he may be blindsided again.
The true gift of authority is it provides opportunity to help employees expand their horizons, learn new things and achieve more than they might otherwise accomplish. Amazingly enough, the performance evaluation is the perfect setting to set the process in motion. There are just a few simple rules.
First, nothing should ever be a surprise. Second, evaluation periods should be for a specific period of time and conducted in a timely manner. Third, there should be specific written goals and key-result areas to achieve them. Fourth, the supervisor and employee must participate in establishing the goals and objectives. Finally, when criticism is necessary, find something to praise as well.
Nearly everyone wants to do a good job, but no one has the skill to do every job well. Performance evaluations help determine how the employee's skills meet the requirements of his position and whether there are things the manager or employee can do to improve performance.
Objective vs. Subjective
Evaluations should be conducted from two perspectives: objective measurements and subjective observations. Objective measurements take more time to prepare, but they are more easily demonstrated to employees because they deal with facts and figures. Subjective evaluations are assessments of the intangible. You cannot put a dollar value on a bright smile, but if there is one thing that makes a sale more quickly than anything else, it is eye contact and a big smile when a customer enters the door.
Objective measurements of an employee's performance must have mutually understood, measurable, key-result objectives that lead to desired goals. Establishing these goals and objectives is the responsibility of the employer. They should be reasonably achievable yet challenging, and cover a specific time period. For instance, if you are opening a new store with 500 units, you may reasonably expect to lease up to 90 percent within 18 months (goal). That equates to an average net gain of 5 percent, or 25 units, per month (key results). Eighteen months is too long to go between reviews, especially on a new project, so you would schedule your first three reviews in six-month sections. This same thought process can be applied to every measurable aspect of your business: rentals, sales, expenses, collections, etc. The next step is to discuss these objectives with your employees. They will be expected to meet what you have proposed, and they often have insight to a situation you may not have considered. In the lease-up example, they might remind you the store is opening in October and winter sales are more likely to be a net gain of 10 to 15 units per month, while summertime gains may reach 35 to 40 units per month. The overall result is still 90 percent occupancy in 18 months.
The monthly numbers you ultimately agree upon become the goals and key-result objectives for the next evaluation period, and the date of the next review is established. You and your employee keep a copy of your mutual expectations. Because the employee is allowed to participate in setting goals and objectives, he is more likely to adopt them and make them his own. These nuts and bolts of performance can be frequently discussed on a casual basis, so at any given time, you know where your employee stands with regard to your expectations. There are no surprises.
The subjective portion of the evaluation is often the most difficult, but it is also the most rewarding. A good tool to guide the evaluation toward the topics you want to discuss is a worksheet, created a week or two before the evaluation, that asks questions of the employee about himself and his job. You should independently complete a similar worksheet with your own impressions. Ask some general questions to help you get to know how the employee thinks about himself and his position and some specific questions about things that concern you. General questions might include:
1) What do you think is your greatest strength in the performance of your job?
2) What do you think is your most significant weakness?
3) What would help you to do a better job?
4) What would you like to be doing five years from now?
You may be surprised at the difference between your employees' answers and your own.
If you believe the employee has a specific problem, such as selling climate- control units, you might then ask specific questions related to the problem area. For example, "What are the top five benefits of climate-control units?" or "Is the anticipated length of stay important in making a decision about using climate control?" The questions make the employee think about what he is doing and help you determine what is important. You can then present problem resolutions in an educational, nonconfrontational, positive manner. Instead of saying "You're not selling enough climate-control units," you can say "I think you can improve your climate-control sales if you explain these benefits to customers."
Never be afraid to address an issue head on, whether it be personal hygiene or understanding curb appeal. Use your authority and evaluation tools to present issues in a manner that is not embarrassing, that leaves your employee an opportunity to improve rather than a feeling of inadequacy.
Studies have shown people seldom leave their place of employment because of wages alone. More often, it is their feeling of self worth, their relationships with co-workers, or their perception of whether they are appreciated that determines their length of stay. Wage reviews should not even be a part of performance evaluations. Although performance is a factor in awarding wages, wage reviews and performance evaluations should be conducted separately. When money is discussed in the same context, it adds a whole new dimension that heightens anxiety and reduces effectiveness.
Carefully thought out performance objectives and evaluations are an opportunity to build your company's success as you are building the success of your employees. Use them to your greatest advantage.
Donna May is the president of Bulverde, Texas-based Joshua Management Corp., which provides consulting, employee training and evaluation, and third-party management for self-storage facilities. Joshua Management provides business assistance at all levels, whether a person wants to enter self-storage, invigorate a store's performance, get advice on troubling issues or leave the industry at the peak of performance and investment gain. For more information, call 830.980.8253 or visit www.joshuamgmt.com.