You're not the buddy – you're the boss

Helping new supervisors prepare for performance reviews and performance improvement plans

You're not the buddy – you're the boss

This article is provided by XpertHR.

Performance management is a critical function in ensuring your business operations run like a well-oiled machine, with each employee moving in the same direction and representing the same mission, vision, and values. Performance reviews are an important diagnostic tool for HR decisions like compensation, promotion, and termination, and performance improvement plans (PIP) can be an effective tool for tuning up an employee’s performance to meet specifications.

But if a supervisor is new to your organization or has been recently promoted, the idea of preparing for a performance review or implementing a performance improvement plan may seem a little daunting. Here are some key steps to help ensure a supervisor is set up for success and can help your team stay productive, engaged, and working toward leveling up.

Prepare Like the B-O-S-S, Not the Buddy

Supervisors can be reluctant to tackle performance reviews, especially if they include negative feedback. Delivering criticism can be a “bummer,” but it’s important for supervisors to recognize that providing honest feedback for improvement is the best thing they can do for their staff. In fact, many employees say they value negative feedback if it’s delivered the right way. But in order to do that, a supervisor must prepare for the conversation before they sit down with a direct report.

Appropriate preparation starts with a review of an employee’s job description, key performance objectives (KPOs), and the goals that were established at the start of the performance cycle. The supervisor also should have a strong understanding of the criteria for different ratings or competency levels in your organization’s review process.

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It’s also important to emphasize consistency and fairness as part of the performance review process. Consistent standards across your organization will help employees take performance reviews seriously and foster trust in the feedback they receive. Consistency will also help your organization avoid more serious situations, like claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.

Preparation also requires becoming familiar with the documentation needed to prepare a performance review. Supervisors should meet regularly with each of their team members to discuss performance and take notes on such meetings. These notes and other documentation related to an employee’s performance can help create a more balanced review, one that an employee will regard as fair and based on concrete examples.

Providing Effective Feedback: Transparency and Communication are Key

After a supervisor has done their homework, it’s time to work on the message they plan to deliver. The message needs to be tailored for each individual employee and reflect their performance level, achievements and challenges during the review period.

Once that has been done, the supervisor is ready to have the review meeting. Make sure the supervisor is prepared to begin the meeting on a positive note and give employees an opportunity to start the conversation by sharing their thoughts on their performance.

When communicating with a high performer, the supervisor should thank them for their contributions and spend more of the meeting discussing professional development and career goals. For employees who are average performers, a supervisor should use the meeting as an opportunity to uncover reasons for the mid-level performance, explain the upside and benefits of improved performance, and offer support for increased efforts.

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If a supervisor is preparing to meet with a poor performer, they should be transparent and provide specific examples of the areas, tasks, and capabilities in which an employee did not meet expectations. It’s important for the supervisor to communicate honestly; favorable reviews are not helpful if the employee is underperforming.

Supervisors should be prepared to take additional steps if an employee is not meeting expectations. A performance improvement plan (PIP) may be an option that can help an employee succeed in their role and avoid disciplinary action. If a supervisor believes an employee’s performance can be improved, a PIP is almost always a better option than termination and going through the costs of hiring and training a replacement.

Get Back on Track with a Performance Improvement Plan

Once a supervisor has completed a performance review with a poor performer, it might be time to consider implementing a PIP. This is an opportunity for the supervisor and direct report to come together to discuss performance expectations and create a plan for success. It should never be used to create a paper trail to justify discipline or termination – that only sets up an employee for failure.

Meet with the employee before drafting the PIP to avoid catching the employee by surprise. Provide specific examples that leave no doubt as to the unprofessional conduct or subpar performance in question. An informal conversation may be enough to inspire improved performance and help the employee maintain employment.

If the situation does call for a PIP, the supervisor should identify specific issues that require improvement and whether the corrections are related to performance or behavior. It’s also important to record any counseling or discipline that the employee received related to the issues being addressed. The PIP should be based on facts and truth—not opinions, hearsay or watercooler gossip.

A supervisor should ensure that the PIP covers what the employee needs to do to achieve satisfactory performance. Capture quantifiable objectives and specific work requirements that need improvement. Highlight both long-term goals and the short-term steps that will help the employee reach them and explain how the employee’s progress will be measured.

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A comprehensive PIP should also highlight resources, materials, training, and coaching available to help the employee meet expectations. And the supervisor should also set a defined timeframe in which the direct report must demonstrate evidence of improvement. Depending on the severity of the performance issues or misconduct, the period can last from several days to several months.

Position the Plan as a Framework for Success

After the supervisor has developed the plan, it’s time to sit down with the employee and have the big talk. The beginning of the conversation should emphasize that the PIP is not meant as a punishment, but a roadmap to help the direct report achieve success by meeting clear goals for improvement.

The supervisor should read through the entire PIP with the employee and ensure they are crystal clear on the expectations, how they failed to initially meet those expectations, and what is required to improve performance. The supervisor should also review the consequences of failing to meet the requirements in the PIP. Give the employee an opportunity to ask questions and reinforce the intent of helping them achieve success in the workplace.

By taking these steps to provide effective feedback in a review and address performance issues and constructive opportunities for improvement, a supervisor can help a direct report become a more productive and engaged member of the team and poised for career growth down the road.

Robert Teachout has more than 30 years' experience in legal publishing covering employment laws on the state and federal level. At XpertHR, he covers labor relations, performance appraisals and promotions, HR professional development and employment contracts. He often writes on the intersection of compliance with HR strategy and practice. Since 2002, XpertHR has provided organizations across the globe access to a comprehensive suite of intelligent HR solutions and data analytics to help customers create a purposeful workplace for all.

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