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If you were always a straight-A student, you probably looked forward to receiving every report card.

Some of us, on the other hand, were easily distracted by boys or baseball or hairstyles or Hendrix. We did well in some subjects but struggled through others, and so we dreaded report card time. Our palms got sweaty just opening the envelope.

We walked home from school for the long way. And when it was time to show Mom and Dad, we closed our eyes and waited for the lecture about “not realizing your potential” to be over.

Unfortunately, when it’s time for employees to meet with their managers about performance, many suffer painful flashbacks to report card time.

After all, these reviews don’t just determine ratings; they have an impact on how an employee is paid, whether he gets a promotion, and sometimes whether he keeps his job.

It’s no wonder employees, managers and even HR professionals view performance management as a challenge.

A 2014 research report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 53 percent of participants graded their organizations between a C+ and B when it came to performance management. (Twenty-one percent of those gave their companies a C.) Only 2 percent gave an A. These grades are telling us that we can do better.

The consequences of poorly executed performance management are dramatic:

Fortunately, you can make a simple change that will dramatically improve your performance management program and help employees understand it better so they know how to be successful. That change is improving manager communication.

The Manager Is the Linch Pin

Almost every performance management system relies heavily on managers to make it work. Managers help employees set goals, evaluate performance and provide feedback throughout the year. Managers also make recommendations on how employees will be paid.

So our advice about communicating performance management is this: Invest in managers. That means using a multi-faceted approach to set them up for success.

Here are three ways you can use communication tools to support managers and help your organization earn high marks:

1. Conduct Interactive Workshops to Train Managers on the Process

When a global company was introducing a new performance management process and tool, we worked with the HR team to develop a web workshop for managers. The goal was to help managers understand priorities and what to do.

Topics included briefing managers on process objectives, setting expectations, and instructing them to use the tool. We offered several sessions scheduled at different times of the day, so managers could choose the time that worked best for them.

Manager feedback about the workshops was positive. Ninety-nine percent of attendees agreed that they understood the importance of talking to their team about priorities. Eighty-six percent agreed that they better understood how to discuss those priorities. Some comments included:

  • “Great class! It helped to understand where the company as a whole was coming from and how to break it down to the employee level. I would attend this again.”
  • “This workshop was very informative and motivating. I intend to apply the strategies mentioned in an upcoming meeting. Thank you.”

2.  Develop How-to Guides to Help Managers Prepare for Their Roles

Another global company wanted to ensure managers understood their roles in the performance management process. We created a comprehensive guide for managers that included:

  • Message from the CEO
  • Overview of performance management
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Quick-start guide to the performance management process, including step-by-step instructions:
  • Develop objectives
  • Review mid-year performance and development
  • Evaluate annual performance
  • Conduct second-level review and calibration
  • Deliver final confirmation to employee
  •  Frequently asked questions

One of the first sections in the guide described the manager’s role and its importance. It also clearly stated the manager’s responsibilities in the performance management process so he or she would know exactly what was expected:

Within performance management program, you are responsible for coordinating work across your team, and coaching and assessing your team’s performance. To do this, you need to:

  • Help your employee understand the company, group, functional and site objectives, and how your team’s work aligns with those objectives.
  • Distribute key objectives for the year among team members.
  • Provide support to the employee as he/she sets career goals and creates a development plan.
  • Work with each employee to assess performance at mid-year and year-end and determine performance rating.
  • Provide recognition, feedback, and coaching throughout the year to help the employee achieve individual and overall objectives

3.  Create Low-tech Videos for Managers to Share Ideas and Advice

At another company that was rolling out a new performance management program to give managers improved online tools, we recommended producing videos of highly respected managers from around the world to provide friendly advice and encouragement.

The managers used smartphones to record themselves answering questions like:

  • What’s the best advice you ever received from a boss?
  • How do you recommend dealing with problem employees?
  • How have you been able to turn an employee’s performance around?

The resulting footage was shared with managers throughout the company in a variety of ways: webinars, training sessions, and a series of online training modules. The videos gave managers real examples of success stories to follow.

Well-prepared Managers = Engaged Employees

When you help managers coach their employees through what can sometimes be a complicated process, employees will feel engaged and knowledgeable. They’ll have the answers to their important questions, including:

  • Am I doing the right things to advance my career and help the company?
  • How am I performing compared to my peers?
  • Do I have a future with this company?
  • How do I get better at what I do?

How would you grade your company’s performance management? If it’s not an A, maybe it’s time to use these examples to make some changes.   

Written By
Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement. Alison sets the strategic direction for the firm, consults with the client on their toughest communication challenges and leads the development of new products and services.

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