IT Performance Improvement

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Make Employee Performance Plans Work for You

Sanjiv Purba

An employee performance plan (EPP) offers you an opportunity to proactively advance your career and compensation package, while contributing to an organization's corporate objectives. Regardless of which organization you work for, as an employee you need to diligently complete the EPP form and drive it through the performance review process that is going to be used by management to make promotion and pay decisions.

In general, employees must become partners or managers in this process, instead of relying on the Human Resources (HR) department or an organization's management team to be the sole drivers. This means staying on top of what the documentation should include, understanding all the touch-points in the review process - there are about six - and knowing who to influence.

What to Include in an Employee Performance Plan (EPP)
  • Current job title, description, and other facts such as start date
  • Career objectives and other targets
  • Next job function and title sought and by when
  • Current responsibilities and duties
  • Specific targets for the entire review cycle and at what time they are expected to be completed
  • Specific deliverables an employee will produce, when, and how they will be assessed
  • Action plan for improvements
  • A list of obstacles or events that could impact performance, and what the manager or organization is going to do about addressing them
  • Wrap-up section that contains overall performance rating, next steps, and signatures.

The key to being successful in consistently managing your own career and compensation is to be very specific and precise about what gets documented in the employee performance plan. This typically consists of seven sections, which are:

  1. Employee Objectives
  2. Employee responsibilities
  3. Employee deliverables
  4. Progress tracking table
  5. Action Plan
  6. Management Support and
  7. Wrap-up.

Regular involvement from a direct manager or supervisor is crucial for making the review process work for you. According to Stephen Thompson, Founder & Managing Partner, Tamworth Partners, Inc., "The purpose of a manager is to help all of their employees to succeed and therefore add significant value to the organization."

Instead of waiting for the review process to unfold when the manager has free time, the employee should take charge of the process activities and use the manager's self-interest to build a win-win situation.

Managing the Employee Performance Review Process
  • Arrange two or three meetings with a direct supervisor to complete the EPP for the coming review period
  • Try and fill out as much of the EPP form as possible prior to face to face meetings
  • Take the number of months in a performance review period and divide it by 4. Try and meet with your supervisor to review interim progress with that frequency. For example, the typical performance review period is 12 months, so meet every 3 months to review progress (12 / 4 = 3).
  • Do not be afraid to make changes to the plan at these interim program meetings to reflect new demands from the business.
  • Arrange two meetings at the end of a review cycle. The first one to discuss how you felt you did. The second one to get a final evaluation.
  • Start the cycle again for the next review cycle and incorporate learnings into the future plan.

A good place to begin is to understand how a direct manager or supervisor is being compensated and rewarded. This should be a subset of the overall corporate objectives that have been handed down from your supervisor's supervisor. This can be done through discussions with a manager prior to the start of a fiscal year or review cycle. Questions to ask could be: What's important to you? What does your manager want to see completed in the next 12 months? How can I best help the organization?

The next step is to obtain the Employee Performance Plan template from HR and to conduct a joint review with the supervisor. This is being proactive and does not leave you waiting for someone else to find some free time on his or her calendar.

You need to continue removing all the guesswork from your performance objectives. Organize several meetings with your supervisor to drive alignment between your objectives and how this is going to help the organization. Thompson cautions: "What normally happens is that the performance review process typically turns into a hurdle race where the hurdles are of undetermined height. The employee is told what they should have done after the fact."

The objectives are to fix the height of each hurdle, devise a way for reaching the top each time, and getting the supervisor's help and buy-in to complete all aspects of our mission. Along the way, we want to ensure that there are enough warnings and opportunities to adjust our strategy if things start to change or go astray.

You should take the initiative and start filling in the blank spaces on the EPP form themselves with information that is agreed to between them and their supervisor. Two or three meetings should be then arranged with the direct supervisor to iteratively fill in details and to complete the full document.

The 'employee objectives' section is crucial for ensuring alignment between an employee and supervisor. The employee should essentially be saying 'I want this' and the supervisor needs to be clear in saying 'you get that, when you do this'. This section should describe the long-term career goal(s), as well as the next position being sought by the employee. Timeframes for attaining both goals should be included as targets.

The 'employee responsibilities' section should contain an itemized list that is up to date. This can be augmented with future responsibilities that are agreed to by both the employee and the manager for the review period being planned. For example, the list could include: (1) Sell new cars to walk-in customers; (2) Support other members of the inside sales teams; and (3) Train new sales team members.

The 'employee deliverables' section further defines the responsibilities section by providing specific targets and precise timeframes. For example, sell two cars in the first month, three in the second month, and two cars in the third month. Another item could be included to achieve a 'completely happy' customer satisfaction rating from at least 90 percent of clients. Each item in the list must have a target and a specific way to measure how completely the target is met.

The employee deliverables section should also contain targets that would show when an employee has exceeded expectations. This section can optionally include targets for softer skills, such as communication, job knowledge, and conflict resolution.

The progress tracking table is a cross-reference against the employee deliverables and responsibilities section. It is used to record how an employee is performing against each of the targets that were established in the previous sections. Progress should be updated during interim meetings between an employee and their supervisor. Missed targets need to be addressed right away so that they will be met before the next interim meeting.

An 'action plan' can be included in the EPP to help an employee over-achieve or to address specific development needs. For example, an employee may have to attend a course on 'Advanced Mechanics' and pass it within 60 days of the new review period.

The 'management support' section should be used to record any known obstacles or issues. Thompson points out, "People may be spending 60 to 120 minutes a day looking for things they need to do their jobs. By recording these types of obstacles, supervisors are brought in to help solve a problem".

The 'wrap-up' section will contain the performance rating for the year and has room for several sets of signatures. The employee and supervisor should both signoff on the plan when it is ready. At the end of the year, a final rating will be recorded in this section, along with another set of signatures signifying agreement or at least acceptance of the results.

Instead of waiting for the final review, which could be a year away, an employee should setup several interim meetings with the supervisor to track progress on an ongoing basis. These should be a few months apart. Each meeting should review the objectives and deliverables, and update the progress section. The action plan should be revised if deliverables are falling behind. This is also a good opportunity to mutually agree on changing any targets based on new events or a shift in corporate direction.

The EPP form is a powerful tool that employees can use to reduce uncertainty and surprises in their career path. Regular meetings with supervisors throughout a review period means a continuous feedback loop that allows time to correct problems and react to future challenges. A documentation trail means knowing how a review is going to end before it even starts. Employees should take charge of this process for their own benefit.

About the Author
Sanjiv Purba is an equity partner with a Toronto-based IT management consulting firm. He is a well-published author, including Patterns for Performance and Operability: Building and Testing Enterprise Software, and public speaker on Information Technology and management related topics.

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