Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Many companies institute a formal review process each year. It is a lot of work, but it's an important part of developing employees. An Annual Review provides critical feedback to employees. In addition, it provides objective criteria on which to base raises and promotions.

This week, I am responsible for completing an Annual Review for three Sogeti employees. At Sogeti, we call my role "Counselor" and these three employees are known as my "counselees". Of course, I also have a counselor, which makes me a counselee to him.

My task this week is made more difficult by the fact that I don't work regularly with any of my counselees.

But here is what I do to complete this process as fairly and effectively as I can.

Start Early

The annual review process starts at the beginning of the year. Push your counselee to articulate what their goals are for the year. Some of these goals will come from within themselves and some will be a result of feedback during the last annual review process. Goals can change and that’s okay, but it’s tough to achieve anything unless you have some objectives in mind.

Talk to your counselees regularly throughout the year. I schedule a monthly conversation with each of my counselees. It’s on our calendars, so we won’t miss it. Usually, this is a phone call, but I try to meet them for lunch at least a couple times a year. Find out how their project is going. What challenges are they having? What are they doing well? Is there anything they need from you or elsewhere in the company? Have their goals changed since the beginning of the year? If they received a flattering e-mail, ask them to forward it to you.  Give them direct feedback during these meetings. If you cannot answer a question, follow up later with someone who knows the answer. Take notes during these meetings. OneNote is a great tool for this. Often, I end up copying text directly from these notes and pasting it into the Annual Review form at the end of the year. If you are meeting regularly and having open conversations, there should be no surprises at Review time.

Encourage your counselees to keep a record of their accomplishments throughout the year, so that they can more easily articulate them at the end of the year. I always tell my counselees not to rely on me to remember anything they did during the year. There is a good chance I will forget something and there is a non-zero chance that I might not be with the company at the end of the year. At one of my former company's we had a slogan: "You own your career". Employees should understand this and it’s a counselors job to make sure they do.

End-of-Year

If your company publishes guidelines for the annual review, read them thoroughly and base your review on these guidelines. The less subjective your review, the easier it will be and the more fair to all involved.

Seek input from those who know the best. Because I typically do not work with the people I evaluate, I actively seek input from those who are more familiar with a counselee's work. Send e-mails and make calls to get as much input as you can. Typically, I might reach out to

  • Customers
  • Managers
  • Co-workers
  • Salespeople

Include specific examples in your evaluation. "Bob did a great job at customer XYZ" is far less meaningful than "Bob rewrote the Shipping screen, so that it now runs 70% faster, saving the customer 2-4 hours per week." On the flip side "Joe needs to improve his communication skills" is less effective than "The customer expressed frustration because he did not know that Joe's project was behind schedule until he failed to meet his deadline. Joe should have communicated the schedule slippage weeks earlier when he became aware of the roadblock."

Be honest. Often, you will find yourself evaluating a friend and it's tempting to let personal feelings sway your evaluation. Friendship should only affect an evaluation if there is a criterion for getting along with others. In all other areas, stay objective. Otherwise, you are not being fair to the other employees. Honest feedback is how an employee improves.

Give an annual review process the time and attention it deserves. Employees deserve this.