Question: On days when employee performance reviews are scheduled, retail store managers can typically be found doing which of the following?
- Getting to work early, eager for the opportunity to sit down and talk with valued associates.
- Putting off the task, claiming to be too busy.
- Suddenly rushing off to an important root canal appointment they'd forgotten.
- Fleeing the country.
OK, maybe it's not that bad. But it's no secret retail managers today have plenty of excuses for skipping performance reviews. They're too busy, don't know how to go about them, see reviews as having little value -- the list goes on.
But as Tim Connor, a sales and management expert and CEO of Peak Performance Institute, points out, performance reviews play a critical role in helping managers communicate the organization's values and helping employees feel good about what they're doing.
"One of the key premises I teach in my management training is that you get the behavior you reward," Connor says. "If you don't like the behavior you're getting, don't look at the behavior; look at the reward system that is in place that's contributing to that behavior. So, for example, if I'm an employee and never get a review or any negative feedback, the assumption I have to make is that I'm doing a good job."
Retail managers must also make reviews part of a routine process. "Schedule them once a quarter or every six months and make sure that both the manager and the employee come in with an open mind that this is about improving, not necessarily criticizing, performance," he says.
Platform for Positive Talks
Connor says this last point underscores another big problem with most performance reviews in retail -- specifically, that managers and employees alike view the process as little more than a platform for criticism.
Instead, he suggests that managers regard the performance review as an opportunity to get bottom-up feedback and ask open-ended questions that validate the employee's participation and contribution. His suggested questions include:
- "Where do you feel you need to improve?"
- "What could you be doing to do a better job?"
- "In what areas do you need some help?"
Keys to Smooth Reviews
As for specific tips for conducting a well-run performance review, Connor outlines the following four-step process, which begins before the employee even walks into your office:
- Take a Positive Approach: Let employees know ahead of time that this will be a positive experience and should help them achieve their career goals. Ask them to come into the meeting armed with their own questions about expectations and anything else they're unclear on.
- Open Light: Begin with a general conversation about performance, soliciting the employee's thoughts on the store operation.
- Get to the Questions: In addition to those listed above, ask how you as the manager can do more to support their efforts.
- Focus on the Future: Conclude the meeting by discussing next steps, meaning specific objectives and goals. Have a follow-up strategy so you create positive expectations and establish accountability.
Ultimately, Connor says, neglecting the performance review process can hurt employee motivation and retention and cause genuine harm to an organization.
"If you're working in a negative culture, and you've just come out of a review feeling terrible about yourself, you're probably going to tell everyone else you come in contact with about it, and maybe even a few customers," he says.