As a project manager, there will be many tasks you’ll be expected to deliver, one of which is to give performance appraisals to members of your team. Some people are more receptive to feedback than others but how you give performance reviews is important too.
Project managers with many years’ experience agree that a hard part of their role is giving feedback to team members. And for your team, performance appraisals are not always positively anticipated either. Despite this, performance appraisals remain an essential part of the project manager’s role, and it’s important to improve how you deliver them.
Start with the basics
Managing and motivating a team can be hard, and it’s tempting to leave your appraisal notes to the last minute, even though you know this is not the best way to deliver or accept feedback.
Project managers should be building their appraisal notes over at least a year. This way, you have full and detailed notes when the time comes to sit down with your team and work through what was gone well and what needed a different approach or more work.
Essentially, you need to determine the best time of year to conduct your reviews. Some companies have a preferred schedule or process, such as performance reviews being scheduled around the time budget reviews take place. This allows the option of bonuses to be handed out.
If you have the flexibility to decide when the best time is for reviews, avoiding high-volume work seasons or pinch points will clearly be of benefit. The process can be demanding and intense, with detailed preparation needed underpinning the feedback process. And no one wants to do this when the volume of work is eyeball level.
What does a review schedule look like?
Setting out the process can make it much clearer.
MONTH 1 – Set goals and expectations
If those in your team don’t know what the expectations of them are, they won’t have anything to aim for or understand how tasks should be done. In the first month, you should meet with your team and share the goals and expectations for the year.
With everyone on the same page, you should also meet with each team member individually to set their individual performance goals. This is also the time to assess their existing project management skills and determine whether any training or professional development is needed to complete those goals successfully. After all there is no point getting to the end of a project before recognising that additional project management training was needed to ensure success.
Doing this means that everyone is clear on team expectations as well as their own performance throughout the year. You will also have documented what you are expecting from your team too.
What tools can you use to do this?
Many project managers use a SMART process – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-orientated, Time-bound.
As a framework, this is familiar to most people and helps to hone thoughts and ideas. There may be team goals that use SMART, and you can also use it to set individual goals too, which should broadly align with the organisation’s goals.
Make a record
These critical first steps in the first month are the platform from which your observations and final performance reviews will grow. Thus, it is crucial to have an accurate record of everything discussed with the team and individuals. This is the road map that will move people and your project to success.
MONTH 3, 6 AND 9
Some project managers opt to conduct these every month but at least every three months you should hold touch-base meetings.
Here’s a guiding principle of performance appraisal – when you get to the year-end, nothing you say to the team or to individual team members should come as a shock. In other words, no information should be new but something that has been aired and discussed throughout the year.
What you should be doing is tracking employees goals and giving them feedback during the year. How you do this is dependant on how you like to operate. You may favour touch base meetings every month or prefer to give employees longer stretches of time and so every three months may work for you and your team.
Either way, these meetings should be scheduled and be a firm commitment on both sides – don’t be tempted to put these meetings on the back burner; they are the foundations of a successful project team.
How to make touch base meetings useful and efficient
No one likes to be stuck in a meeting for an age only to leave it unsure what has been accomplished or with confusing messages. Therefore, to make touch base meetings work, as a project manager you should;
- Set a brief agenda that highlights the annual goals to be discussed and expectations outlined.
- It should also note any questions or additional assignment they have.
- Include quarterly metrics and long term project review updates too.
These meetings don’t have to be overly formal. Informal feedback can be just as powerful, especially praise where it’s due and addressing ongoing issues or problems (the not-so-nice-part!).
Asking for things to be done differently is hard, but this proves a useful tool for project managers;
- Start – e.g. start CC’ing you into emails to other managers.
- Stop – e.g. stop taking overly long lunch breaks
- Continue – e.g. continue to turn in projects before the deadline
Some people refer to this as the sandwich technique. Effectively, you are starting with a positive (a request) and then placing the negative, the stop, in the middle of a conversation before you end with ‘continue’ a chance to give out praise.
This doesn’t have to be a stilted formula, delivered exactly as it is but used as part of a conversation.
Should you keep notes of these meetings?
Yes, keeping detailed notes of these meetings will act as a much needed prompt for completing the annual review in month 12.
MONTH 10 – Employees need to prep for the end of year review
Two months before the end of year performance reviews, you need to remind your team to start their individual preparation.
As well as setting a date for official appraisal meetings with each team member, they will need to start pulling together important information such as their annual results and essential metrics. The organisation you work for may have specific forms that need to be used, or you can create your own.
You can do this by asking each employee to draft a summary of their key responsibilities and current work project. You could also ask them to recap on the goals and objectives that were set in month 1. You should also ask them to list their achievements.
Many project managers also use a self-evaluation process. Within this, the employee is asked to put together a statement about the whole process. It should also include the challenges they have faced. It can also be a useful vehicle to ask the team member to honestly and objectively assess their own performance and how this contributes to the project.
How to help your team prepare for their appraisal.
Asking open-ended questions helps not only to focus their thoughts but to also dig deeper with their responses. For example, ask team questions such as:
- What accomplishments are you most proud of over the last year?
- Where have you fallen short of the expectations and goals that were set for you or for the team?
- What are your areas of growth, and how are you going to address them?
- Are there other things that your manager could be doing to support your own success and progress?
MONTH 11 – You should start preparing
At the start of month 11, you need to start your preparation, as even with a small team, the process can be intense. Your team members have expectations of performance appraisals, and that is, that they will be useful and worth the effort they have put into the process.
It can pay to start this process earlier, but if you have plenty of notes from your touch base meetings as well as other observations, you should have all the information you need. However, it is not a case of compiling and collating these notes for the appraisals in month 12.
Appraisals should be;
- Quantitative – start to compile important quantitative measures of employee performance, including sales reports, call records, deadline reports.
- Qualitative – as well as your own feedback and personal observations as manager (use your touch base meeting notes) and their own, include customer or client feedback as this can prove a useful tool in many situations.
REMEMBER there should be no new information to surprise or shock your team colleagues at the end of year review.
360° review tool
This tool is often used by project managers to give feedback. Based on employee self-assessment and peer reviews, it also includes reviews from managers and others too. There are various templates that can be adapted, and for the project manager who struggles with the performance appraisal process, this all-round review tool can be incredibly useful.
Asking yourself questions can be helpful in putting together the appraisal that is needed. For example, you may want to ask if the person is meeting their goals and expectations. What are the success indicators?
If not, you need to understand what and how this can be changed. But, if they are meeting their goals, are rewards, acknowledgements or more significant projects on the horizon for them? And that’s where bonuses come in too.
MONTH 12 – The appraisal itself
With appraisal month here, you need to be sure you have all the information you need. The research phase is intense, especially when you bear in mind that you will be completing this process several times as you have the whole team to consider.
At the start of the month and before the scheduled meetings with team colleagues, you will need to compile each employee’s self-assessment, collate all external feedback and any relevant data. This information will be used to prepare evaluation forms and use as part of your face-to-face discussion.
How to structure your meeting
The final appraisal can be discussed informally over coffee, but the meeting needs to have a structure to it so that the information and feedback are discussed in detail. This is a comprehensive meeting and one that deserves all of your time and efforts – and your colleagues’ too.
Choosing a structure will not only help you but your team colleague too. For example, you could structure the review around the goals that you set together in month 1, discussing them one at a time. Or you could centre the discussion on the employee’s major projects, using the meeting to discuss them on a project by project approach, discussing relevant goals as you go along.
Whichever format you decide on, you will need to identify areas in which you can give positive feedback and encouragements. You also need to discuss areas of concern as well as areas in which they can continue to grow.
For each category, choose two to three areas to focus on so that you have a substantial conversation, but one that is also focused. Develop talking points that are supported by the data you have. And, for each point, you should summarise not only what has been said now but also future expectations and actions needed to reach or surpass this goal.
Employees who are performing well can often feel deflated by appraisals as they can feel like they gained nothing from it or are unsure what to do next. Even when people are doing well in certain areas, you need to stretch their goals and give them direction on the next steps.
Hold the Review Meeting
With the meetings scheduled a year in advance and the information collated, the time is now. You need to meet with and sit down with every team colleague at the allotted time and date to discuss their performance over the past year.
There are different personality types in your team, and everyone will react and respond differently to the process. But, the crux of the process is that everyone has a chance to improve and move forward for the benefit of their own careers, the projects they are involved with and the organisation as a whole.