A few weeks ago, we posted a year-end checklist that included employee performance assessments as an action item. It is no secret that employee performance appraisals have an overwhelmingly negative reputation. Opinions vary greatly, but some of the most common feedback I hear is: they are a waste of time, the feedback doesn’t go anywhere, they are biased, employees are not heard, they are done to check a box, and they are demoralizing. How can we change the narrative? What can we do better?
Below we discuss the primary goals of any performance assessment, as well as some tips on conducting a successful performance assessment. These discussions can be difficult, and most of us do not intrinsically have the skills necessary to knock a performance assessment out of the park on the first (or fifth) try… Don’t worry if you fumble through your first few!
Goals of a Performance Assessment
- 📣 Feedback and Recognition. Provide constructive feedback on an employee’s performance, discussing both their strengths and areas for improvement. Take a few minutes to think about specific achievements, and discuss those during the assessment. Acknowledging and recognizing achievements boosts morale and motivation.
- 🥅 Goal Setting. Collaboratively set clear and measurable goals. Establishing objectives helps employees understand expectations and provides a roadmap for improvement and growth. One big caveat? Make sure they are SMART goals, and that you commit to measuring them on a regular basis.
- 🛠️Performance Improvement. Identify areas where employees can improve and develop action plans to address these areas. Additional education? Different department? Mentor? Performance reviews should be a tool for continuous improvement, but clear action plans must be put in place and there must be follow through from management.
- 📈 Career Development. Discuss employees’ career goals and aspirations. Do you have an account manager that wants to become a producer? Do you have non-licensed staff that are interested in becoming licensed? Use performance reviews as an opportunity to discover what your employees would like to do, and help them create a development plan to achieve those goals.
- 💰 Compensation and Rewards. Use performance assessments as a basis for determining salary adjustments, bonuses, and other rewards. Linking performance to compensation helps ensure fairness and transparency. This is true for both salaried and commissioned employees.
- 📜 Documentation and Legal Compliance. Maintain accurate records of employee performance, which can be crucial for legal and compliance purposes. Clear documentation supports decisions related to promotion, terminations, and other employment actions.
Tips for a Successful Performance Assessment
- Prepare in advance. Review the employee’s job description (they have one, right?), goals, and performance over the review period. Familiarize yourself with specific achievements, challenges and any feedback received from colleagues or clients.
- Start with the positive. Begin the review by highlighting the employee’s achievements and positive contributions. Did they successfully cross-sell x number of policies? Did they get a positive review from an insured? Do they come into work each day with a positive attitude? Are they contributing to positive office morale? This sets a constructive tone and helps the employee feel valued.
- Provide specific feedback. Offer specific examples of the employee’s performance, both positive and areas for improvement. Specific feedback is more actionable and helps the employee understand where they excel and where they can grow. For an employee, there is a huge different between “you aren’t following up on tasks” vs. “your suspenses average 5 days past due; what do you think is the core issue?”
- Encourage self-assessment. Allow the employee to share their own assessment of their performance. This encourages self-reflection and opens the door for a two-way conversation. Providing a self-assessment rubric prior to the meeting is ideal.
- Ask for feedback. This one is hard, but necessary. Encourage the employee to provide feedback on the management style, work environment, and any other relevant aspects of their day-to-day work. This helps create a culture of open communication. Don’t react negatively to their feedback; listen, take notes, look for consistent patterns (are multiple employees providing the same feedback?), and do your own self-assessment.
- Follow up plan. Outline a plan for follow-up meetings or check-ins to monitor progress on goals and address any emerging issues. Continuous feedback is essential for ongoing performance improvement. Consider creating dashboards that are data-driven. Most agency management systems provide reports that can be exported into a spreadsheet; build out key metrics using that data.
- End on a positive note. Conclude the performance assessment on a positive and encouraging note. Reinforce the employee’s value to the organization and express confidence in their ability to meet future challenges.
- Successful performance assessments are not just a once-a-year event, but part of an ongoing dialogue between agency owners/managers and employees. Regular communication and feedback contribute to a culture of continuous improvement and employee development. If you have never done performance assessment, or have not been consistent—now is the time to change! The end of the year is a fantastic time to start, and your staff will thank you!