Performance planning

Performance planning is a collaborative process between managers and employees where job activities are reviewed and performance standards and expected results are discussed and agreed on. The performance plan should be documented, including any training or development plans needed to help the employee achieve their objectives.

Managers and employees agree on:

  • The goals, objectives, and/or competencies for the year ahead.
  • Training or professional development needed to help the employee achieve their performance objectives.
  • Which goals or objectives should be carried over from the previous year (as applicable).

This work forms the basis for ongoing meetings throughout the year to discuss progress and/or adjust expectations.

Important: This article is about a standard performance evaluation system based on a manager and employee relationship. However, some organizations use a 360-degree feedback process (also known as multi-rater feedback), which gathers feedback about the employee from other sources such as co-workers, peers, clients, other supervisors in an organization and sometimes external groups the employee may work with.

Performance appraisal forms and ratings

A performance appraisal form contributes to consistency in performance feedback and management across the organization and ensures performance management activities are properly documented. Forms should be kept as simple and clear as possible — the more complex the form the more opportunity for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Organizations usually establish appraisal ratings to indicate the level of performance achieved by employees. The current trend is to simplify rating scales and move away from numeric scales to words descriptive of performance.

While performance results are often the key criteria for making compensation decisions, best practice organizations separate the two conversations to maintain a focus on performance excellence.

The value of a rating system is that it provides a clear indicator to the employee of the level of their performance. However, focusing too much on performance rating risks lowering the value of performance improvement.

Future performance should be emphasized over employee mistakes and past performance.

Performance planning activities

In general, activities in the performance planning phase include:

  • Reviewing the employee’s job description to determine if it reflects their work. If the employee has taken on new responsibilities or if the job has changed significantly, you may need to update their job description.
  • Linking the employee’s goals and objectives to your organization’s strategic plan and/or operational goals.
  • Discussing which competencies the employee needs to improve and making a plan to do so.
  • Developing a work plan that outlines the employee’s tasks and expected results compared to established goals and objectives.
  • Agreeing to the schedule of ongoing review activities throughout the year.

Both the employee and manager should sign the performance plan. The manager should give one copy to their employee and keep another as part of their supervisory notes.

Setting objectives and measurements

While job descriptions establish the job activities that employee’s need to conduct to deliver the services of the organization, performance objectives define the qualitative and quantitative standards for key job activities. Employees at all levels in the organization should be able to clearly understand how their job activities and the level of their performance directly contribute to the success of the organization.

Often, the most challenging part of the planning phase is finding appropriate and clear language to describe the performance objectives and measures or indicators of success. Managers need to ensure that the objectives represent the full range of duties carried out by the employee, especially those everyday tasks that can take time but are often overlooked as significant accomplishments. If the performance plan focuses too heavily on larger organizational goals, important daily tasks may not be tracked in the document.

When setting objectives and measurements:

  • Choose three to five key performance objectives for the year.
  • Ensure objectives are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound)
  • Identify training objectives that will help the employee grow their skills, knowledge, and competencies related to their work.
  • Identify career development objectives that can be part of longer-term career planning.
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