Staff Performance Issues?

Perhaps It’s Your Review Method That Needs Improvement!

Performance reviews waste time!

Why are performance reviews so disappointing?  The performance review should be a time when you and your team reflect on the achievements of the period past and plan for the period ahead. Yet most leaders dread performance reviews and it shows with both parties disenchanted by the experience. Here are five tips to improve your staff performance by improving what and when you review.

Set Measurable KPIs

It should be obvious, but rarely is it done. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) that are measurable and preferably scalable; ie 50% achieved, 75% achieved, 125% achieved. Don’t set fluffy objectives or objectives that are outside of the control of the person. Setting objectives that are outside of the control of the person gives them no input into the outcome. How can you benchmark yourself if you don’t know what how the benchmark is performing? By setting realistic and objective KPIs for the person, both you and the person you are reviewing will have something objective to discuss; and more importantly, you both will know how well the person has performed against the objectives. There can be no argument with objective KPIs. The KPI has been achieved or it hasn’t. Also, by making it scalable, it is possible to discuss how well the person has gone against their KPI and where improvement needs to be made.

Employ Subjective KPIs Sparingly

Subjective KPIs, while necessary, create disappointment and too many create more problems than they are trying to solve. Sure, you want each team member to be a team player. And yes, you want people to achieve their KPIs without any collateral damage. Of course you want your team to support the culture of the firm and to help others, and diversity is important. These are necessary elements to incorporate into the KPIs lest you have team members focusing on their objectives unconcerned about the damage they cause to those around them. However, too many subjective KPIs and you end up with dissatisfied staff because the assessment of these measures is a matter of perspective and your perspective of the situation will be different to that of others, and arguments or dissatisfaction will ensure.

Yet the problem with subjective KPIs doesn’t stop with unhappy individual team members. It can set the scene for a negative culture of disruptive or aggressive behaviour. When there are too many subjective KPIs the team becomes conditioned that the KPIs can’t be achieved with either; the subjective KPI disregarded and the behaviour becomes one of achievement at all costs; or too much weight is given to the subjective KPI in an effort to achieve the desired rating. All of these behaviours would be undesired.

My advice is to consider what you wish to achieve through including subjective KPIs and consider restructuring those that can into objective KPIs and by keeping subjective KPIs to a minimum.

Align KPIs With The Business

Ideally, the KPIs of the business will be reflected in everyone’s KPIs. It doesn’t mean that the KPIs of the business are the KPIs of each team member’s; rather that the KPIs of each individual are aligned with each role’s contribution to the overall success of the business.

As a keen rower, I have learnt that everyone must work in unison for the boat to move quickly through the water. No matter how tempting it might be, no crew member should row harder, faster, or softer than any other crew member, lest the balance of the boat be upset and the boat lose speed. While every crew member will have personal aspects of their technique to improve, their overall goal is to ensure that they all work equally and in unison to maximise the speed of the boat. Thus, the interests of the individual are aligned with the interests of the whole.

When setting KPIs, the same principle should apply. To achieve this principle I suggest leaders consider asking “what behaviours should I encourage in this role to assist the business to achieve its KPIs?”

Don’t Shove A Square Peg Into A Round Hole

Why do organisations insist on forcing performance review outcomes into a bell curve? This approach creates disgruntled team members. Give credit where credit is due and rate individuals on their performance, not on a peer comparison which they can’t know in advance. Such a measure is out of the control of the employee and therefore will create dissatisfaction.

One of the worst examples I have seen of this approach is where a major organisation, which is regarded as an “employer of choice” which also has tough employment criteria, imposes a bell curve on the annual performance rating within teams, irrespective of the performance of the team and the individuals in the team. I pity the team members who receive a poor rating from this methodology, because their salary, bonus and promotional aspects are negatively impacted by it. Sure, occasionally, there will be those who are underperforming and who may need to have their performance improved, but do you need a bell curve to tell you that? What about the “weakest” member of a stellar team? Should their remuneration and career prospects be negatively impacted by an artificial scale? In this organisation it does! Yet in other organisations this person would be a rising star. Conversely, should the best performer in a poorly performing team receive a high rating?

My advice is to give credit where it is due. If the team performs well, then rate them accordingly. If there is a weak link, and somebody has to be the weakest link, assess their performance objectively, on its own merits; and reward good performance and seek to improve poor performance.

Review Performance Throughout The Year

It sounds obvious but few leaders provide feedback throughout the year, instead preferring to wait until the annual performance review to provide feedback. Doing so is a waste of time. Why? Because the moment has passed and probably forgotten; and the person is unable to do anything about it. It also is counterproductive. As a leader I want my team to be performing at their peak throughout the year. If there is any dip in performance I want to rectify the matter quickly so that the team’s performance continues unabated. Yet if I wait for the performance review to rectify a drop in performance it is a little bit like a farmer continuing to work with a broken plough throughout the year because she only can replace it on one specific day each year.

If you think about the real purpose of the performance review, which is to correct undesirable behaviour and encourage favourable behaviour; the best time to influence behaviour is immediately after it is observed. I therefore suggest that leaders consider providing regular feedback, both positive and negative where due, to ensure that team member behaviour continuously improves.


Most leaders make performance reviews challenging because they set inappropriate KPIs for their team. To be effective, KPIs need to be; objective and scalable; subjective only when necessary; and aligned with the objectives of the business. When performance is reviewed it should be assessed objectively on its own merits and not artificially adjusted to suit an abstract concept such as a bell curve. Finally, to achieve peak performance, feedback should be given continuously and not saved for the performance review. Following these tips will improve the performance of your team.

To find out more about how you can get the most out of your team contact Inspirational Leaders (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).