During a performance review, both employee and employer are on trial. As a boss, it's a test of your fairness, objectivity, tact and ability to communicate your desires and expectations in a clear, reasonable, positive, professional manner.
Here are 12 ways to ensure that neither you nor your employee is bloodied by a performance review:
* First, tell your employee what she's doing right. No matter how many complaints you have about her conduct, there are some things she's doing well, or you'd be firing her. Take the time to mention some of these, and she'll be more able to accept the bad news.
* Watch your tone of voice. Don't scold! Bosses who sound like exasperated mothers usually end up with employees who act like rebellious children.
* Be specific. Vague exhortations to "get the lead out," "get some fire in your belly" or "shape up" just cause anger and fear and leave an employee with no specific goals toward which she can work.
Don't even say, "You don't pay enough attention to details," without also saying, "For example, a presentation went out to our best client last week with four of its pages missing."
* Tell her how you want her to change. Again, be specific! It's not enough to say, "I want you to keep me better informed," unless you also say, "This could take the form of written reports from you at three-week intervals," or "How about if you update me every Monday morning?"
* Tell her why she must improve. Put her behavior or bad attitude into context by telling her how it affects others and impedes the smooth operation of your workplace.
* Ask her if there are temporary, external reasons that her performance level has dropped lately. Is she ill? Having marital troubles? Going through a divorce? Is one of her children ill or in trouble? Is she having trouble with her child-care arrangements? Or is she trying to care for an ill or elderly relative?
If she's being distracted by temporary personal problems, a formerly good employee needs and deserves your patience, help, support and understanding -- and a lighter work load for a while, if you can manage it.
* Give her a chance to set the record straight. If there's another side to the story, you need to hear it. Is she simply overworked, for example? Has her work-load increased because of staff cutbacks or corporate reorganization? She may need temporary help or more flexible deadlines for a while. She'll certainly need your patience and understanding, as well as recognition that she's carrying an extra load.
* Reassure her. Tell her that you have faith in her. Tell her that you know she can make the changes she needs to make. Assure her that you'll notice any improvement in her performance, as well.
* Give her ways to measure success. Don't say, "I want you to accomplish more," unless you explain what "accomplishing more" means.
* Ask for her participation in solving her own problems. "What do you think we should do?" "How do you think we can change this?"
* Encourage her to take some time before she responds to what you've said. Then make a follow-up appointment on the spot, so she'll know you're not just trying to have the last word.
* Finally, make it clear that this performance review is business, not personal. Say so, first of all; then prove it by staying calm, non-accusatory, objective and helpful.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.