manager mid-year review

Mid-Year Reviews: Only Two Solutions You Need to Get Back on Track

For many organizations, mid-year reviews on job performance are either underway or soon to be underway. You probably developed goals for 2018 in the latter part of 2017, and it’s the perfect time to see how far we’ve come!

… or how far we haven’t come.

Every year, a few of my direct reports would get sucked into the whirlwind of daily activity and not keep their annual goals top of mind. Post-Its on their monitors get ignored. Printouts pinned to their cubicle walls become part of the non-descript landscape and are no longer seen. That’s unfortunate because for so many, mid-year and year-end bonuses are tied to performance defined by these very goals. So the mid-year performance check-in reviews are hugely important.

If you need some help getting getting reoriented mid-year (or you need to help your direct reports get refocused), don’t despair! You and your team can still get back on track efficiently.

All the reasons for not being on track to meet annual goals in mid-year reviews boil down to two fundamental issues: either the goals are not meaningful or relevant, or they are meaningful and relevant but the employee can’t stay focused on them throughout the year. 

Luckily, we can address each of these.

1) The employee doesn’t focus on the goals because he doesn’t feel connected to them.

An individual employee’s annual goals need to be both important (clearly linked to a company’s or department’s initiatives) and relevant (clearly linked to the employee’s professional development or career goals).

At the mid-year review, make sure all of those pieces are in place for success through the remainder of the year. The employee needs to be able to articulate how meeting annual goals has this mutual benefit.

And if the goals do not have that mutual benefit? Then redo them, or refine them, so that they do. The mid-year review is the perfect time for refinement.

Additionally, circumstances on the job may change between annual goal creation and the mid-year review.  If that’s the case, use the mid-year review as an opportunity to refine goals to align with changes in duties and responsibilities.

But only refine goals mid-year if there is an actual change in duties and responsibilities. If the employee perceives or assumes changes, you will need to correct those assumptions and reinforce a focus on the original goals.

A great example is when someone on the team leaves the job, and a remaining employee “picks up the slack.” The manager and the employee (a) should be on the same page about whether it is the employee’s responsibility to take on additional duties due to the departure, and (b) whether those additional duties represent a change to annual goals or not. It’s no good for the employee to assume they have to pick up the slack at the expense of their own annual goals, and then just trust that leadership will reward them for being a “good” employee anyway!

2) The goals are important and relevant, but the employee isn’t focusing on them day to day.

This is the effect of one of two things: discounting bias or the planning fallacy.

The employee might be doing some inappropriate discounting, which is a bias in favor of immediate returns at the cost of future returns. (For example, “I’m going to get through all these emails to mitigate my anxiety around unanswered email, instead of closing my inbox and focusing for an hour on my annual goals.”)

You need to counter the discounting bias in a very real way. Most discounting is so very wrong! People have no problem being away from email for a meeting, but to just work judiciously at their desk on higher-level initiatives with their inbox closed and ringers off? Why, that will never do!

One of my old management tricks was to be clear about what the eventual payout translated to. Sometimes, a “bonus” isn’t a huge motivator in and of itself. The possibility of some future amount of money can be a little too abstract to maintain motivation and focus. The employee might not feel the loss of the bonus because it’s not money already in her pocket.

If you translate that distant “bonus” into something real and tangible that you can plan for today, you would have a greater sense of loss if you don’t achieve it, and therefore, a greater chance of maintaining motivation to keep at it.

For example, if you get a bonus as a result of meeting all your performance goals, that’s nice and might be motivating enough. However, if you don’t get that much-needed beach vacation as a result of not meeting your goals, that’s a more tangible loss, and you might be more focused through the rest of the year.

Alternatively, the planning fallacy is the assumption that you have plenty of time to meet goals when you don’t. People often underestimate completion times. Many people don’t actually perform the appropriate, immediate next step of actually mapping out a plan after they’ve defined a goal.

A good plan is balanced. Create a plan that clearly maps out steps and timelines but develop it with the realities of available resources. Limited resources include other demands on time that don’t disappear with the addition of new goals, or gaps in knowledge.

So if the employee is struggling with keeping on top of things, revisit the actual plan they developed to make sure it has specific tasks and timelines that weren’t created in a vacuum. They should create a plan that accommodates all the other things they’ve got going on. Don’t create plans in silos. If there are gaps in skills or knowledge, jointly develop a plan for the employee to get additional exposure. They can put those skills into practice, despite mistakes they might make along the way.

During 1:1 meetings or calls, have a strong, standing agenda item about progress toward these goals. Don’t leave it to the mid-year review process. If you meet regularly to evaluate progress on well-defined plans and address gaps, then the actual mid-year review is a piece of cake! (Not to mention the fantastic result at year-end!)

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