Aviation News Journal
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Employee Evaluations – a waste of time or a valuable tool?
This case study and analysis is written by Rod Hayward, an Associate Professor in the BBA AV (Bachelor of Business Administration in Aviation) programme at the University of the Fraser Valley. Rod has worked as a commercial pilot, AME M1 &2, QA manager, director of maintenance, entrepreneur and manager in the Canadian aviation industry and is currently the president of PAMEA. (Pacific Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association). Feel free to reach out to Rod at email@example.com
This is the third of a series of articles which focus on managerial challenges in the aviation and aerospace industries. The following brief scenario / case study which is meant to illustrate the problems associated with employee evaluations – why we would use them how they should be used. Part 1 will outline the problem Part 2 will discuss the issues and possible solutions.
Part 1 – The scenario
Hassan’s first thought upon reading the email from Shawn, the Production Manager who was Hassan’s boss at HeavyFlight International (HFI) was – oh no “its that time of the year again”. The last time he had gone through the performance review with is boss the whole episode was almost enough for Hassan to quit.
As the senior lead in the coatings shop Hassan took his job seriously. He did his best to ensure that a quality product always exited his area. He worked with three other painters and they all got along quite well most of the time, but as with any group there was friction from time to time. But overall Hassan and his co workers took pride in their work and did a good job – or at least that is what they thought.
How performance reviews worked at HFI:
• The HR dept tracked all performance reviews and would notify each department head or manager 3 weeks before the due date of the performance review
• Performance reviews were conducted annually and coincided with the employee’s date of hire
• A standard performance review form was prepared by HR and submitted to the manager to complete prior to the official performance review meeting with the employee
• Employees were required to sign off that they had received their review with the signed copy going to HR for insertion in the employee’s HR file
• Managers would receive a letter on their file if any of the performance reviews were late
The last performance review
As it turned out Hassan’s last performance review coincided with what was the busiest time of the production cycle. Although the production line was always busy there were times of increased activity such as just before or after major holidays or when the sales group just overcommitted and projects collided. Further to this was the fact that Shawn the production manger was really unsure why he was even doing these performance reviews. Recently Shawn has made the statement to a fellow manager that regarding his feelings about performance reviews.
“I don’t know about you, but why is it that we are letting HR dictate how we do our jobs as managers? We know our people need a bit of a prodding from time to time – this whole performance review stuff just gets in the way and delays giving the needed jolt”
Due to the production pressures, the last performance review had been done in a hurry. Basically, what had happened was Shawn tracked down Hassan during his Friday lunch and said “we need to get through this performance review thing today – are you free right now?” As it was a busy time there really was no where for a private meeting so they held the review in the lunchroom with everyone coming and going. Shawn started with “As you know you are required to participate in performance reviews in order to ensure that you know where you have not been living up to expectations” This opening line had already put Hassan at unease. Shawn then went on and touched on a number of minor issues which had taken place in the Coatings Shop over the last 12 months. It was obvious that Shawn had been collecting a list of any deficiencies and had been saving them up for this meeting. He even noted a time when Hassan had been late for work 6 months earlier. (As it turned out Hassan had had a flat tire on his car that morning) Some of the problems that Shawn brought up involved issues which were out of Hassan’s control – for instance Hassan was reprimanded for a late delivery on one aircraft (the customer had made a last-minute colour change). Hassan came from a culture where respect for your superiors was important, but these allegations were untrue and Hassan wanted to speak up. Unfortunately, Shawn said he was already late for another meeting as he thrust the review at Hassan and told him to sign it so he could submit the report into HR before the Friday afternoon timeline.
That last performance review was so badly handled, Hassan had seriously considered quitting – it was only his co workers who had convinced him that Shawn wasn’t that bad and that he should stay – after all they all said he did a good job. Hassan wondered what is the purpose of this performance review system anyway. Shawn also walked away from the last review feeling like this exercise was not really achieving anything other than checking off a box – could there be a better way to approach these reviews?
What would you do if you were in Hassan or Shawn’s shoes?
When reviewing a scenario we ask a few questions like: who are the players? What are the primary / secondary issues here? What could happen? And what are the possible solutions to the problem? Take some time to write down some of the challenges and ideas for correcting the challenges.
Part 2 – Problem identification
When reviewing a scenario we ask a few questions like: who are the players? What are the primary / secondary issues here – root causes? What could happen? And what are the possible solutions to the problem? (Not unlike doing a corrective action plan)
Hassan – Coating shop lead, primary subject 1 Shawn – Production Manager, Primary subject 2, Other employees in the coating shop, The HR department, the Company itself.
What could possibly happen? What is at stake for the company and for the players?
Regardless of size, organizations require employees to do their job. But if employees do not feel valued their contributions to the organization can suffer. In this case a management tool is being used incorrectly with the potential results being a workforce who is not engaged or worse. The company could lose highly skilled employees. The loss of enough employees can result in an organization which cannot earn enough revenue to survive.
On the surface the issues /challenge here appears to be based around a few themes:
1. Lack of training for managers regarding performance reviews
2. An inflexible compliance-based performance review system
3. Lack of a strategic HR plan?
Performance reviews have earned a bad reputation in many organizations for good reason – this case illustrates an extreme case where a performance review has gone off the rails. Many of us have seen or been party to poorly conceived performance review systems – the next section looks at the purpose behind performance reviews and suggests some ideas for how they can be effectively used.
Part 3 - Building a Solution
We have reviewed the scenario, identified the players, what is at stake, and proposed a couple possible causes. Now what should Hassan, Shawn or the leadership group do at this point / and in the long term to correct the current challenge?
When troubleshooting any problem, the first action should always be to take a step back and assess the situation. Leaping into action without fully understanding the situation or having all the information could result in doing more damage.
First action that should be taken by both Hassan and Shawn in this case if they are feeling that the performance review process is not working is to get all the information. Do some research and find out the purpose of a performance review is. Instead of complaining about a process, equip yourself with knowledge. So here we go.
Purpose of a performance review system:
Every organization is made up of individuals. (bit of an obvious statement) So, for an organization to grow and move forward in capability or knowledge the individual members of the organization need to grow and move forward. The performance review system is actually a part of a systemic means of moving the entire organization forward – one person at a time.
Performance review systems are meant to give feedback to employees on what they doing well and where they need to improve – thus allowing the entire organization to improve. Any performance review system should work on the following 4 principals:
1. The primary role of any manager is to develop their staff so that each employee contributes their best to the organization
2. Managers who only give positive feedback, hold back their staff by not letting them know where they employees need to improve
3. Performance reviews are DEVELOPMENTAL tools NOT Discipline tools
4. Mutually agreed upon measurable goals are a key component of a performance review
Performance Review Best Practices
1. Include the employee in the process – share the performance review documents with the employee ahead of the formal meeting and ask them to take the time to do a self review. This is an indicator of whether the manager and employee are on the same page. In most situations the employee will rate themselves harder than the manager. If not, this may be an indication that expectations have not been clearly communicated to the employee. Don’t assume – be clear.
2. Customize the performance review process based on the job description – Take the time to ensure that the review documents are appropriate for the job characteristics. Asking questions in a review that are not relevant to the position discredit the process. Not asking the right questions may not guide improvement.
3. Don’t save up problems for the performance review – remember performance appraisal programs are DEVELOPMENTAL not Discipline. If there is a problem with an employee let them know when the event happens. For instance, if you see someone showing up for work late – ask them at the time, don’t wait months to find out. Negative behavior or performance need to be addressed when it occurs.
4. Demonstrate the importance of this process – As a manager the best way to demonstrate your commitment to the employee evaluation is to set time aside with the employee. Silence your phone, turn off the computer screen, let the employee know that this time is focused on them and their development.
5. Be respectful of the employee – Remember that most employees want to do a good job. As long as you equip them with the tools to do their job they will do it to the best of their ability. Managers must remember that most people’s identity is tied to what they do – self identity and self worth are closely linked. The manager who fails to recognize this will do so at their own peril.
6. Improvement is an ongoing process – As with any continuous improvement process performance evaluations should be part of an ongoing process. Although an annual review is important there should be scheduled opportunities to touch base on the progress of the employee throughout the year. Touch base monthly or quarterly depending upon your needs but always schedule the meetings – otherwise they won’t happen. Celebrate the successes and offer a nudge or a reminder to the employee when needed.
7. Agreed upon and measurable suggestions for improvement should be part of the performance review – without measurable goals we cannot build a strategy for achieving. These goals need to be agreed upon but more importantly they should challenge while still being achievable.
As with any tool, employee evaluations can be used correctly or they can be misused. Employee evaluations are an essential tool for organizations who want to grow and become more adaptable. Integrating employee evaluation programs must be done for the right reason – it should not be used as a proxy for managing non-performance. What it should be used for is, developing your employees -which will benefit your organization in the long run. Integration of an effective evaluation program starts with a plan for getting the management team on board. Take the time to explain and get buy in from your managers – without support, the program will be doomed. Senior management need to start by mentoring those who report directly to them, then expand the program through the ranks.
Remember – an organization grows when the individuals within it grow – support growth and learning of your team members and you will reap the rewards of a more resilient organization.
Text by Divan Muller
If Alan McLeod’s wartime actions were shown in a Hollywood movie, it would probably be deemed too farfetched to be realistic. Fierce determination and incredible bravery caused McLeod to be the youngest pilot of World War I to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Early life and training
Alan Arnett McLeod was born on 23 April 1899 in a little town called Stonewall, Manitoba. He determined at a very young age that he would one day join the military, even joining the local militia’s cavalry at the age of fourteen. World War I broke out in 1914 and McLeod, then a sixteen-year-old, immediately volunteered for service with the army, but his application was denied due to his young age. Having developed an interest in flying, McLeod then eagerly volunteered to serve with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), but he was told to wait until 1917, when he would turn eighteen. Finally, on his eighteenth birthday, McLeod’s application for pilot training with the RFC was approved.
McLeod was sent to Ontario, where he received flight instruction in a Curtiss JN4 biplane. During that time, McLeod frequently wrote letters to his parents, in which he described his experiences. “Well, I was flying for a while this morning again. It was great,” he wrote. “I took complete control of the machine. The lieutenant said that I did really well, so there is some chance that I will become an aviator. I feel as much at home in an aeroplane now as I do in a car.”
A few days later he wrote, “I did my solo flight yesterday. I made a bombing success of it and did really well, but I made up for that this morning. I thought I would try another solo, so I went down to the hangars and told the mechanics to pull out ‘162’, so I went off fine and flew around for a while, but it was so bumpy, I could not stay out. First the machine would dive and then it would nose up, so I thought I had better land. I was up at 3 000 feet and shut off the engine and began to glide for the aerodrome, but for some unknown reason, I misjudged the distance and landed behind the flag instead of in front. I struck hard ground and landed too suddenly. I smashed all the wires on the undercarriage and nearly broke the propeller, but the machine was repaired in about half an hour. Another fellow went up and smashed his machine up pretty well, but was unhurt. After we have completed our solo, we can take a machine and go up any time we like and we do not have to go up unless we want. They never say anything to you for smashing a machine. I guess I will try again this afternoon and make a good landing. This is Sunday, but we have to work all the same, but we never work very hard.”
On another occasion, he wrote about the instructors, saying, “They did not give some of us enough instruction and as a result we broke a few machines by making bad landings. I had a crash yesterday. I did not know the wind had changed and I came down with it, instead of against it and smashed the plane all up, but the commanding officer just laughed and said, ‘that was a fine landing’.”
By August 1917, McLeod had accumulated 43 hours of flying experience and was transferred to London, England, where he received operational training and learned to fly a variety of aircraft types.
In November 1917, McLeod was assigned to a squadron in France, which was equipped with Armstrong Whitworth FK.8 ‘Big Ack’ biplanes. These aircraft were primarily used for reconnaissance and ground attack missions. McLeod’s first sorties included reconnaissance flights, night bombing raids and artillery cooperation missions. Despite the fact that McLeod was not trained as a fighter pilot and the fact that his aircraft was by no means a fighter, he attacked a formation of eight German Albatros fighters in December that year. During that particular flight, McLeod’s observer shot down one of the enemy aircraft. Apparently he had unsuccessfully applied to be transferred to a fighter squadron, so he resorted to flying his lumbering ‘Big Ack’ bomber as if it were a fighter. Reginald Key, one of the observers who occasionally flew with McLeod, said, “Alan would take on anything and I was willing to go anywhere with him. I had absolute confidence in him. He was the finest pilot I have ever flown with, devoid of fear and always merry and bright. We were in many scraps together and often after getting out of a very tight corner by sheer piloting, with six or seven Huns on our tail, he would turn around to me and laugh out loud.”
During a ground attack mission in January 1918, McLeod flew his bomber in such a way that his observer was able to shoot down an observation balloon and an Albatros fighter. Two months later, during another ground attack mission, McLeod and his newly appointed observer, Arthur Hammond, were just about to drop their bombs, when they noticed an approaching Fokker triplane of the ‘Red Baron’ Manfred von Richthofen’s famous ‘Flying Circus’ squadron. McLeod immediately attacked the fighter, with his observer shooting it down. Suddenly, seven more fighters of the Red Baron’s elite squadron appeared. The astonishing events that happened next were best described in the citation of McLeod’s Victoria Cross, which he was subsequently awarded, “Whilst flying with his observer, attacking hostile formations by bombs and machine gun fire, he was assailed at a height of 5 000 feet by eight enemy triplanes, which dived at him from all directions, firing from their front guns. By skillful manoeuvring he enabled his observer to fire bursts at each machine in turn, shooting three of them down out of control. By this time Lieutenant McLeod had received five wounds and whilst continuing the engagement, a bullet penetrated his petrol tank and set the machine on fire. He then climbed out onto the left bottom plane, controlling his machine from the side of the fuselage and by side-slipping steeply kept the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached. The observer had been wounded six times when the machine crashed in ‘No Man's Land’ and 2nd Lieutenant McLeod, notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy's lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lieutenant Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood.”
Britain’s Victoria Cross (VC) was and still is arguably the most difficult medal in the world to be awarded, requiring extreme bravery and selflessness. During World War I, for example, 166 VC recipients died as a result of their actions which led to them being awarded the medal. At the age of eighteen, McLeod was the youngest pilot in World War I to be awarded a VC. At the time, the average age of a VC recipient was 27.
In a letter to McLeod’s mother, observer Arthur Hammond described the event, “We were side slipping and Alan was standing up with one foot on the rudder bar and the other outside on the wing. I was standing on the bracing wires at the side of the fuselage as the bottom of my cockpit had fallen out. As we neared the ground I climbed out on the top wing, so that when we hit the ground I was thrown forward on the ground. I saw Alan jump out of the machine and look for me but he evidently thought that I had fallen out. He came to me and tried to pull me towards our lines.”
McLeod and Hammond were rescued by South African soldiers, who found McLeod unconscious, but with his hands still firmly grasping Hammond’s collar. The safety of his observer was clearly the last thought on McLeod’s mind before he lost consciousness. The South Africans protected the two men in the safety of a trench until nightfall, when they were withdrawn from the frontlines.
“We attended their wounds but could not safely get them away until dusk. Both were burnt and in a bad way,” one of the South Africans later remembered. “In trying to cheer McLeod, I said ‘You will be in Blighty in a few days.’” McLeod replied, “That is just the trouble. I would like to have a crack at that so-and-so that brought me down.”
Other than losing a leg, Hammond made a full recovery, whilst McLeod’s wounds took longer to heal. After being awarded a VC by King George V, McLeod returned to his home in Canada. Sadly, when at last it seemed that he was recovering from his wounds, McLeod contracted influenza and died on 6 November 1918, at the age of nineteen.