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.