It’s nearly Christmas, so think mid-year reviews

Mid-year performance reviews can be really beneficial, provided you go about them the right way.

Theory and practice regarding performance management is constantly evolving and reshaping. There are, though, some enduring boxes to be ticked. They are:

·       Do we review?

·       When do we review?

·       How do we go about it?

·       What criteria should we review against?

Do we?

An emerging view (although not universally embraced) suggests formal reviews are not particularly helpful, and instead, an ongoing coaching process is superior. The guiding principle here is that improvement is incremental and so continuous feedback is the most helpful. This view neatly connects with feedback-hungry millennials.

Our view is that a combination of continuous coaching and point-in-time reviews remains the better approach. A law firm is an economic enterprise. It has financial goals which link to the aggregate performances of all firm members. So the point-in-time review assists with where you are and the continuous coaching assists with how you get there. Point-in-time can be used to identify skills or deficiencies, while continuous coaching should link to these with a view to improvement. To be effective, the two must work together.

When do we review?

As the title to this piece suggests, a question is, should we go mid-year? Our view is that interim reviews are really helpful. A year is a long time. More frequent formal reviews are probably overkill. People get review burnout. It becomes counterproductive.

Our view is that for best effect, use your output measures sparingly in mid-year reviews. Focus more on motivations, capabilities and relationships – the essential inputs to performance. This then helps to guide ongoing coaching and supervision.

Firms that do this poorly exhibit three common characteristics – (i) an excessive focus on outputs, (ii) insufficient and rushed time devoted to the process, and (iii) a disconnect between the formal process and the necessary guidance for the supervisor and employee in the future.

How do we go about it?

Suffice it to say that employed lawyers generally value the feedback and input of other lawyers more than that from professional HR and general management staff. That said, the larger the firm, the more involvement from support staff is needed to manage the process in a consistent, predictable and disciplined way. Reviews are not typically top of the partner fun list, and without some overriding discipline, the process will degenerate. So it’s a compromise.

What criteria should we review against?

You really need to consider the whole six drivers of performance to understand what is going on. Only then can you constructively move forward. These are:

Expectations:  Do they know exactly what is expected of them?

Evaluation:      Do they get the feedback they need, when they need it, against the expectations?

Motivation:     What internal and external issues are influencing the attitude they bring to work?

Capacity:         Do they have the skills (including the time) to do what is expected?

Infrastructure: Do the tools they rely on work as they should? (for example, all aspects of IT)

Support:          Are they supported in the team at a personal level?

Poor review processes focus just on the first two drivers – which really makes no sense. It’s a bit like Wayne Bennett saying “I want you to win by 20 points; you didn’t achieve that last week, so this week I REALLY want you to win by 20 points – now go and do it” without any attention to what needs to change to get there.

Have a great Christmas and see you again in February.

Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor – December, 2016

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