As a new IT manager it falls on you to manage the workload and growth of your direct reports. It’s likely the first time in your career that you’ve been given the difficult task of evaluating employees. That evaluation will have a direct impact on their future earnings and potential promotion opportunities.
It’s a weighty proposition. You may get along very well with your direct reports. You could see them trying their hardest to get their tasks done every day.
That should be commended – but if they are trying their hardest and the tasks don’t get done then that isn’t enough for an A+ evaluation. As much as you wish to see your coworkers succeed, it is now up to you to determine their success. If it’s sub-par, then that affects the company, and you need to reflect that in their evaluation.
Luckily, there are many ways to help employees grow.
Setting goals with employees allows them to better understand where they need to grow, and measuring their progress throughout the year will help both of you prepare for what will be determined in the evaluation process.
Plenty of employees, especially those willing to work hard, have turned things around thanks to the right managers helping them better themselves.
If this is your first evaluation process or your thirtieth, there is always value in thinking critically about how to set goals and evaluate your direct reports.
Let’s get started!
Goal Setting – S.M.A.R.T.
There are many applicable strategies for creating goals for your direct reports, but for our purposes we’re going to focus on the SMART method:
- Specific – Be precise in how this goal is necessary to improve their job functions.
- Measurable – Find a way to measure their progress toward the goal.
- Attainable – Make it something that they can realistically achieve.
- Relevant – Make sure that the goal will improve their job functions.
- Time-Based – Set deadlines for when the goal should be met.
When you’re getting ready to meet with your direct reports in order to set goals, you should be thinking about what their role is on your team.
You should also consider whether or not you have been clear with them in what their role is. It can happen that an under-performing employee simply doesn’t fully understand what you want from them, and that’s on you.
However, if you believe you’ve clearly indicated what you expect out of them then you’re ready to come up with some goals for them. Think about where they are under-performing and consider how a SMART goal can help them grow the skills in that area.
Let’s consider an example. I have an employee named Joe that is great with IT hardware but lacks the people skills necessary to perform certain job functions.
One clear example is when they are helping employees troubleshoot problems with their laptop. You’ve received several complaints from coworkers about Joe’s manners when helping employees fix problems – Joe can be short, condescending, and often fixes the problem without explaining what the user did to cause the problem.
This might not seem like a big deal to Joe. He’s fixed the problem and that’s his job.
But in many ways a part of that job is customer service. Certainly a technician that fixes the problem and teaches coworkers how to avoid the problem in the future is preferable to one that just fixes the problem.
A technician that solves the problem, teaches the user, and provides excellent service that makes coworkers happy to call on them for help would be the ideal. If Joe is only fixing the problem, he can improve.
Now, being nicer to coworkers is a goal to strive for, but it’s pretty subjective. Not very specific. Hard to measure.
How do we make that into a SMART goal? Let’s try:
- Specific – Joe is not providing the necessary customer service to end users, and needs to be more courteous when helping solve IT issues.
- Measurable – We are going to create a questionnaire that employees Joe helps will fill out. This questionnaire will ask them to rate a number of categories regarding the interaction, including whether or not the problem was solved, whether or not the employee learned why the problem happened, whether or not the employee learned how to avoid the problem, and whether or not Joe was polite during the interaction.
- Attainable – The questionnaire will be on a scale of 1-5, and we will average out the scores to give Joe a final score on each interaction. It is deemed attainable that by the evaluation process, Joe should average a score of more than 3.
- Relevant – Customer service is a part of Joe’s job as much as fixing the problem is, so this goal is relevant to what is expected of Joe in his role.
- Time-based – We are giving Joe until the review process to get his average score up to a 3 or higher.
Being nicer to coworkers is something that seems like an immeasurable goal at first, but as you can see above, there are always ways to introduce some kind of measurement into even the most abstract and subjective of goals.
Now, when it comes time to set the goals for your employees, you should not introduce the goals that you came up with first. Instead, ask the employee where they believe they can improve.
Getting their opinions of their own shortcomings can do two things: provide you with insight into how they believe they’re performing, and possibly introduce new ideas for ways they can hit goals you want to set for them.
It will also make them feel more a part of the process, encouraging them to work harder to grow as they had input into how they want to grow.
Ultimately, however, you want to make sure you’re setting goals that you believe will better help the employee perform. It’s not always easy to self-evaluate, and as a manager it’s your responsibility to ensure your employees are growing in the right way. When choosing goals, that should be your barometer.
The Evaluation Process
Once you’ve set goals you should be checking in with employees once per quarter to measure how they are progressing in achieving those goals.
This is important for intervention – you want your employees to succeed and checking in will help them do so. If they aren’t on pace to reach their goals you can have a conversation about why that is, and help them get back on course.
However, the real evaluation process will happen annually for most companies. This is where you go over the goals set and discuss whether or not each employee achieved their goals.
Keep in mind that this is why the measurement aspect of the SMART system is so important. It gives an unbiased look at how the employee did in achieving their goals.
Without something to measure, it’s difficult to determine whether or not the employee was successful – they might think they did a great job and you may think they fell far short, but with a subjective goal there is no way to know which is the case.
When an employee hits their goals it’s a pretty simple process.
Praise them, and have them start thinking about new goals for the following year to continue to improve. At this point your organization’s structure takes over – recommend a raise, promotion, bonus, whatever you think is best and fits your organizational compensation structure.
It’s when an employee doesn’t hit their goals that the evaluation process becomes a bit more difficult for some.
Many people have a tendency to sugar coat criticism. They might offer excuses for an employee’s failure to hit certain goals. They might sandwich the criticism between two compliments.
They might decide to not offer the criticism at all.
Any of these strategies can be a serious detriment to your employees. Sugar coat the problem and the employee won’t realize how serious their failure is.
Sandwich it between compliments and the employee will feel that by and large they are doing a good job. Neglect to offer any criticism and the employee will continue to make the mistake.
It won’t be easy, especially for first-time managers, but the best way to offer criticism is to be direct and honest.
Explain to the employee that they didn’t hit their goals. Discuss the reasons why you believe they failed. Explain why it was important for them to hit their goals, and what it means when they don’t.
Let’s use Joe again as an example. He averaged a 2.4 on questionnaires when working with other employees. Here’s what you could say:
“Joe, at the beginning of the year we set a goal for you to average a 3/5 on your questionnaires. You fell short of that goal, averaging only a 2.4.
“This means that end users are walking away from working with you considering it a bad experience. While you’re fixing the problem, they’re not learning how to avoid the problem moving forward. That means the problem will persist, and our technicians will need to continually step away from what they are doing in order to fix the same problems.
“That time could be spend on other necessary tasks. By failing to meet your goal you are costing our department time and resources better spent elsewhere. I need you to continue to work on being better dealing with our employees.”
Not so bad, right? We’re all adults.
If we fail at something we should have the emotional maturity to be able to accept that. If someone doesn’t have the emotional maturity to accept their failures and work toward improving, frankly, that’s not someone you want on your team. Sugar coating a problem only perpetuates the problem.
A perpetual problem for your employees is inevitably going to become a perpetual problem for you – you should do what you must to end the problem. That’s part of your job as a manager.
A quick note – this isn’t a time to overreact either. The opposite of sugar coating something is not blowing it out of proportion. A reasonable, factual, direct response that uses the measurements decided on as part of the goal is what you’re striving for.
Now, the conversation doesn’t end there. The rest of the meeting should be spent trying to discover why Joe is having such a hard time reaching his goal. Inquire.
Ask Joe what it is about working with end users to solve problems that seems to upset him. Ask him why he thinks the end users are giving him such poor scores.
Try to identify reasons why Joe failed – and use those reasons to create new goals to help him grow.
Ultimately that’s the goal of the entire evaluation process. Helping your direct reports grow. By setting goals and holding them accountable, you can do just that.
This article was originally posted on June 25, 2020
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