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Setting Expectations:

The starting point for all training and development is aligning on expectations. You need to clearly state what is expected of the employee and the employee needs to express his or her expectations of you and the company. A good place to begin is the job profile. However, you may have expectations beyond that.

For example, for a retail salesperson, some expectations above and beyond what’s in the job profile might be:

  • Team player, willing to pitch in to do whatever is needed
  • Knows regular customers by name
  • Comfortable engaging with new customers
  • Able to provide solutions
  • Eager and willing to learn
  • Communicates pricing issues to the manager
  • Introduces new products to customers

For new and existing employees, it’s critical for you to have an exchange of expectations and to put agreed on expectations in writing. Every employee should be presented with his/her job profile and a copy signed by the employee should be in the personnel file. If you have additional expectations, a copy of those signed by the employee should also be in the personnel file.

Performance Reviews:

Once expectations are communicated, ongoing performance feedback is critical. Employees deserve to know how they are doing. Make it a habit to praise employees regularly for a job well done. Praise can be done publicly or privately. If you need to give an employee correction, that should be done as soon as possible and in private.

Written Performance Reviews should be conducted at least annually. It’s important to explain to your employees that the Performance Review isn’t a discussion about compensation. That conversation should happen at another time. The Performance Review is an opportunity for an open exchange about the employee’s performance as compared with expectations and a time to set goals for future growth and development.

There are many Performance Review forms available. I recommend using one that contains a self-evaluation for the employee to complete before you meet.

When completing the Performance Reviews, make sure to be honest in your ratings and comments. It’s important not to rate someone higher than they deserve. If you don’t provide straight feedback, the employee won’t have the opportunity to improve. Also, if you ever decide down the road to terminate an employee for underperformance, an “inflated” Performance Review may cause difficulties in the termination process.

It’s important at the outset to establish mutual respect and mutual purpose. I recommend the following steps:

  1. Put the employee at ease.
  2. State the purpose of the Performance Review – to provide feedback, to identify training needs, to facilitate communication, and to create a Development Plan.
  3. Ask the employee to describe his or her job performance and review the Self Evaluation form. Encourage the employee to be specific and give examples. This is an opportunity to exercise generous listening.
  4. Discuss your performance ratings of the employee. Be as specific as possible with both high and low ratings. When giving performance feedback, it’s important to exercise caring, respect and straight talk.
  5. Ask the employee for feedback and listen generously. Generous listening means giving someone your full attention, not thinking about what you’ll say in response, suspending your assumptions and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  6. If there are any areas where the employee isn’t meeting expectations, it’s important to determine if the gap is due to a lack of motivation or a lack of ability. Ask the employee, “What is getting in the way of you meeting this expectation?” The way in which the employee answers will give you some insight into the cause of the gap. If motivation is the issue, explain to the employee the consequences to other employees, customers and the business of the expectations not being met. If ability is the issue, determine if the cause is the individual’s personal ability or a systemic problem that is creating an obstacle. If it’s personal ability, training is appropriate. If there is a systemic problem, the manager will need to address that with the team. This discussion will help guide the completion of the Development Plan.
  7. Express confidence in the employee.
  8. Make a copy of the review for the employee and file the original in the employee’s personnel file.
  9. Complete a Development Plan with the employee (see the next section).

Development Plans:

There are several different tools to use for Development Plans. The last step of the Performance Review session is for you and the employee to agree on a Development Plan. This can be to either address gaps identified in the review process or to build on strengths to help the employee achieve growth and developmental goals. Agree on up to three areas on which the employee will focus. These can be product knowledge, computer training, skills (sales, communication, leadership) or behaviors (punctuality, accuracy, responsiveness, listening). Agree on an objective in each area which is specific and measurable. The employee should come up with specific actions to take in order to learn or improve and achieve the objectives. It’s important to set a target date for each action.

Follow up is critical in executing a plan. You and the employee should put in place a regular reporting agreement, weekly, bimonthly or monthly, when the employee reports his or her progress. You need to hold the employee accountable.

Succession Planning:

As in most small businesses, you may have some people in key positions who plan to retire in a few years. It’s important to put in place a Succession Plan for these key positions. If possible, it’s best to promote from within. That sends a positive message to the team and allows you to influence the

training and development of the successors in these key positions. When you hire from outside the company, you may hire people with poor habits and you may have to overpay.

Start first by meeting with each of your employees to find out their dreams and aspirations for their careers. If one of your employees is interested in a position that will be open in a few years and you feel that employee has the potential to excel at the positon, put in place a long term Training Plan.

Depending upon the position, the long term Training Plan may include:

  • Mentoring by the employee currently in the position
  • Vendor Training
  • Industry association training
  • Outside classes