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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Performance anxiety

By Ross Fattori
Special to The Toronto Sun

Vancouver businessman Jimmy Pattison once conducted a rather crude form of performance review at his auto dealerships. He fired the lowest producing member of his sales team each month.

In today's workplace environment however, companies are more inclined to work with employees to achieve common goals and objectives. One important method companies often use to evaluate and motivate employees is the performance review.

Since the 1950s, performance reviews have become an accepted discipline in helping managers evaluate job performance. If conducted properly, they help employees to gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and how their efforts contribute to the company's goals.

"Our performance reviews are part of a formalized career and professional development plan that also includes setting goals and objectives, and ongoing coaching and development," says Kerry Tompson, director of human resources at Microsoft Canada. "One of the keys to employee satisfaction is figuring out whether employees are achieving their career objectives, and whether there are areas of development that will improve their results."

Typically, performance reviews are a form of interaction between an employee and a manager that examines a range of work-related issues. The most progressive performance reviews link employee goals and aspirations with the company's goals. Some companies link the outcomes of performance reviews to compensation and rewards. Others view them as an opportunity for improving communication among managers and employees. Judging another person's performance is always a touchy issue in any workplace. Nobody enjoys being told that he is doing a lousy job.

"It's important to have trained human resource specialists conduct these performance reviews properly," says Sharon Ferriss, a communication specialist for The Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario. "If they aren't conducted properly, they can lead to anxiety, lower productivity and the departure of talented people."

Within the public sector, the increased demand for accountability and transparency has made a performance appraisal system almost a necessity. At the City of Brampton, there is an employee appraisal process related to non-union employees. "We feel it's important for our employees to have a clear understanding of the expectations and measures within the organization," says Marilyn Lembke, manager of employment and development services at the City of Brampton.

"Performance management is one of the tools among many for the attraction and retention of employees."

The City of Brampton is currently redesigning its performance review, which it plans to introduce in early 2003. The new review process will strive for greater clarity about job expectations and will clearly outline how employee contributions are linked to the city's goals. "The new performance review process will encourage feedback from employees," Lembke says.

At the Regional Municipality of York, a yearly performance review is standard practice among management and non-union employees. "The development of the individual's performance objectives should support the department's business plan, which is developed to support the corporate strategic plan," says Karen Close, director of human resources and administration at the Regional Municipality of York. "It's a top-down approach where each department creates its own business plan, and the managers develop plans to meet those objectives."

When employees are evaluated, their performance is measured against the goals of the department and of the corporation. The evaluation serves as a check-point for employees to know how they are doing in relation to their department.

In recent years, performance reviews have evolved from the standard one-on-one annual interview between a manager/supervisor and employee. Today, some companies are opting for a continuous feedback review where supervisors and managers provide frequent feedback and will identify desired -- and undesirable -- types of performance.

With the continuous feedback method, the nature and feedback of the discussions are different than a standard performance appraisal. Issues and concerns can be addressed immediately without having to wait for the next appraisal review.

Since the early 1990s, the 360-degree feedback form of review has been catching on. The 360-degree feedback provides employees with direct feedback from a number of different sources, including team members, colleagues, supervisors, and customers. Human resources professionals admit this requires a great deal of trust and credibility in order to be successful.

Recently, Call-Net Enterprises Inc. added a twist to its annual performance reviews. "Now we put the onus on employees to initiate performance reviews with their managers or supervisors," says Victoria Walker, vice-president of human resources at Call-Net Enterprises Inc. "It's the employees' responsibility to establish a list of topics to be discussed. So far, this approach has been well received by managers and employees."

(Ross Fattori is a Toronto based freelance writer who can be reached at

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