PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK – COMMENTS OR DEFAMATION?

Performance reviews are often difficult – both for the employee and for the supervisor.  Statements made by management during the review are critical and can be the basis for lawsuits.

In California, an attorney who was an associate in a law firm, sued her employer for defamation because of comments made during her performance review.  She had started 9 months before her review.  The comments were statements indicating that she needed improvement in analyses and writing, that she was inefficient and too slow in completing her writing, her research skills needed great analysis, and that these areas needed to greatly improve.

Less than a year later she was asked to find another job by the end of the year and then fired at the end of the year.

Why do we do performance evaluations?  5 basic reasons:

  1. Communications between employee and supervisor
  2. Ensure fairness and consistency in work expectations
  3. Review standards of past time period and future
  4. Document past performance and successes, identify needs
  5. Set Goals for the next time period

No surprises.  This is the golden rule of formal performance reviews.  Anything that has happened should be well known and understood by the employee from previous discussions.

New employees also want feedback in real time.  Research has shown that turnover is in large part due to minimal feedback to employees from managers.  Employees want to do a good job, that is why they are there.  Management’s responsibility is to provide It in a fair, consistent and objective manner.

But – Reviews can be tricky.  The Partners in the law firm supervisor puts time and effort into getting a historical perspective – what happened during the past year, what documentation is there, what notes, comments, history over the full period of review do you have?

Use forms that guide you in format, content and objectivity are greatly helpful.  Rating levels vary in different employers but what is important is consistency in application with all of your employees.  Check out  your forms and use them in guiding you through the process.
Feel free to contact me for discussions of conducting evaluations effectively and for sample forms.  dorothy@triadhrconsulting.com

SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING – Employees (and especially Millennials) want real time, on the spot discussions.  If you see an issue, say something right away.  Give constructive feedback, timelines and how to improve.  Make a note, discuss it with the employee, agree on check back time and date.

Encourage questions and more match up this employee with a more experienced employee for on the job training and mentoring. Continuous improvement and interim feedback during the earlier months is critical.  The partners in this situation would have had similar tracking of how their employees have done.

The manager’s job is to be sure that there is similar expectation and treatment for all employees.  It is important that any assessment of your employee’s strengths and weaknesses is done in the context of performance review.

Documentation.  Using facts and examples help keep you and the employee to remember and stay on track to the standards established earlier.  Check your policies, forms, goals of your office or unit to the goals of this position.

If improvement is needed, be objective and example driven.  Be cautious of generalized statements and summarizing – these generally are open doors for bias and conjecture.

Options to improve – mentoring with on the job training, working with a senior level co-worker, formalized training, online updates, compare to industry standards.

Management reviews have different factors to consider such as Fiscal Responsibility, Team Leadership, Management Team Effectiveness, meeting department goals.

What was the result of our earlier example?

The California Court of Appeals found that there was no defamation in the review of the Associate.  The comments made were factual and opinion that were based on work.  Court found there was no defamation since they were made in the context of regular performance and did not suggest that she was incompetent or unqualified to practice law or not able to do litigation work at that firm.

How can you ensure managers are effective in performance reviews?  TRIAD HR Consulting provides Leadership Development training in this and other topics.  We also coordinate with you on questions and tips in preparation and coordination of questions and reviews.

Contact us at TRIAD HR Consulting, Dorothy@triadhrconsulting.com.  For training videos visit our YouTube,Linked In or the blog page on our website.