Every employee has to go through a performance evaluation, and as project manager the task falls on you to help your team members improve.
Yes, you need to communicate your opinion of their performance in an impartial and constructive manner, but that’s only half the job. The other half is to get them talking—not just to defend their performance, but to help them realize on their own what they need to do. Because true improvement only works if it’s self-realized, not when it’s forced upon them by others.
As such, here are 5 questions you can ask to help light their internal fire:
1. Do you think this assessment is fair? Why or why not?
First up, you want to give your team member to respond. And when you ask this question, you have to mean it. I’ve had performance evaluations where I knew that it was useless to defend myself, because the manager had already made up his mind about me, whether or not he had his facts straight.
2. If you were in my position, what would be your advice to yourself?
This is a good intellectual exercise that puts the team member in a position of authority, and reverses the role. He’ll be thinking like a manager and evaluating his own performance in a somewhat more impartial manner. It’ll also let him picture himself in a management role—something he may not have ever done before.
3. What can I do to help you improve?
The phrasing of this question is important. Like question 2, it puts the onus on the employee to determine how to improve. It’s also a safe way for the employee to give feedback on his project manager—since you’re discussing the employee’s performance, it’s not really criticizing his superior, is it?
4. What do you think should be the next step in your career?
Most HR and managers ask 3 or 5 years ahead. I don’t know about you, but I never think that far ahead, and chances are your employee doesn’t either. Short-term is much easier and more realistic, and an achievable goal is much better motivation than some obscure vision several years down the road.
5. What are you going to do after our conversation?
It might seem like you’re putting the employee on the spot (and in fact you are). What you’re trying to do is get some commitment from the employee that he will indeed strive to improve, and that he has a plan of action a bit more concrete than “I’ll work on it.”
Conducting a performance evaluation like this involves a lot more work, emotional investment, and consideration than the usual bullet-list of faults and praises. But if it works, it’ll pay off huge dividends in the long run. You’ll get a highly motivated employee, a tighter team, and a reputation as a manager who can train superstars—all of which will improve project performance.
Image credit, Flickr, Christian Lang