Assessing employees starts on Day One. Your hiring process shouldn't be complete until you have a fully-oriented employee with their own development plan -- a clear plan of action that will engage and hold your new hire accountable.
Because the sooner you set expectations for your employees, the more likely you are to have a productive team that supports and grows your business. And that isn't the only benefit. There are three primary reasons to create individual development plans for managing performance. A development plan will:
1. Set expectations for performance. It gives employees clear expectations for their results. Statements in writing mean there is a greater likelihood of meeting or exceeding expectations. Having clear goals makes them more achievable.
2. Create a coaching document and put a process in place with a road map for advancement and a schedule to review progress, which holds managers accountable for providing feedback.
3. Create a benchmark that shows growth and improvement or the lack of progress against goals. This benchmark will assist you in developing your team members at all levels. Creating a record of improvement will make it easier to adjust the job fit for the employees and to make decisions in a more timely way about where you want to invest in developing employees.
Related: The High Cost of Sales Team Turnover
Development plans show what employees can do to grow and develop, to advance, to become more valued, and to be more satisfied in their work. They also point out what kind of support and assistance they will need to get where they are going faster.
Components of the Plan
One mistake many managers make, often because they use poorly designed development plan templates, is to take on too many challenges at once. Keep the plan as simple as possible. Identify a combined total of two or three measurable objectives within the following three job-related categories:
- Focus on the employee's career growth. Examples include attending classes, seminars or workshops, or participating in on-the-job training or self-study programs (e.g., books, DVDs or web-based training).
- Help the employee improve personal aspects of his or her performance, behavior or conduct. Examples of task-oriented performance goals are improving computer proficiency, time management or presentation skills. Or the employee can focus on correcting behavioral problems that negatively impact group morale, job performance or job satisfaction. Examples of such goals are developing conflict resolution or stress reduction techniques and building collaborative coworker relationships. As with professional development goals, effective performance objectives are well defined, are measurable, and are clearly linked to specific job-related outcomes.
- Provide specific assignments to participate in or manage ongoing or future projects. When setting project-oriented goals, outline the scope of the role the employee is to play, list resources and completion time frame, and define the desired result.
Components of an Effective Objective
Objectives must be ones the employee has agreed to accomplish within a specified time. The goals should be specific and challenging but attainable. Identify everything that both the employee and manager need to provide to accomplish the goals as an objective. Each objective should have four parts:
- State the desired achievement for task mastery or improved behavior.
- Define the applicability of each goal to the function.
- Specify the method of learning.
- State the time frame for achievement.
Related: Seven Steps to Superstar Employees
When to Assess
Many companies tie development to performance appraisal. While it's true you need to set expectations before you can identify areas for growth, employee development is an ongoing process. Reviews should be scheduled as often as needed according to the support, advancement, and abilities of each employee.
Each job and organization will evaluate and measure its employees using a variety of tools. Some of the most common include:
- Biannual or annual performance standards/reviews/appraisals: These usually include quantitative and qualitative sections where both the employee and manager have opportunities to make remarks. They state expectations and goals. The employee's performance is measured against these goals at the end of the time period. Traditionally, these appraisals are directly tied to annual bonuses or pay increases.
- Budget and quota measurements: These include measuring a person's performance against budget expectations and quotas. Employees are evaluated based on how well they perform, and rewards are directly tied to performance.
Regardless of how you choose to evaluate employees, using a development plan customized for each individual will make the performance evaluation process easier and fairer and offer ongoing opportunities to provide coaching and feedback throughout the year, not just at performance review time. It also reduces the risk of surprise in the results for the employees.
The manager and employee will work on the development plan together, but the more involved the employee is in determining the areas to work on, the more committed that individual will be to accomplishing the goals. The objective is to create an environment that encourages continuous feedback from managers, which will help employees advance more quickly, achieve more, and avoid unnecessary problems and setbacks.
Katherine Graham-Leviss is the founder of XB Consulting, an executive coaching and business consulting firm based in Rhode Island. She is a keynote speaker and author of The Perfect Hire: A Tactical Guide to Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Top Sales Talent, published by Entrepreneur Press.