You Can't Afford to Skip Reviews It's critical to hold employees to high performance standards--even in a down economy.

By Burton Goldfield

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's easy--perhaps too easy--to write off the employee goals you set at the beginning of the year and not enforce regular performance reviews throughout your company. After all, the economy has changed everything, right? There's no need to rigidly adhere to performance standards and metrics that have been changed or invalidated by a quickly shifting business landscape, especially when that could take time away from securing additional sales for the business.

Not so fast. Even if goals need to be adjusted, you can't afford to simply shelve performance reviews entirely. They provide an important opportunity to revisit your company's real priorities, give positive reinforcement to your star players and put necessary pressure on underperformers.

Staying on Course
It's true that many companies are regrouping as a result of the downturn. But having attainable, top-level business goals, to which every employee in the company contributes via a set of individual metrics, only supports what really matters to a company in a time of turmoil: reaching the next important revenue milestone.

Take the situation of EDL Consulting , a firm that offers guidance on ecommerce best practices. The company had a crucial target to hit but HR Director Sue Fuller had nearly forgotten about her company's performance goals a result of the economic crisis.

"One of EDL's high-level objectives for the year was to have more direct business with clients, rather than work indirectly with third parties. But it's one thing to set a goal and another to track and measure results throughout the year," Fuller says. "Generally speaking, at EDL, a goal like that was made and then forgotten. Once we became more rigorous about performance management, we had an 'aha moment.' We recognized how well we were doing when our goals were truly top of mind."

And the results? "Even in the downturn, we succeeded in shifting our direct business from 30 percent to 60 percent."

Reward the Star Players
Even if your goals have changed, performance reviews are important because they provide a chance for line managers to acknowledge the contributions of star players.

"When our workforce saw that they were able to achieve their goals, it helped reenergize and motivate them," Fuller says. "They were able to see their own individual contributions to the organization's success."

It's easy to forget how psychologically powerful positive feedback can be, and it's important to provide that feedback to top talent when times are rough. The performance review session can also be an opportunity to let valued employees voice their opinions and even share in the company decision making. If you can, use the session to promote them, reward them and ensure them the path is clear for future career growth.

Communicate to Underperformers
The flip side of the performance management process is equally necessary--in addition to allowing you to praise top employees, it enables you to communicate to underperformers. If certain employees aren't doing well, they deserve to know that they're missing the mark. You owe them a conversation to say, "Look, we're in a tough economy, and I need you to push harder."

And, unfortunately, sometimes it's necessary to lay the groundwork to manage out consistently mediocre employees. From a compliance standpoint, regular performance reviews are indispensable for creating the documentation that will legally enable you to transition out weak players.

Ongoing performance management highlights priorities and shapes behavior. All employees need to know if goals are being met--but how can the leaders make the right decisions unless employee performance is being actively managed and measured? Keep performance management part of your company's DNA and it will help your organization stay focused even in the midst of shifting priorities and course corrections.

Wavy Line
Burton Goldfield

President and CEO, TriNet

Burton Goldfield is president and CEO of San Leandro, Calif.-based TriNet, an HR outsourcing partner to small businesses. He is responsible for setting TriNet's overall corporate strategy and providing guidance regarding its human capital offerings.

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