How to effectively communicate about performance management

3 strategies to successfully engage employees

It’s time to rethink the way you communicate performance management. Why? Employees tell us that performance management communication is too complicated.

According to Davis & Company’s research, only 11% of employees say they are knowledgeable enough about performance management to make the right decisions.

If employees don’t understand the topic and can’t make important decisions, the result could be:

· Loss of trust between an employee and his or her manager

· Low employee morale

· Poor employee performance

Here are three strategies that will help you effectively communicate about performance management:

1. Communicate your company goals so employees can set performance objectives

Employees need to understand what the company is trying to accomplish so they can focus on actions that will support the organization’s success.

What’s the best way to start? With leaders, of course — they play a critical role in explaining the strategy in a clear and compelling way. Focus your support on two leadership levels.

· Senior leaders (CEO, direct reports and the top eight to 15 leaders) articulate where the organization is heading, clarify priorities, and share progress, results and accomplishments. Employees look to them to provide direction.

· Key leaders (top 25 to 100 key leaders, one to two levels down from senior leaders) interpret the big picture to convey “what it means to us.” Abstract, high level information becomes concrete and meaningful to employees.

One effective way to prepare leaders for their role is to develop a toolkit with an elevator speech, key messages and frequently asked questions. Here are some of the areas you’ll want to focus on to help leaders understand the full impact:

· Financial: What are your targets?

· New products and services: Are you launching a new product or brand? Are you acquiring new companies or clients?

· Initiatives: What big projects need to be completed?

· People: Have you set objectives for hiring, recruiting, retention and development?

2. Help managers communicate about performance management

Managers (directors, managers and supervisors who run departments and groups, or supervise individuals) are on the front line of performance management.

Their role is to:

· Define what employees need to do to help the organization succeed

· Help employees understand how the company goals relate to them

· Ensure employees set high performance goals and evaluate performance

· Provide ongoing feedback through dialogue

· Answer questions and address concerns

With such an important role, it’s essential to use multiple communication channels — like training, web tools, print pieces, and networks — to teach managers to be good at performance management. Here are three ways to do so:

· Create profiles of various roles and ratings to help managers understand what employees need to do in order to meet their performance goals. Include role and responsibilities, competencies and behaviors, and a fictitious example that illustrates how a person meets performance guidelines.

Example: Tom met most of his goals including all of his critical goals this year. Because his goals achieved were well aligned with the company’s objectives, Tom helped the team improve quality, increase value and reduce risk. He should receive a three out of five rating because he met expectations, but did not go beyond his normal job duties.

· Create an online one-stop shop for managers so they can find what they need fast. Provide useful links to tools and resources, as well as an online forum where managers can get their questions answered.

· Develop a toolkit for managers to help them communicate about performance management. Providing them with the tools they need to be successful will ensure consistent communication. Include these three resources:

o Create a short PowerPoint deck to share highlights during one-on-one discussions and staff meetings.

o Share frequently asked questions so managers are prepared when employees approach them. Include the tough questions with candid answers.

o Develop a brief one-page document that highlights important information. Managers can print it out and refer to it as needed.

3. Help employees understand how your performance management system works

Some companies have simple rating systems for performance management, while others have complex matrices. The key to communicating about your system: Make it simple. And don’t assume that because it’s been around for a while that everyone understands it.

Here are a few ways you can bring your system to life:

· Create a visual to help illustrate how your system works. Highlight the steps, perhaps even on a timeline. Describe the importance of each step and what it’s trying to accomplish.

· Develop a guide that provide details about each step. Use simple language. Answer key questions: What actions need to be taken? When are the deadlines? What forms do they need to fill out?

· Create a short one- to two-minute video that describes the performance management process and takes viewers through real scenarios.

· Design posters throughout the year that highlight key action steps and deadlines based on the performance management process.

· Draft an email series from the CEO that provides progress based on key milestones.

Performance management is a year-round task, which is why it’s important to communicate about the process at key points throughout the year. Focus on setting up leaders and managers for success and helping employees understand the performance management system.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit to know more.