Performance reviews can feel daunting, repetitive, and can get lost in the shuffle of countless employee files and endless To-do lists. The key to moving through this part of your job with focus and ease, is to find the value in what you are creating. If you want to feel engaged and effective in your work, start by writing a stellar Performance Development Plan.

That may not have been the inspirational speech you were hoping for, but please consider that most people have a very simple formula to success made up of three parts.

Goal Setting, Accountability & Follow up

What is a Performance Development Plan if not an individual roadmap to help the employee set their own professional goals, draft a map to achieve them, and periodically track how far they have come with their accomplishments? If individual employees are able to stay focused, therefore achieving personal goals, you can be sure your organization is feeling that success as well. Suddenly, everyone is winning and feeling motivated to keep the good energy moving forward.

You will find that when crafted with care and intention, both you and the employee will look forward to working with the Performance Development Plan as it becomes a direct measure of a person’s professional growth and achievements. The manager supporting the employee has the opportunity to witness impact they’ve had on someone’s life in tangible form. Isn’t that why you chose a job managing and directing people, to have a positive impact on your organization and the employees you oversee?

Now that we have established the importance of utilizing the Performance Development Plan as a tool to create win-win situations for both management and the employee, let’s discuss how to write the most effective plan with the most person-centered approach.

Preparing the Employee

Once specific areas of improvement have been identified by a supervisor or manager, communicate those issues to the employee in a direct, non-threatening, and kind way. One way to do this is by choosing to keep a mindset that believes that each employee is doing the best they can and have the companies best interest in mind (If this proves not to be the case, please act accordingly). It is amazing how well open discussion can flow when everyone feels safe and supported. If the employee feels threatened and reacts defensively it will be difficult to have a fruitful discussion. When opening the meeting, reassure the employee that you as the supporting manager, are here to support them and that their individual success matters to you.

It is helpful to explain the process of creating and implementing the Performance Development Plan to prepare the employee for your future involvement. It will also keep them accountable and let them know you are committed to helping them succeed long-term. During this initial meeting you can explain to them that they will complete the first draft of the plan independently before meeting with you to create a final plan, documenting a clear path to improving the specified goals. Let them know that once the plan has been created, they will continue to be supported with periodic meetings, or checkpoints, to review progress and help them stay on track.

The first part of creating a successful Personal Development Plan is to establish buy-in from the employee. The best way to do this is to allow them time to develop the first part of the plan on their own. People need time to process feedback, especially if it could be taken as negative or they were expecting something different.  By drafting the plan independently, it gives them time to resolve any potential resentment and focus on the job at hand without unnecessary emotional vulnerabilities. Along with inspiring them with confidence that you trust them with the task, it forces the employee to think critically about their job performance and seriously consider goals and improvements without the shame of someone looking over their shoulder.

Drafting a Personal Development Plan

There are 7 components of a stellar Personal Development Plan. Give your employee specific instructions for each component and answer any questions they have. The clearer you are on your expectations, the less work you will need to do to achieve them.

1. Clear Understanding of what to improve - Ask the employee to review the areas of improvement identified by their manager or supervisor to make sure they truly understand what they are being asked to improv. For the Performance Development Plan to work, it is vital that the employee has an in-depth understanding of the identified issues and agrees with them enough to work towards resolution. Instruct the employee to make note of any questions they have, no matter how small they may seem. Let them know how and when you are available to answer questions that may come up as the employee is working through their draft.

2. Identify Development Goals - Next the employee will identify performance development goals that will aid in resolving the identified issues. These goals should be specific and achievable. For example, “Be better at Customer Service” is vague and difficult to review or measure. A more specific goal could be “Answer the phone with a smile” or “immediately write the caller’s name down for reference.” When crafting goals, they should be measurable in some way, reflect realistic expectations, have a reasonable time frame of achievement, obviously support the identified area of improvement, and align with the overall goals and mission of the organization.

3. Identify Achievement Activities - Once they have identified goals, ask them to list 2-3 activities that will help them achieve those goals. These activities should also be very specific and realistic. Some activities that would support the example goal above could be “Take a breath before I answer each call to focus on smiling and my tone.” Another activity could be “Have my favorite color Post-it notes by the phone to remind me to write down every customer’s name.” Later, when you are reviewing these activities with the employee, you will have insight into what motivates them and an opportunity to learn a lot about their subtle strengths and struggles on the job.

4. Identify Resources - Next you will ask the employee to identify any resources or support they may need to accomplish their goals. These could range from formal accommodations, continuing education to something as simple as a passing “Good Job” in the office hallway.

5. Make Success Measurable - The employee will then identify the best way to measure each individual goal. Each goal may require a different measurement tool. Some goals may require specific training, resulting in a test or exam to show success. Other goals may need to be measured in increments over time. Again, these should be realistic. If someone needs to double their sales commission to be on par with their goal, it could take longer than one week to change old habits and implement new skills.

6. Support from Management - Discuss specific support they will need from their management team. This will include time frames and opportunities to review progress as well as any other potential needs for example additional 1-on-1 supervision time or team meetings. If the agreed-upon support requires multiple members of management to be informed, make a note to reach and communicate to the appropriate individuals to ensure consistency.

7. Create Checkpoints - Plan times to measure the employee’s progress along the way. The main reason people don’t achieve long-term goals is due to lack of follow through. Set checkpoints with goals you hope to accomplish within the designated time frame to keep focused on the bigger picture through the everyday work-flow. These checkpoints are what allow to measure an employee’s long-term determination and commitment to their professional goals and can give you everything necessary to promote someone, or even terminate them if the unfortunate need arises.

Supporting an Employee with a Personal Development Plan

It is important to remember that the employee likely worked very hard to create their draft plan. They may already be nervous and if the document they turn in isn’t perfect, reassure them, and yourself, that this is a draft you are working on together before finalizing it.

As the Manager in charge of the Review Meeting, take some time to review the draft before meeting with the employee. This will give you the opportunity to identify how well the employee understands the performance issues they are working on, as well as give insight into how invested and committed they are to improve them. It also shows that you respect the employee and their efforts by preparing for your meeting and they will likely return that favor in future meetings. Make notes for yourself and be sure to include both positive and negative feedback. There is always something positive to point out. Look for any development areas the employee may not have recognized and get clarity about what expectations you have on behalf of the organization. In the case that the employee is feeling defensive, resentful or unable to accept responsibility, it is crucial that you are grounded and firm in what needs to happen for everyone to move forward in a positive and effective way after the meeting. At this point you want to decide:

  • Are the Goals specific, realistic and in alignment with the identified area needing improvement?
  • Are the supporting activities specific, realistic and directly contribute to achieving the identified goals?
  • Are the ways of measuring the employee’s success clearly defined, realistic and are the time frames appropriate?
  • Are you able to provide any requested resources?
  • Are you dedicated to this person’s success? Do you have the capability to follow through and hold them accountable? Do you need to arrange support for yourself?
  • Do the checkpoints fall on times where you are available to the best of your current knowledge?

The more practiced and prepared you are, the more likely you are to lead an efficient and effective review meeting.

During the Performance Review Meeting, make sure all appropriate attendees have a copy of the drafted Performance Development Plan in front of them that they can take notes on. Thank the employee for their effort and taking the task seriously. Reassure them you are there to represent their best interests.

Review the plan with the employee and discuss any feedback you may have. Answer any questions they have and be patient. Negotiate compromises throughout the plan if you deem them necessary. Make sure you come to an agreement pertaining to each goal, as well as a plan to hold them accountable, measure improvement and arrange checkpoints to follow up and reassess progress.

Once all parties have agreed to all aspects, and reached a mutual understanding everyone feels good about, it is vital that you follow through with what you promised. The best employees will lack follow through if they feel that no one cares or is paying attention. You can give positive encouragement as informal reminders in between checkpoints and let the employee know you are invested without intimidating them, nagging or sending an impersonal email or memo. If for any reason you must reschedule a checkpoint, let them know immediately and reschedule as soon as possible. Do not let the checkpoints fall through the cracks of your everyday work load or it will be extremely difficult to hold them accountable when you finally do get around to meeting.

The more intentional you are about developing performance plans, the more fun they will be. Most importantly they give you an opportunity to develop a nurturing and supportive relationship with your team members and those relationships tend to motivate and encourage mutual success more than any written document or financial gain. You can begin to see some of your paperwork as individual personalities, genuine connections and achievable goals, as well as truly appreciate the effectiveness of your own role as a leader!