March 26, 2007

Goal Setting for Employee Reviews

By Paul Bieber

In our last blog we discussed the set-up and the rating portion of an employee review. These ‘grades’ give the employee and the employer a defined position as to their success in the workplace.

Now comes the fun and challenging part–setting employee goals for the upcoming twelve months. Goals need to be clearly defined for any category in which the employee was rated below average by the company, or for areas in which the employee rated them self below average.

If you followed the plan laid out last week, both the employer and the employee would bring in goals for climbing above average. As an example, lets take the goals of getting to work on time and working the full day. This one isn’t a judgement call; if the employee was late more than five times during the year, it is a problem to be resolved.

Going into this review you (as the employer) know this will be a topic to discuss. It is not enough to discuss this and tell the employee to get up earlier. The goal is to see why the employee was late and fix that problem. If the employee rated them self as OK then your plan is to explain the company policies very clearly. I like to go through the costs of a four-man crew being delayed for fifteen or thirty minutes.

Union glaziers in the New York City metropolitan area cost about $75 an hour. Four men delayed for 15 minutes, 6 times a year is $450 a year, and if each man on this crew takes 6 late-arrivals, this is an $1800 cost for a year. Make this amount understandable…$1800 may be the cost of family dental insurance or 15 new suction cups.

Ask why the employee is late. Do they have to get a child on a school bus, and when the bus is late, they wait with the child? Or, did they just drink too much the night before and sleep through the alarm? Two extreme sides of the problem.

For the first, see if there is a different set of hours that may be acceptable. If the day started a half-hour later for this employee, would that help or hurt the company? If he/she goes out with a truck, than its a problem. If they are part of an overall work crew in a plant, maybe this will work. Ask the employee to check if a neighbor may be able to put the child on the bus. Maybe the employee can drop the kid off on the way to work. On days the bus is late, ask the employee to call in and let the foreman know what is happening. Maybe, if this is a truck crew, they can pick him/her up on the way. The employee would be responsible to take their gear home each night and be ready for work if picked up on the way. Find out how long the child will be on this bus schedule. They may be moving up at the start of the school year and be on a different schedule, and we all live with it until the end of the school year. Ask the employee if the spouse can wait with the kids by the bus. I remember one man I spoke with on this very subject, and he told me that his wife didn’t want to go to the bus stop in bad weather. My employee said he would take care of it for his wife. When I pointed out that this might cost him his job he couldn’t understand it. I learned something from this. This gentleman came from Latin America where a man would gladly stand out in the weather or do just about anything, to take care of his wife.

I didn’t understand that culture had a large impact to this man. So, I changed what was going to be a hard nosed approach to one of understanding his needs to protect his wife. We then worked a plan where we met with his wife and discussed the situation. After ten minutes of discussing options, I explained the importance of her husband being on time as he was part of a team that did a critical job in the plant, and he was missed when a substitute had to fill in for him. She was pleased at how important we thought her husband had become and volunteered to take the child to the bus stop to help her husband.

It was just a matter of asking the right question and then listening to the answer. There was an extra 15 minute meeting in my life. That is a small price to pay to keep a good employee working.

In the middle of the pack are the problems of the employee who comes to work with another employee. Is it fair to penalize someone when his ride was late? Yes. His responsibility is to be at work, and if the driver is late, there are now two people late. So, its OK to ask the passenger to put pressure on the driver to be on time. I also talked with the driver and told him that he was hurting his friend by picking him up late. These two approaches worked. Peer pressure is one of the best positive tools to create a change that is needed.

What if the far end of the spectrum is the case. I had no sympathy for the hangover as an excuse to be late. We explained that reliability is the most important job characteristic. We didn’t hesitate to warn and then suspend and then fire someone who was late on the day after payday on a consistent basis.

We found that our employees knew more about their co-workers than we ever could. When we were able to work with a person in a special need situation the plant understood and worked with us. The workers were also pleased that we terminated the consistent late arrived because they knew his hangovers affected the operation of his department.

The point here is to get to the root cause of the problem.

Next comes the the employee who is trying hard, but just can’t seem to grasp the whole picture of his/hers job duties. So often I graded someone a two ( a 1-5 scale, with three as average), and the employee also gave them self a two. You and the employee agree there is room for improvement, but the employee is at a loss as to what to do.

Since I had rated him a two prior to having the interview, I set-up a half-dozen steps the employee could take to improve. If the employee had rated them self a four, this would have been a struggle, more often then not ending in searching for a new employee. But in rating him self a two, he knew he had to improve. He was eager to hear the suggestions. the root cause for his weakness was a lack of understanding written English. When verbal instructions were given, he was fine, but if there was a written page on an order, with no drawings, he was having difficulty. By the time he had walked around a little-bit trying to get someone to read the instructions to him, he lost time on the job, and subsequently produced less product than someone else on the same work station. This was simply solved by getting him to enroll in and English as a Second Language Course at a local community college. We did this with many of our employees and it truly helped as the course was structured for a working person. Most community colleges or school district night GED programs have a course like this. For the gentleman’s review a couple of months after finishing the course, I rated him as a four, and so did he on him self.

Talk about a win-win result.

What about the times when there is not a good result. When setting the goals make them simple and understandable. It doesn’t work saying to a person, you have to increase your output of goods when they don’t know how to do that. The job of management is to lay out these steps. Some other ones that have worked are: set the employee up with a senior employee in the plant for a week or two of buddy training. Give the employee 10 minutes at the end of today’s shift to look through the production tickets or job sites for tomorrow’s work and ask questions today on what looks confusing. This can become an everyday task and generally helps all concerned. Set up another Foreman to help out by checking with the employee a couple of times during the day to answer questions. I have asked many employees if they are happy with their job and, if not, is this affecting their performance? A lot of yes answers here. It is not wrong, where possible, to change a person’s job in-house. If anything, this gives you broader cross-training. This doesn’t work if the employee is just lazy. Transferring a problem-child to another job still leaves a problem-child. This is why the face-to-face review is so important. Is the employee trying to buy a couple of more paychecks with a sob story, or can real change been seen right off the bat? Here is where you set defined goals with a defined time to have a follow-up review session. You and the employee must agree on the new criteria to define success in the job. Try to set these points as specifically as possible. Tell the employee if they are not met his continued employment is in serious jeopardy. And if they are not met, then as a supervisor your last step is to provide ‘career guidance’ telling the employee that they did not succeed at this job and what you think they might succeed at in another job…somewhere else. This has to happen for any company to grow.

There is not one manager of a company who hits a home run with every employee hired. Every company has turnover. If you can keep your turnover down, you save money. Proper employee reviews keep turnover down as you may salvage some problem cases.

Another interesting thought on employee reviews. In thirty some years I never gave an employee a one, or the lowest grade. If an employee deserves a one grade, this should have been addressed earlier than the annual employee review. If someone breaks a rule, whether intentionally or not, you have to address it immediately.

Setting goals is not only for the under achiever. Someone who gets all fours on their review still needs goals or the job becomes boring. If you have a good employee ask them if they want to take on more responsibilities on a trial basis. Follow that up weekly to check for success or problems. The most common thing we did with a successful employee was to give them computer time to learn something new about their jobs. Give someone a copy of Windows for Dummies, or Office for Dummies and a couple of weeks later you have someone trained in a new job. We would loan out our hand-me-down computers for someone to take home to study. Be careful here in saying this is a requirement; it it is, then you are paying for over-time. If the employee has come to you and asks how to learn at home, and you help them, it is not compensable.

I gave eager employees back issues of trade magazines like US Glass. Have them look at every article and ad; then go online and look at each web site and bring in questions on what is not understood. This is the best education you can get on a self directed basis.

A strong employee might like to grow in another geographic location if that is part of your company structure. Maybe they will come to you with a course from a local school they want to take. I strongly encourage a company to work with strong employees on this. At the end of the course have the employee teach a couple of hours of a summary of the course to you and selected others in your company. You will get people who take a course and then quit. OK, that risk is no different than giving a customer product and then not getting paid. This happens every day in business.

Summing up, the goal setting portion of the employee review, to me, is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. This allowed me to make real suggestions to help another person grow in our company. The ones that worked far overshadowed the ones that didn’t.

Next week we will discuss the financial review for employees. If you have any questions or comments, please post them on the USGlass News Forum, and we’ll get right back to you with answers.