Should the 6-Month Performance Evaluation Be the ‘Real Deal’?

By BLR Founder and CEO Bob Brady

Most companies consider the end-of-year performance appraisal the crucial one. But BLR’s CEO advances a different idea.

I experienced a “duh” moment a while attending the 6th Annual NY HR Week. Gary Koca, vice president of GRA, Inc., Silver Spring, Maryland, was speaking on the (ever-engaging) topic, “Performance Management: Improving Organizational Systems and Individual Results.” He said something that made perfect sense—but that I’d never heard before.

Performance appraisals are almost universally done at the end of the year, with maybe a perfunctory “fly-by” at 6 months. Koca argued that the real appraisal ought to occur at the 6-month date. The annual should be an update of that.

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His reasoning is pretty simple: At 6 months, you can judge how things are going, and you still have time to change and improve. At the end of the year, it’s over and done—too late to change anything. Employees sometimes argue that they “didn’t know” what performance criteria were, or that conditions changed making it impossible to attain goals. Koca said that a comprehensive review at 6 months removes these excuses from the equation.

Bottom line: Annual reviews that take place after the fact document performance (if they are done well), and they may set the stage for the next year, but they do nothing for the year being reviewed.

‘Managers Don’t Like It’

As to implementing the 6-month review cycle, Koca noted that “managers don’t like it. They say, ‘It takes them away from their real jobs.’”

His response, “It does take time to do it well, but managing people is the manager’s real job.” Good managers leverage their time and energy, helping their teams become more than the sum of their individual parts. Bad managers have the opposite effect.

Performance Appraisal Is a Compilation

Koca also talked about coaching throughout the year. “Performance appraisal should be merely a compilation of all the coaching feedback the supervisor provided throughout the year, he says. It should not be the first or second time performance was discussed, although that is typical. This is basic, nothing-new material, but it bears repeating.”

Koca has a four-step feedback protocol that makes a lot of sense:

1. Describe to the employee the specific performance or behavior that needs to be reinforced or corrected.
2. Describe the effect of that performance on the work unit or organization.
3. Make sure the employee understands by checking for understanding.
4. Ask how the performance/behavior could be changed, improved, or continued.

Will BLR Adopt the 6-Month Appraisal?

So, will we be introducing the 6-month appraisal at BLR? Certainly not in any across-the-board way! Last year we switched our performance evaluation protocol from an anniversary date-based program, with reviews throughout the year, to a first-of-the year process that coincides with our budget cycle.

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It created something of a stir as managers had to do reviews for all of their staff at one time. To hear some people talk, all other activities stopped while managers ground out performance reviews. (The fact that we kept publishing and selling our books, newsletters and Internet sites belies this, but people said it anyway!)

Last January was the second time around for our end-of-the-year appraisals, and it was much easier, but I’m not about to suggest that we go to a system such as Koca is proposing—at least not yet. To see how it could work, I’ll try to do it with my direct reports, and I’ve asked two other managers to try it with a few of their staff. If it does work, we may try to lead by example.

What do you think? Do any of you emphasize the 6-month review in the way Koca suggests? Use the Share Your Comments button below, or e-mail me at Rbrady@blr.com (And remember, comments may be published, so if you don’t want identifiers shown, tell us that. too.)