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.)

  • Spiney

    My organization has been doing formal 6 month performance appraisals for many years with great success. Sure, it is time consuming – but managers realize the value (and time savings) of tackling issues earlier rather than later. Additionally, employees know sooner whether or not their performance in on track. And, for those employees who’s performance is not up to par, it serves as one more tool in the arsenal of performance management.

  • retro

    Our organization uses formal 90 day, 6 month and annual performance appraisals the first year of employment only, and we have done this for several years. Promotions from within follow the same pattern. Managers are asked to keep notes on the performance system we use, or to use an activity log to enter both positive and negative comments throughout the year, noting the reason for an entry, when it was discussed and what the results were. If we are able to get all managers to do this properly, we may be able to convert to the formal 6 month review without it being overly burdensome for them.

  • skipweis

    In working with small to medium sized businesses to create a Championship Team, I always recommend doing performance reviews two times per year and each is always an on-going progress update. Each should be an opportunity to share the contributions the employee has made that have made a difference in the company during the 6-month time period and how they have made a difference. Then, both sides can look for areas to improve. I agree with Holly that it is easier to deal with issues more frequently as they are fresher in everyone’s mind. It does take time but if value is placed on this process at the highest level, managers would prioritize them better and make them an expected part of their jobs, and not an extra “thing” to do in the midst of everything else.
    Skip Weisman

  • kauaian99

    We have a 90-day Introductory Period. During orientation we explain the way employment-at-will is applied. At the end of the 90 days we do an evaluation with our Performance Evaluation Tool. We specifically look at the employee’s progress in training, customer service (internal and external), and attendance + productivity. This gives the employee an idea of how they will be evaluated. If the employee is not rated effective at that time, we will encourage them to improve or move. At six months we review progress. If the employee has moved away or stayed away from “Fully Effective” we will either terminate or promote. After that, everyone gets a formal for-the-record performance evaluation as well as competency assessment annually in November/December with a new cycle beginning Jan 1. Managers are expected to manage resources – People, Space, Time, Money, Equipment and Supplies, Information, and Reputation. We make sure they understand the tools we use for resource management.