Aug. 17 2018 01:50 AM

An employee development plan can help team members build their skills and improve performance.

I have often wondered why some of my green industry clients wince when I ask if they conduct regular performance reviews. I’ve learned over the years that the reason most do not is because they’re awkward, time-consuming and stressful.

The employee looks at them as a way to justify a well-deserved raise and the employer looks at them as a way to debate that raise. Put another way, it is often a lose-lose-lose situation for the employee, the company and the customers.

Yet it never ceases to amaze me how most companies, if they do performance appraisals at all, continue to do them in an outdated way. Let’s take a look at why this may not be the best way to grow and develop your team.

A wasted opportunity

As employee engagement expert Bob Kelleher says, “Performance appraisals represent a significant opportunity for supervisors to build a mutual commitment with employees — a key engagement driver — but more often than not, this opportunity is wasted. That’s because performance appraisals focus on trailing feedback, rather than leading feedback. In other words, managers don’t spend nearly enough time on the developmental side of the meeting.”

Kelleher goes on to suggest that we need to shift our thinking about how we motivate and guide our team members. In essence, that is the purpose of any appraisal, to help our employees tap their potential, develop their skills and improve their job performance.

Kelleher recommends we stop calling them performance appraisals or reviews and start calling them employee development plans. In other words, we need to think about the results we want our employees to achieve and put them into the form of incremental goals they can reach.

Think about the last time you felt stagnated in your company, position or career. Did you start thinking about greener pastures and begin looking for some other company to apply to? Our employees are no different.

According to research, one of the top reasons employees will leave an organization is because they feel their professional growth has hit a wall. They don’t feel that the bus they are riding on is headed in the right destination.

Working toward goals

What do you think about this strategy? Instead of doing annual performance appraisals, consider replacing them with quarterly meetings to discuss the progress your employees are making toward achieving the four to six major goals you have mutually agreed upon over the next 12 months.

Those goals should be set based on what the employee, the company and you as his supervisor need to do over the next year so that he can fulfill his job responsibilities in the present and in the future. It should take into consideration the career ladder he must climb or path he needs to take to move up within your organization.

What kind of training or cross-training, resources or equipment will he need to accomplish the goals that are being set? And what type of support and encouragement will he need from you and the rest of the organization in order to succeed?

In addition to the four-times-a-year meetings, have regular, informal discussions on how he is doing and what he still needs from you to continue being successful. This could take the form of a quick chat in the hallway, lunch room or on the shop floor.

This may also be a good time to give him instructive feedback on how he is doing now, and what he needs to start doing — or stop — to stay on track and make progress toward the goals you’ve set together.

Showing you care

Remember the old-but-golden saying, “Your employees don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care?” You can show you care by taking the time to talk with them, guide them and coach them on their journey to becoming better at what they do.

One of my clients shared with me how he’d used this approach with one of his managers, a hard-working, diligent individual, but one who sometimes did not think through well enough the way he was managing some of his direct reports. The department meetings he led were dry, uninspiring and ultimately unproductive, with no time allotted for informal conversation or development of camaraderie.

With a little coaching from the owner, this manager learned how to make his meetings more meaningful and productive, and his new approach had a direct impact on his relationship with his team members. As a result, they became more engaged and started contributing more to the meetings. They helped identify what was needed to improve productivity and took ownership of it. They were more motivated to follow through on the things that needed to be implemented in order to get the results the company wanted.

Keep your mission statement current

When the goals you help your team members identify are in alignment with your company’s overall mission statement, they become even more powerful. This is why I constantly encourage my clients to make sure their mission statements are up to date.

Let’s talk about your green industry company’s mission statement. As a leader in your organization, it’s mandatory your mission statement is current and relevant, and there’s no better way to update that statement than by revisiting it on an annual basis. That’s the perfect time to get your leadership team involved. Remember, people don’t argue with their own data. When team members have a chance to be part of the process that creates solutions, they are more apt to take actions to ensure those solutions become reality.

A good time to tackle revising your mission statement is during an annual retreat held off-site. Holding it away from the usual workplace minimizes interruptions and builds camaraderie. I recommend bringing in an outside consultant to facilitate this project. That will allow you to be a participant and not have to worry about running the event and keeping it on track By getting your team to clearly focus on shaping the future of your green industry business, you are tapping into their creative talents. As it has been said, “No one is as smart as all of us are together.” Everyone’s IQ goes up when we’re able to tap into each other’s intelligence.

So stop doing employee performance appraisals and start doing employee development plans. Then tie them into your revised mission statement, and watch your company begin to soar.

Tom Borg is a team performance and customer experience expert who works with small businesses and organizations in the green industry to improve customer acquisition and retention. He helps these organizations through his consulting, speaking, training and mentoring. He can be reached at 734.404.5909 or at, or visit