Performance reviews play a pivotal role in assessing an employee’s overall contributions to an organisation. Beyond evaluating work output, these reviews delve into competencies and behaviour, providing a comprehensive understanding of an employee’s professional capabilities. One aspect that is often overlooked but is of paramount importance is the potential to identify misconduct within the workforce. By scrutinising performance, competencies, and behaviour, organisations can unearth warning signs of unethical conduct, enabling timely intervention and maintaining a healthy work environment.

This article aims to guide managers in optimising the performance review process to effectively identify potential misconduct within the workforce. By embracing best practices in planning, execution, and repetition, managers can transform performance reviews into a powerful tool for uncovering warning signs of unethical behaviour. This shift not only enhances employee development but also establishes a proactive framework for addressing and preventing misconduct, contributing to organisational success.

But First, What is a Performance Review Supposed to Achieve?

The purpose of performance reviews extends beyond a mere assessment; it encompasses a dual objective—firstly, the delivery of an accurate and actionable evaluation of an individual’s performance, and secondly, the cultivation and enhancement of their skills in alignment with job tasks. While many employees and managers perceive performance appraisals as a mere formality or an annual ritual, recognising their dual purpose is crucial for unlocking their full potential in contributing to both individual and organisational growth.

For recipients, feedback has intrinsic and extrinsic value. Across fields, research shows that people become high performers by identifying specific areas where they need to improve and then practising those skills with performance feedback. For the giver of feedback, the process is key to getting people to practice the right things, prioritise opportunities, and clarify accountabilities owned by the individual versus the manager or the company. It’s also key to effective leadership. Employers and managers are dependent in many ways on the performance of their subordinates and so the feedback process transforms into a tool that not only evaluates performance but also shapes the trajectory of individual and collective success.

Optimising Performance Reviews to Identify Misconduct 

  1. Before the Review

Before conducting a performance review, invest time in comprehensive preparation. The foundation of this preparation lies in establishing clear standards against which performance will be assessed: what’s important and how much you expect. Effective reviews require a judgment about the causes of a person’s performance. For example, are performance issues the consequence of deficiencies in ability or a lack of effort? Can a performance improvement plan help, or is disciplinary action a more suitable route to take?

These are not easy judgments to make about human beings. But they’re necessary and imply different action plans. Without them, it’s difficult to be mutually productive during the review. As such, managers must also take the time to pay attention to peoples’ behaviours far in advance of the actual review date if they’re going to be helpful about the impact of those on-the-job behaviours on others in or outside the organisation. 

  1. Evaluating Work Output:

Performance reviews meticulously analyse an employee’s work output, focusing on crucial aspects such as quantity, quality, timeliness, and accuracy. This assessment helps organisations gauge an employee’s level of productivity and efficiency. An unexpected drop in work quality or frequent delays in project completion might raise red flags and prompt a closer examination of an employee’s actions.

Quantifying an employee’s contribution to organisational goals provides valuable insights into their commitment and dedication whilst also improving performance management. Consistent underperformance or a failure to align with company objectives may indicate a misalignment of values or an underlying issue that warrants further investigation.

  1. Competency Evaluation

A competency evaluation digs deeper into the skills, knowledge, abilities, and attitudes an employee brings to their role. This assessment is crucial in determining an individual’s proficiency, expertise, and potential for growth and development within the organisation. An employee exhibiting a sudden decline in competencies may be signalling a need for support, training, or a potential issue that requires investigation.

Identifying gaps in competencies that are essential for ethical decision-making can serve as an early warning system for potential misconduct. Employees lacking the necessary skills to navigate complex ethical dilemmas may be more prone to making poor choices that could harm the organisation.

  1. Behavioural Evaluation:

Behavioural evaluation scrutinises an employee’s conduct, including interactions with colleagues, adherence to rules and policies, and commitment to upholding organisational values and ethics. Examining how an employee contributes to the workplace environment and culture is crucial in maintaining a positive atmosphere. An employee engaging in unprofessional behaviour, violating company policies, or exhibiting a lack of integrity may be displaying early signs of misconduct. Performance reviews that address behavioural aspects help organisations identify potential issues before they escalate, allowing for proactive intervention.

Performance Review
  1. The Employee’s Take

Performance reviews necessitate a two-way transfer of information, not only directions from a manager. Most people want to know about their performance but two people can observe the same event or outcome yet interpret it differently. Effective performance reviews represent a dynamic exchange where dialogue plays a crucial role. Not only is this approach indicative of effective organisational cultures, but it also serves as a means to challenge assumptions and reasoning.

Does the employee’s view align with the manager’s assessment? What data or input supports the employee’s viewpoint, and is there any missing information? Is the issue related to resources, or is there another underlying factor? Here are the priorities of our team: Do you understand, and do you agree? If not, why not? Asking these questions allows for a deeper exploration into the reasons behind an employee and manager’s alignment or misalignment, ensuring that there aren’t any unknown variables or factors that are influencing the performance review.

Improving performance reviews is not merely about adhering to a checklist; it is about fostering a holistic and collaborative approach that engages both managers and employees in a constructive dialogue. By strategically refining the performance review process, managers can utilise it for identifying and addressing employee misconduct. Through regular and iterative reviews, organisations can create an environment that not only enhances employee development but also guards against the risks associated with misconduct, contributing to long-term organisational success.