Be ready for the three questions

You should be ready to tell your employees more about their performance reviews.

Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.

The performance appraisal meeting between a supervisor and subordinate employee is one of the most challenging and unpredictable events a supervisor must complete. Judging an employee’s contribution to the company over an annual timeframe, providing convincing documentation to substantiate that rating and discussing a wage increase are just a few of the key topics a supervisor has to consider, anticipate and address with poise and professionalism.

While standard performance appraisal training frequently touches on myriad points, seldom does that training prepare the supervisor to respond appropriately to difficult questions posed by the subordinate.

With that premise in place, every supervisor should be ready to confidently answer the following three questions whether they are asked by the subordinate or not:

1. “Why did you give me a rating of #?” For the sake of example, let’s presume the supervisor gave the employee a rating of “3” (i.e., “Meets Expectations”) on the performance dimension of Employee Safety. This is a credibility crossroad for the supervisor.

The employee is demanding justification from the supervisor to validate the rating. If the supervisory does not provide satisfactory evidence for the rating, the supervisor, the rating and indeed the entire performance appraisal will be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the employee. In response, the supervisor must present multiple behavioral examples supporting the rating ( “you attend all of the safety tailgate sessions,” or “you are always in proper PPE.”).

2. “What do I have to do to get a rating of 4?” This is another thinly-veiled test for the supervisor, one in which the subordinate wants to see if the supervisor has a type of development plan indicative of a clairvoyant path tailored for subordinate improvement. The supervisor must always have this response ready.

For example, the supervisor could list the following behaviors that indicate the next level of performance (i.e., “Exceeds Expectations”): “Volunteer to be a spotter every time your vehicle is backing up in the morning,” “Before you begin working at a jobsite, walk the job to identify any potential safety hazards,” and “Double check that all equipment is securely positioned, fastened, or locked in the trailer or bed of the truck before leaving the jobsite.”

3. “What do I have to do to make more money?” Don’t be indignant, judgmental or hypocritical of this implied or expressed question; everyone of us has this same thought in mind every day. To be succinct: The answer must include goal achievement. The capitalist assumption is if all employees reach the goals assigned to them, the company will then necessarily achieve its goals, which culminates in reinforcement being distributed throughout the company.

To that end, there must be a clear connection between the organization’s goals, the department’s goals, the work crew’s goals and the employee’s goals. If a management team cannot identify the specific goals and performance expectations connecting the key performance indicators threading the entire organization vertically, they should not be managers.

Supervisors should be ready to give concrete, detailed examples when reviewing an employee’s performance and discussing potential pay raises.

The supervisor should be able to articulate the specific goals for each employee at any moment (e.g., “you have to ensure that all of your jobs are completed within the established labor hours standard which helps the company achieve its gross margin goal,” “you have to ensure that each job is completed according to its job quality standards, which helps the company achieve its job retention goal.”)

If the employee does that, and all employees follow suit, the company will make more money, and by derivation, so should the employee. But keep in mind: It all starts at the top or all three questions.



As the performance appraisal process becomes more critical to aligning employee performance with organizational results, supervisors must increase their ability to consider that process from the subordinate’s vantage point. Supervisors must raise their performance feedback skill set to draw clear connections between the subordinate’s job performance and their desired outcomes.


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Deborah Cole

June 2021
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