It's that time of year again. Employee performance review season.
Many managers and supervisors dread this time, while others see it as an opportunity to help their team members improve and grow. No matter how you feel about performance reviews, they are a necessary part of the managerial toolkit.
When done correctly, performance reviews can be a valuable way to give employees feedback on their work and identify areas for improvement. They can also help to identify top performers and set the stage for future promotions and raises.
However, when done poorly, performance reviews can be frustrating and even demoralizing for employees. They can also create legal risks for employers if not conducted properly.
Here are some tips on how to conduct employee performance reviews, including what to do and what not to do:
- Be Prepared
Before meeting with an employee to discuss their performance, take some time to review their work over the past year. Make note of their successes as well as areas where they could improve. This will help to make the performance review more constructive and focused.
- Set a Positive Tone
The performance review meeting itself should be conducted in a professional and positive manner. Avoid coming across as judgmental or condescending. Instead, try to focus on celebrating the employee's positive attributes as well as successes, and using the areas where improvement is needed in a constructive way.
One way to do this is to use the employee's weaknesses as inspiration for developmental goals. It's important to have goals that tie in to the team and the company, but employees also benefit from having some goals parallel to that, solely for personal development.
By drawing inspiration for these goals from past shortcomings, you create a growth-oriented, future-focused conversation around these shortcomings. If you were to simply bring them up in conversation without tying it to something constructive, it begs the question: why bother? Those are the conversations that feel uncomfortable - those are the reviews that people dread.
- Be Specific
When giving feedback, be as specific as possible. This will help the employee to understand what they need to work on and how they can improve. Generic comments are not helpful and will only serve to frustrate the employee.
This can be an opportunity to collaborate with your employee in goal setting.
Present them with your feedback and the importance behind it, then together, discuss what actions could taken for them to develop the necessary skillset.
This collaborative way of thinking leads us to our next tip:
- Encourage Open Dialogue
The performance review should be a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture. Encourage the employee to share their thoughts and feelings about their work and performance. This will help to ensure that they feel heard and respected.
You don't have to stop there, either. By asking employees not only what they think about themselves, but what they think about yourself as a manager, the team as whole, or any other relevant topics, you can bring out some interesting and valuable conversations that might otherwise never happen.
- Offer Constructive Criticism
The goal of the performance review is to help the employee improve, so be sure to offer constructive criticism rather than simply pointing out what they are doing wrong.
For example, instead of saying
“you're too aggressive in your sales pitches,”
“I've noticed that your sales pitches are not as consistently effective as some of the other members of the team. I think you have the potential to do even better than you are now by adjusting your tone and how you phrases certain parts of your pitch. I think it would be helpful if you spent some time shadowing [insert your team's top performer here] to learn what they're doing.”
- Focus on the Future
The performance review should be focused on the future, not the past. After all, there's nothing that can be done to change what has already happened, all we can do is learn from it. Mentioning past accomplishments and shortcomings are useful to frame the rest of the conversation, but that's about it - the lion's share of your time in a review should be spent on forward facing subjects.
Use the performance review as an opportunity to set goals and objectives for the coming year. This will help to ensure that the employee is motivated and focused on improving their performance.
- Follow Up
Once the performance review is over, don't just forget about it. Follow up with the employee periodically to see how they are progressing on their goals and objectives. This will show that you are committed to helping them improve and that their performance is important to you.
- Don't Wait Until the Last Minute
Procrastinating on performance reviews is a surefire way to make them less effective. If you wait until the last minute to prepare, you won't have time to give the employee's work the attention it deserves. This will make it more difficult to give specific and constructive feedback.
- Don't Go into the Meeting Unprepared
As mentioned above, it's important to be prepared before meeting with an employee to discuss their performance. This means more than just reviewing their work beforehand. It also means having a clear understanding of your company's performance review process and what is expected of you as the manager or supervisor.
- Don't Blindside the Employee
Performance reviews should not be a surprise to employees. They should be aware that their performance will be evaluated on a regular basis. If you blindside them with a performance review, it will only serve to make them defensive and less receptive to your feedback.
The best way to combat this is to encourage your employees to actively track accomplishments and learnings in anticipation of future reviews, almost like they're building a “performance review portfolio.”
- Don't Make it All About the Negative
While it's important to focus on areas of improvement, the performance review should not be entirely negative. Be sure to mention the employee's successes and positive attributes as well. This will help to maintain a positive and constructive tone.
- Don't Skip the Details
When giving feedback, don't skip the details. Vague comments such as “you need to do better” are not helpful and will only serve to frustrate the employee. Instead, be specific about what they need to work on and how they can improve.
- Don't Forget to Follow Up
Once the performance review is over, don't forget about it.! Follow up with the employee periodically to see how they are progressing on their goals and objectives. This will show that you are committed to helping them improve and that their performance is important to you.
We're repeating this one because of how important it is. This is one of the big reasons that performance reviews have such a bad wrap as it as. If you don't follow up, then everything that was discussed feels like an empty promise and will erode the trust you've built with your employees.
- Don't Let the Performance Review Process Drag On
Last but not least, don't let the performance review process drag on. If you wait too long to conduct performance reviews, they will be less effective. Employees will have a harder time remembering what they did in the past and it will be more difficult to give specific and constructive feedback.
Conducting performance reviews can be challenging, but following these tips will help to ensure that they are productive and positive experiences for both you and the employees.