Effective Performance Reviews

Annual performance reviews give employees and managers a chance to discuss together how employees are doing. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for all performance discussions, these sessions should promote trust, create clarity, and strive for alignment. Discussions can go beyond a look at the past year’s performance to include topics such as career growth and development, alignment with organizational goals, key messages from senior leadership, recognition, and peer feedback. Performance reviews are an opportunity for you to take the time to have an open and honest two-way conversation with each employee and to plan together for a better future.

How to deliver an effective annual performance review

No surprises. The annual performance review should not include surprises. This should not be the first time they are hearing from you. You should be sharing feedback with your employees on a regular basis, and in real time, when appropriate. They should be well aware of any performance issues long before the annual review. The same is true for positive feedback. If you have an employee who is performing well on your team, they should not hear about it for the first time in their annual performance review. If you give consistent feedback to your team, including areas for improvement and positive feedback, nothing in the performance review should come as a surprise.

Don’t give only positive feedback. Every employee has something they can work on. Sharing only positive comments might make a performance review easier on you and the employee, but it isn’t helpful in the long run. Challenge yourself to consider areas for improvement that will help your employee grow. Be thoughtful, objective, and honest in your appraisal.

Be crystal clear. Don’t waste this important annual event by delivering vague platitudes. Clarity is crucial. Be specific about the behaviors you would like this employee to stop, start and continue. Be prepared with examples of the specific behaviors you want them to stop and continue. Give clear directions about what you would like them to start doing that they are not doing now. The more clarity you can give, the better.

Review goals. The performance review should include a look back at the goals that were set for the prior year and include a discussion of what goals were exceeded, what were on target, and what missed the mark. When setting goals for the upcoming year, be sure they are:

  • Specific – Create an overall plan with smaller tasks with guidance on how to follow through.
  • Measurable – Include metrics for your goals to measure the degree of success.
  • Achievable – Set realistic goals.
  • Relevant – The goals you set should align with your company’s overall objectives.
  • Timely – Set a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target completion date.

Help create a path forward. The annual performance review is an opportunity to discuss with your employees their aspirations for their careers. What do they want to accomplish next year? What are their hopes and goals for the future? And what can you do, as their leader, to help them create that path forward to accomplish those goals?

Request a self-evaluation. Ask your employees to complete a self-assessment of their own performance before you sit down to meet with them for their annual performance review. If you discover areas where your evaluation and their own self-assessment differ significantly, talk about it during the face-to-face performance review to get a better understanding of why each of you made that evaluation.

Solicit other points of view. Seek feedback about your employees from other managers they work with and from their co-workers. Understanding how the employee is viewed by others might alert you to issues you may not have been aware of, or it can help to reinforce your own viewpoint.

Be empathetic. The annual performance review requires empathy and understanding. You should be honest and straightforward, but always do your best to deliver feedback with sensitivity. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. How would you want to hear a constructive critique? Did you ever face a similar issue over the course of your career? How did you overcome it? It can help your employee to know you’ve been where they are.

Reflect. When you are preparing to give performance reviews, be sure to include self-reflection as part of the evaluation process. Is there anything you could have done differently as you look back over the year in your professional relationship with this employee? Have you provided sufficient support, guidance, and opportunities for growth? How have you challenged them and encouraged them to bring out their best? As you look forward to the upcoming year, what tools for developing this employee can you offer?

Additional Resources:

HBR: Delivering an Effective Performance Review

Forbes: Here’s How Managers Are Making Performance Reviews Simple, Painless and Effective

McKinsey: Why we all need performance ratings on a regular basis

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