Acing your employee’s performance review

Yes, you have to do them. 

By Linda Klingman

Everyone wants to know how they’re doing at work. That’s why performance reviews are important. Although feedback should be a daily and weekly discussion, a formal written review at least once every year will re-emphasize successes and areas for improvement, establish benchmarks, and provide career planning. 

In the annual review, employees never should be surprised because of the ongoing discussions throughout the year. Employees also should know well in advance what they will be evaluated on, based on their job descriptions, and what the format will look like. 

Managers often struggle with both the preparation for and delivery of performance reviews. Here are some tips to use to ensure that people managers are successful.

 1. Document all year round. Make notes about successful projects, missed deadlines, and any important milestones employees reach (or miss). Also note any behavior issues, like absenteeism or inability to get along with coworkers. Talk about these events as they happen, but discuss them again during the review.

2. About two weeks before the review, ask your employees to rate their performance and set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) personal goals. Remind them that if they rate themselves as “meeting expectations,” it’s a good thing. Explaining this in advance helps to avoid self-overrating and potential drama during your upcoming meeting. Complete the same form in advance for your employee’s review. Then compare the employee’s assessment with your own. You’ll see where you agree and where ratings differences can be a discussion point.

3. Prepare. Review your previous documentation to ensure that you cover all important points. If you wing it, you’ll miss opportunities for feedback on areas of improvement like missed deadlines and forget to reinforce successes. Reviewing your notes from throughout the year helps you assess performance fairly, avoiding the error of only looking at recent events.

4. During the review meeting, ask questions such as:

  • What are your most challenging goals?
  • How can the department support you?
  • What do you want to achieve this year?
  • As your manager, how can I be more helpful?
  • How often do you want feedback?

These kinds of questions cement the relationship and build trust that you are collaborating in their success.

5. Avoid the “halo or horns” effect, a bias that causes you to be overly influenced, positively or negatively, by a single quality, personality or physical trait, or experience that you’ve had with the employee. Balance your feedback. Be fair. However, if performance is “below expectations,” tell them so they have a chance to make it right. 

6. Use the sandwich approach. Start out the meeting with positive comments about their performance. In the middle, bring up area(s) for improvement, and then end on a high note about how employees’ goals will contribute to the organization.

Using these tips can improve your conversations at performance review time, making it a two-way conversation that builds trust with your employees. If you do a good job, your employees will start fresh in a new performance year.

Linda Klingman is the owner of HRCoastal, a company that delivers HR and organizational development outsourcing, consulting and training for small to medium-sized businesses. Learn more at hrcoastal.com.

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