Utter “performance review” and watch the faces sour. The reaction is not without good reason either. The stereotypical performance review often feels like a top-down, mechanically delivered assessment: The employer does the talking while the silent employee is picked apart…which is precisely why they have such a bad reputation.
But performance reviews don’t have to be painful; in fact, they can even be something that both employee and employer look forward to. Here are 5 tips to make your performance review not only painless, but productive.
5 Tips for Facilitating Effective Performance Reviews
1. Look at performance reviews as an opportunity to enter into a partnership
When you skip the antiquated, top-down model and instead address your employees’ feelings and frustrations, you’ll see more buy in. And more often than not, you’ll also see changes in their behavior and productivity which is ultimately the point of a performance review in the first place, isn’t it? People respond to tactless criticism in kind. However, if your employee senses that you understand her point of view—even if you do not agree with it—you will more easily be able to coach her and offer suggestions for how she might do things differently.
2. Base your review on specific and documented observations
You’re busy, but running a performance review off the cuff is unproductive. It can also be disastrous. All employers essentially want the same thing: Happy, productive workers and a profitable business. But a carelessly run review undermines these goals; it can also cause one of your most valuable employees to rethink their devotion to the company and you.
Keep a working file and include a list of every employee’s significant accomplishments (and shortcomings). Also include a detailed description of the employee’s job and what it would look like if it was performed exactly right. Doing this will provide you with a rubric for evaluating each employee; you’ll also be able to use it as a coaching device to model how your employee could improve.
3. Schedule interim performance reviews
Like all relationships, the ones you have with employees need to be maintained and nurtured. If we all share a common goal (to have happy, productive employees), why would we evaluate their happiness and productivity only once a year? Instead, try scheduling informal monthly reviews to establish and assess goals. If you think of these as collaborative, give-and-take conversations, there’s little to dread.
4. Set the right tone
Before you begin the performance review, ease into it with some small talk. It’s true, small talk often lacks substance or meaning—but it doesn’t have to.
Skip talking about the weather or sports. Unless you are both weatherman and sportscaster, it’s unlikely that beginning a meeting by talking about either relates to your shared experiences. Instead, start with questions like this:
- How does it feel to have completed the __________ project? I imagine that was quite an undertaking.
- Last week, you mentioned you were going to be vacationing in Florida this October. That will be a great trip. Have you ever been there before?
No one likes surprises in a performance review, so preface your conversation with an agenda and solicit feedback as you do this. You might say something like this:
“Here’s what I was thinking we’d do: First, I’d like to give you a summary of the review; then we can cover the details of your strongest points. After that, we can talk about areas where you might improve. Lastly, based on your feedback and on some of my ideas, I’d like to collaborate on setting some future goals and work together to figure out the best way to achieve them. As I’m going through some of this, I want you to feel free to comment and ask questions if you think of any.”
Effective performance reviews often have as much to do with what happens before “the conversation” as it does during “the conversation.” It’s going to be difficult to solicit feedback and openness if you haven’t been open or established a relationship with your employees before the review.
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