It’s that time of year – the annual performance review season. Most people know the drill – start the conversation off with what your direct report did well throughout the year, mention some things they need to do better, and end with some other things they did well (a common feedback method known as the feedback sandwich). However, the end result is some mixed messaging that leaves your employees unfazed at best, or disappointed at worse. Performance reviews do not need to follow this formula – if managers approach them correctly, they act as a way to develop, motivate, and engage employees.
1) Set the foundation
A performance review can be the most stressful work conversation an employee has all year. Similar feelings are felt by the manager who can feel awkward giving feedback. If a direct report understands what to expect and what not to expect, it can make the process smoother for both parties. Setting expectations on the flow of the conversation (i.e, it can be helpful to set a meeting agenda) can relieve some stress on both sides.
Pro-tip: we highly recommend setting a detailed meeting agenda before the meeting. We also suggest separating feedback and compensation discussions. This allows the performance review to simply focus on performance. If performance and compensation are separate discussions, the employee should be aware of this.
If your organization has not implemented continuous feedback or frequent check-ins, we would recommend considering doing so. If real-time feedback is given throughout the year, the performance review shouldn’t come as a surprise.
2) Encourage the employee to perform a self-assessment
There are many benefits to self reviews. For instance, it encourages the employee to analyze their performance throughout the year, while giving the manager some insight into what performance aspects are focal points of the employee. For both parties, it helps refresh their memories. If your company does not have a formal review process, ask the employee to write down a few notes about things they were proud of and things they can improve.
What about 360-degree reviews?
There are many benefits to 360-degree reviews. If your organization is matrix/agile, 360-degree reviews are highly recommended. You may also want to implement real-time 360-degree feedback as 360 reviews once or twice a year can lead to important performance aspects being forgotten.
3) Simplify the review
Many performance reviews contain 15+ questions. This makes it a very timely process for the manager (and the people team). We would encourage simplifying the review to 4-8 meaningful questions that truly help develop employees.
We list some of the most popular (and meaningful) performance review questions below:
4) Encourage a two-way conversation
No one benefits from a one-way monologue. Moreover, it is uncomfortable for both parties involved. Managers should ask their employees questions and encourage the employees to ask questions to create a conversation
For some ideas on questions, you may find this guidebook with 100+ performance review questions helpful.
Another great way to encourage a two-way conversation is encouraging self assessments (see more in point #2). It gives the employee time to reflect on their performance, and they will be better prepared to meet with their manager during the review. Another tip is to set performance goals together for the upcoming year. This will (i) encourage conversation and (ii) will increase the likelihood that goals will be met.
5) Offer constructive feedback
Simply going over performance during the past year won’t fully benefit the employee.
Imagine a basketball coach beginning a new season by spending the entire practice talking about the past performance with no mention about what the team should focus on this new season. Would this benefit players? Obviously not.
Now, imagine having a manager that did this. Managers should not just be focused on the past; they need to focus on the future. Moreover, the feedback has to be action-based and behavior-based. “Your performance was great this year” is not helpful to the employee. What did they do that was highly effective? What actions should they continue to do or adapt to improve their performance?
Remember that for the performance review to be effective, the feedback has to be effective.
Performance reviews should truly help motivate and develop employees. But they have to be done right. Set expectations, encourage self review and two-way conversation, and constructively coaching can help transform the performance review process.
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