Performance reviews should deliver value both to companies and the people working for them. Objectively, they provide an opportunity to assess performance, goals and objectives, and also to plan for the future by identifying areas for growth.
Yet despite the touted benefits, they are almost always despised by managers and their reports alike. Why? Because it’s challenging to deliver actionable feedback and for it to feel aligned with the company’s overall objectives. Managers aren’t given enough guidance when it comes to this particular process.
It’s time to break the cycle! With these simple steps, our aim is to help you make the performance review process easier and more beneficial for all involved.
Make it comprehensive
It may seem like a cliché, but it’s better to do performance reviews right, or not at all. Doing them right means that they should be as comprehensive as possible, being a mixture of both positive and constructive feedback. Really make sure you take time to think of everything you would expect from the person you’re reviewing, related to their job description and goals previously set out for them.
Take time to reflect on previous conversations you may have had throughout the year and ask yourself whether you noticed a visible change afterwards. Do your best to ensure you have covered this review from all angles before you go into it.
Performance appraisals shouldn’t just look at past performance, they should also serve as a planning session for the future. Both the person concerned and their manager should outline their aims and objectives, and establish joint priorities. By working together and creating a joint outlook, individual as well as company priorities are established, creating a more comprehensive work plan.
2. Regular Check-ins
One of the reasons employees dislike performance reviews is because they often feel blind-sided by them. Everything appears to be fine until all of a sudden, it isn’t. To overcome this, do your best to carry out regular check-ins throughout the year. While you could hold more formal check-ins with the support of a platform like Impraise, you could also simply have regular 1:1 conversations with your direct reports.
With regular conversations, managers can take the pulse of how their direct reports are feeling and discuss any problems that have recently arisen. It also allows people to course correct in time, rather than find out at the end of the year what could have been done better. Finally, it helps people have better clarity about what they’re doing and what they’re working towards. Through regular check-ins, you can ensure the end of year performance review contains no surprises. It also enables you to be more agile and redirect resources as business needs change.
3. Constructive Feedback
The next two tips for conducting performance reviews are inextricably linked. It is important to ensure that the feedback you are giving is constructive in nature. For example, “your work isn’t good, you need to do better” is not actionable and doesn’t help people know what to correct.
Constructive feedback should provide advice and suggestions for improvement. Instead saying something like “have you thought about trying this method, perhaps it would help you better streamline the process?” or “instead of doing this, you might want to do this because…” will help people have a better idea of where they can implement change. By giving feedback in this manner, you are making it much more likely that the person will heed the advice as it is shows a desire to support growth, rather than solely giving negative feedback.
4. Astute Word Choice
Just like providing constructive feedback, an astute word choice is crucial when writing performance reviews. James E. Neal’s book “Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals” (Neal Publications, 2009) is a useful resource. Using the following 5 words or phrases from the book will help you effectively emphasise your employee’s contributions, and personalise your review to highlight a person’s individual strengths.
Achievement – Use this in a sentence to demonstrate the person’s success.
Communication skills – Personalise the review by noting the person’s proficiency with communicating.
Creativity – When people go above and beyond to uncover new and creative solutions, they appreciate recognition. Use phrases like “Created innovative solutions to reduce the drop-off rate”.
Improvement – Everyone likes to know they are growing in their role. "Continues to grow and improve," and "is continuously planning for improvement" are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.
Management ability – The ability to manage others, as well as leadership skills are highly valuable skills to any employer and they should be acknowledged in the review process.
5. End on a positive
Everyone prefers to receive positive feedback, who doesn’t like to be complimented? The Harvard Business Review conducted research examining the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. “Effectiveness” was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. The results demonstrated that in the most effective teams there were nearly six positive comments for every negative one.
Ensure you are regularly sharing positive feedback amongst colleagues to ensure people not only know where to improve, but what they should continue doing. Regular positive feedback will help people feel more valued and ensure their work is recognized throughout the year.
6. Make it a conversation
Unless you’re watching a Shakespearean tragedy; no one appreciates a monologue. Performance appraisals are often dreaded by managers because they feel the burden is on them to provide the materials for the conversation around the performance meeting.
Not only does that not have to be the case, it’s also not the template of a successful performance review. Instead, it should be a 2-way conversation where issues and concerns, as well as successes and plans for the future are discussed on equal footing by the manager and their direct report. By carrying out performance reviews in such a manner, you ensure that concerns and grievances are dealt with in a shared way.
In addition, collaborating is a much more productive way to generate creative solutions to work problems, as well as being paramount in fostering a positive work environment.
Are you ready to take your performance reviews to the next level? Find out how we can help make them a more seamless experience for everyone, whilst delivering value to HR departments.
Photo by Matthew Henry