Best Practices For Yearly Performance Reviews

As the year winds down, many leaders are planning yearly performance reviews for their team members. And since preparation is the first step to conducting a successful performance appraisal, below are “best practices” managers should keep in mind as they evaluate their team.

1. CHECK YOUR BIASES AT THE DOOR

Do you naturally view the employee in either a “good” or “bad” way? Did you previously hold their job and are you expecting them to perform it as you did? Are you turned off by certain aspects of their behavior?

Leaders are human so it’s common that they will have their own biases as to how the job should be performed. When leaders let their biases shade their evaluations of the employee, it doesn’t give a helpful evaluation of performance results. Appraise the performance of the person based on their attainment of goals set for them (the “What”) and their competencies (the “How”), and resources at their disposal. Make the performance review about the employee, not about how you would have performed the job. Common rating biases include: Halo Effect, Contrast, Similar to Me, Leniency, Harshness, Central Tendency, Recency, and Primacy. Review your numerical ratings to see if any of these may be distorting your evaluation. Remember, these are subconscious so you are unaware of the biases occurring!

2. MAKE IT A TWO-WAY CONVERSATION

Employees usually dread their performance reviews because it can often feel like a one-way dialogue, especially when the reviews are only held once a year. Instead, make it clear to your employee that this is a dialogue between the two of you to discuss their performance. Use open-ended questions (i.e. Can you give me an example? What aspects of your job are challenging?).

The employee should feel comfortable bringing up concerns or difficulties they are experiencing in their position with the knowledge that you care about helping them resolve those issues. Leaders should give each employee plenty of time to prepare for the appraisal and offer resources such as a self-assessment or form to complete that covers their job performance and goals as well as what obstacles they face in performing their job to their best ability (i.e. lack of resources or support from management). Be clear when talking about preparing for the review that your employee understands you expect their full participation, engagement and commitment to the process.

3. FOCUS ON THEIR JOB PERFORMANCE NOT THEIR BEHAVIOR OR PERSONALITY   

Employees will feel attacked if you ask questions related to their behavior, such as: “Why can’t you get the job done?” or  “You’re really shy and you need to come out of your shell”. Instead, it’s better to focus on their job performance as it measures against their goals and objectives in their position. Using the above questions, rephrase them and ask them this way: “What parts of your job do you find difficult to complete? Or what obstacles do you face when trying to complete the project?” and, “You have much to offer and some great ideas, so what can we do to help you speak up and contribute more in meetings?”

4. NO SURPRISES

This is not the appropriate time to spring your dissatisfaction on your employee about an issue that you haven’t previously discussed with them. Yearly performance reviews can be fraught with tension, stress and anxiety, so please do not use it as your chance to dump your frustrations on your team member. Everything that is covered in the appraisal should be clearly outlined, previously set and communicated between the two of you. Any ongoing issues should be part of a continuing dialogue between both of you so that it’s only one part of the review, and even then, only an update on where things currently stand.

5. PROVIDE MORE PRAISE THAN PROBLEMS

Unless you’re planning on terminating the employee, focus on providing more positive feedback and praise to your employee during the appraisal and offering new challenges for them to commit to during the next year. Yes, discussing job performance problems is an important and necessary part of the review process, but try to limit them to the top two main concerns or issues you have.

Be clear and concise on what you like about their job performance and provide specific examples. “I truly appreciated your willingness to take the initiative on the ABC Project. I know it’s presented some challenges for you, but I know you’ve got the ability to complete it successfully.”

When discussing any performance issues, it’s best to clearly state the issue and what the required performance should look like. “The ABC report was not completed and couldn’t be included in the project. The next time, I’ll need your report a week in advance so I can work with you to finish any incomplete parts.”

6. OBTAIN A WIN-WIN

Gain the employee’s commitment to what changes he/she will make moving forward and new goals and objectives they will focus on. Then, you need to commit to the employee what you will do to support their efforts to be successful. Follow through with a casual meeting a few weeks after the performance review to discuss how things progressing. Make this meeting the first of many as you move towards a “coach approach” performance appraisal process in the future. This regular interaction with your employee will help to develop an open and honest dialogue leading to better communication, improved performance and increased employee engagement.

These best practices are just a beginning to improving your yearly performance review process. Consider conducting 360 degree assessments with your team so they can gain insight on their performance from all people involved in their performance (i.e. boss, peers, team members, etc.). The main goal of any performance review is for the employee to gain greater self-awareness which leads to improved job performance, greater job satisfaction and an engaged, highly productive employee for the company.