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.


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!


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.


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?”


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.


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.”


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.

A Better Way To Approach Annual Performance Reviews

The annual performance review can lead to feelings of dread and is often viewed as looking at the past instead of planning for the future. How, then, can companies change the annual review to be a positive, forward thinking evaluation of an employee’s performance?

Try approaching performance appraisals, not as a once-a-year event, but rather as a continuous, ongoing coaching process during the entire year. This is a 180° turn from how it is currently handled in most companies.

Instead of reviewing the past, companies should encourage their leaders to regularly sit down with their employees in casual, non-stressful situations to give feedback for situations as it’s needed.


1. Where the employee is currently at in their career and where he/she wants to be.

Ask the employee what their career goals are, where they want to be next year, what they are doing to reach their goals, if they participate in or desire leadership training, and other similar questions.

2. How the employee is performing in their current position.

Discuss current projects and job responsibilities. Compliment them on successes and validate their efforts. Discover what areas they want to further develop.

3. What obstacles or roadblocks the employee is tackling on current projects.

Find out what frustrations your employee faces while trying to complete current projects and goals. Coach them to come up with ideas on how to resolve these difficulties through their own initiative.

4. Who the employee can go to for answers, mentoring, support, and assistance for their professional development as well as for completing projects.

Show your support by assisting them with ideas of where they can get help and answers to help them resolve issues and meet their goals.

5. When you will meet next.

Always end your current talk with an idea of when you can get together next.

If managers and leaders focus on spending a little time each month with their team members to ask the above questions, it will foster a sense of trust, support and motivation. The employee will feel a sense of engagement with their boss and that he/she truly cares about them as a person, not just for what they do in their role.

These one-on-one conversations between leaders and their employees helps managers stay current about projects as they happen. It is a proactive approach instead of a reactive one like traditional performance reviews.


Make time in your schedule this week to recognize someone who is doing a good job, coach an employee about resolving an issue and identify new goals for someone who needs a bigger challenge. You will be laying the groundwork for positive coaching interactions with your team now and for future success.

Why Do Employees Dread Performance Reviews?

You are not alone if you dread the yearly performance appraisal process. Research reported on earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal discovered that the perceived effectiveness of the performance appraisal process was directly related to employee satisfaction, and that negative feedback resulted in lower satisfaction regardless of the employee’s learning goal orientation.

When I asked for people’s opinions on yearly performance reviews in a few LinkedIn groups, the responses generally agreed that performance reviews are necessary but preparation, scope and timing of the performance appraisals can cause headaches.

“I find that waiting until the end of the year makes the process unduly stressful and too many otherwise important things get missed in the interests of keeping the meeting a reasonable length.”
“Unfortunately, the paperwork can be tedious.”

Another person responded that the company’s culture is a key factor to employees’ satisfaction and work performance.

“If an honest, open dialogue exists in your company it will naturally increase the satisfaction, dedication and productivity of all associates.”

I agree with these and all of the comments provided. Annual performance reviews are necessary to evaluate employee performance but the frequency they are conducted, what is covered during the meeting, and how the information is presented are critical to developing high-performing, dedicated employees.

Effective performance appraisals include frequent conversations throughout the year to discuss performance and progress towards goals between employees and their managers. Then when it’s time to sit down at the end of the year, there is a level of trust already established. The manager has a clear picture of the employee’s performance during the year from frequent contact, and the employee has received regular feedback to help improve their performance and guide their direction.

This consistent and regular dialogue can be as quick and easy as meeting for coffee weekly or monthly to discuss progress towards goals, provide appreciation for their performance, or feedback on a skill or behavior to develop. It’s this reliable communication that builds a connection with employees that improves their performance and productivity over time.

Annual performance appraisals don’t have to be a dreadful experience for leaders or their employees, but only taking time once a year to provide feedback, leads to lower satisfaction. No one wants to receive negative feedback all at one time and high-performing talent prefers regular communication that shows you value their contributions.

Start laying the groundwork for improved performance reviews today by connecting with one of your employees. Take them to lunch or stop by their desk to tell them how much you appreciate their hard work. You’ll be lifting some of the dread and anxiety surrounding their yearly performance appraisals.

Are Performance Reviews Really Necessary?

The end of the year is rapidly approaching and many companies are turning their focus to the yearly performance review. Unfortunately, most leaders and employees are dreading its arrival and take a “grin and bear it” attitude toward them. With this type of anxiety surrounding performance appraisals, it begs the question: Are performance reviews really necessary?

Performance appraisals developed as a way to ascertain productivity and relative merit with regard to getting a pay raise. Even today, many companies utilize the yearly performance appraisal to assess the employee’s work performance and progress towards goals in order to justify a raise or placing the employee on probation with the idea of showing them the door.

But with the changes to the way people work nowadays (remote workers, less supervision, more autonomy, etc.) is the way we execute performance reviews still valid and, if not, what is a better way to apply them? If we don’t have some way of “rating” employees’ job performance, progress towards goals, work ethic, attitude and behavior, then how do we reward good employees with raises and promotions while providing poor performers with the tools and direction to improve?

I believe that as long as a company or boss handles performance reviews as an annual “look back” event instead of a proactive plan for the future they will continue to have negative connotations for all involved. Employees need positive and constructive real-time feedback and honest dialogues with their managers on a consistent basis in order to have the tools and desire needed to truly improve their job performance.

All of these questions, ideas and concerns will be answered in a series of blogs I’ll write and post now through the end of the year. In the meantime, enjoy this slideshare graphic from WorkSimple on the History of Performance Reviews.


Creating Effective Talent Management Programs

Like it or not, the successes and failures of talent management are still placed squarely on HR’s shoulders. As the economy continues its steady improvement and housing prices return to the pre-recession levels, key leadership performers will again become mobile and start leaving their current employers. So any weakness in a company’s talent management program will soon become exacerbated in the new economy.


One fatal flaw in many HR talent management strategies is the failure to link them to the business strategies and requirements. Once the HR team successfully links their strategies for the talent management process to the business and begins to communicate using vision, strategy and leadership, the company’s leaders will better understand how HR actually adds value to the business (see above graphic for how to do this). When HR doesn’t tie their expense and investment capital to the business, they will continue to suffer from an “expense and cost center” perception and always be resource constrained.

In working with many senior HR leaders over the years to improve HR effectiveness, this type of strategic approach (linking HR talent management goals with business goals) along with better communications has made a step-change improvement in the perception of the HR leader and their functions. Consider using something like the above approach with your key business leaders and you’ll begin to experience the positive impact on your HR department.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Develop Your Talking Points

how do I get promoted

Most managers and Directors don’t get the exposure to senior leaders who are making the decisions for promotions to VP+ roles. It is clear that these senior leaders form perceptions of you through what they hear from their leaders and the brief times they may interact with you. These brief interactions or “moments of truth” are critical to showing them your ability to take on a new role, thus improving your opportunities for career advancement. So how can you do this? Develop your talking points for these “moments of truth” and try the following:


Typically, when interacting with senior leaders the topics are about product, people, process, policy issues or problems. When you are called in to the meetings your role may be very tactical and specific to help solve a problem. That doesn’t leave much room to have conversations about strategic topics. What you’ll want to do is to prepare for these planned and impromptu interactions and have your key points ready as the opportunities come up in the meetings and conversations.


One thing to remember is that senior leaders are expected to develop and mentor talent. As a result, they should not be opposed to having meetings with managers and Directors to discuss the business. I recommend that you seek out 1-2 senior leaders per quarter and schedule time on their calendars. Many people at first feel like this would be an imposition for these busy senior leaders, remember this is an informational meeting and that the senior leader likes being asked important questions to demonstrate their capability and perspective. So, a typical agenda for these short informational meetings may be:

    1. Introduction and establish rapport
    2. Ask about the business challenges and opportunities
    3. Describe your vision, mission, goals and how these relate to the business
    4. Ask if they would be willing to mentor you with periodic meetings
    5. Close with a big thanks for their time and perspective
Once you develop your talking points and meet with senior leaders, you will increase your visibility for promotions and improve your chance for career advancement.

360 Degree Feedback Sample


How do you rate the 360 degree feedback process at your organization? What would you change about it to make it better?

A 360 degree feedback program is an excellent way for employees to get information on their performance from peers, bosses, team members, subordinates, and customers. However, too often a company’s 360 degree method is either feared for being too punishing or laughed at for being too inconsequential. It’s important for the company and employees to understand that feedback is a continuous process, not a one-time event.


  1. Determine the organization’s goals and purpose for the assessment
  2. Develop the employee survey elements specific to internal findings and external best practices
  3. Create the feedback process questions and procedures as it relates to these findings and implement
  4. Analyze the results and identify gaps
  5. Conduct ongoing training, communication, and feedback to improve employee performance and engagement as it relates to the company’s goals and purpose

The 360 degree feedback questions should relate directly to the goals of the organization and their purpose for conducting the survey, as well as whether they are looking for feedback on the employee’s current performance (typically rated on a number scale) or on the employee’s potential for development (more open-ended questions). To distinguish between the two, here are some 360 degree feedback sample questions for each:


  • I perform my job well.
  • I understand my job duties.
  • I know how to expand my skills and opportunities for growth.
  • I understand my customers and what they need.
  • I have the necessary resources to get the job done.


  • Describe your communication style.
  • What do you consider your strengths to be?
  • What skills would you like to improve?
  • Describe how you develop and maintain relationships.
  • How do you relate to, develop and encourage others?

Another key step in the 360 degree feedback process is reviewing the results with the employee and discussing a plan moving forward. It creates trust issues when a survey is conducted and then nothing happens as a result. The only way any change will occur is by creating a development plan of action and continually assess and adjust the progress.

When creating a 360 feedback survey for your organization, keep these tips in mind to develop a thorough process that is ongoing and effective rather than just doing it to show you’ve done it. So what is your opinion of 360 degree feedback survey process at your company? Is there room for improvement?

360 Degree Feedback Sample Toolkit

Get Promoted By Developing A Deeper Understanding of Your Business


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How can you get promoted? Have you tried developing a deeper understanding of your business and industry? It is not enough to be the technical expert in leadership roles; it is the application of this business knowledge that makes the difference for leaders who advance in their careers.

Here are some ways to help you increase your knowledge and understanding of your business:


A great way to learn about your company’s strategy and business is to find articles, presentations, press releases, analyst reports, etc., that are already available. The internet has made this research very easy and opens up all types of information to anyone who is willing take the time. Here is a checklist of items to start your research on your company and industry:

  • Your own company website. If public go to the investor relations pages.
  • Analyst and Industry reports.
  • Annual reports.
  • Company databases.  (e.g., Hoover’s, Yahoo!Finance, Fortune 500, etc.)
  • Company financials.
  • SEC filings (if public).
  • Books with mission statements.
  • Interviews with senior leaders of your company.
  • Directories and websites (e.g., Inc.5000, Thomas Register.
  • Articles published.
  • Trade associations offering insight about the industry or products.
  • Newspaper articles.


There is a complete understanding of your company within the four walls and it is up to you to locate and tap into this vast knowledge base. It takes time to identify the right people and to spend time with them developing a better understanding of your company and industry. Here are suggestions to help you get started:

  • Identify the key leaders in each function that can provide the best information about your company (i.e., Sales, Marketing, Operations, Customer Support, Engineering, Finance, HR, Procurement, Logistics, etc.). Another great source are your company’s Board members.
  • Set up a meeting with these leaders to learn more about the different aspects of your business.
  • Develop your agenda and questions for the leaders when you meet with them.
  • After the meetings summarize your learnings and how these apply to your business responsibilities.



There are opportunities to attend various presentations made by senior leaders that include Earnings Releases, Trade Presentations, Analyst Presentations, Industry Presentations, etc.


Figure out how you can schedule time to spend with your customers. You may be able to attend customer meetings with the sales team or listen to customers calling into your customer support department


Identify the most relevant associations for your business needs, then join these groups and actively participate. You will be able to attend your own company presentations and also access broader information about the industry you are competing in and what the dynamics are within this industry.

Without a good in-depth understanding of your business which includes products, services, customers, markets, competitors, financials, human capital, etc., it is impossible to be effective in demonstrating your strategic agility. It’s not hard to increase your business knowledge once you identify the gaps; it just takes some dedicated time to acquire this knowledge.

create high performing teams, improve leadership performance

Lessons in Leadership: How to Build High Performing Teams


Great leaders learn that in order to be successful, they need to develop a very strong team. What does it take to build a high performing team? At a minimum, the following must be in place:

Common Vision – is achieved and accepted by each team member and used in providing direction.

Clear Roles – are outlined and every team member understands each person’s role and accountability.

Mutual Trust – is established to ensure open communications, collaboration and respect.

Effective Processes – are developed, enabling the team to continually monitor and adjust their performance.

Strong Team Leadership – is required for success and the team leader must be respected and credible.

Most leaders don’t understand the “glue” that holds high performing teams together in order to achieve success, and they rarely spend the necessary time to help the team establish these minimal requirements. Research has consistently demonstrated that high performing teams help the leader achieve success when they are empowered and encouraged to operate with these guide posts.



  1. Establish and communicate your expectations for collaboration and teamwork to your team members.
  2. Diagnose the current state of each of the elements above to identify where some gaps exist to address. It is hard for the team leader to get truthful data in most cases, so engaging an internal/external resource can be helpful for this step.
  3. The foundation for the team is mutual trust. Without it, it is difficult to make substantial progress. Get some help from experts who can show you proven techniques to help build trust levels among the team members.
  4. As part of the monthly team meetings, reserve time on the agenda to discuss the team dynamics and how the team is performing. To achieve high performance, you’ll need to dedicate time and apply effort to keep the team moving toward your goals.
  5. Coach any team member that is not buying-in to your direction. One person on a team can lengthen or derail your efforts to build the team.

Implementing these best practices will help you turn a dysfunctional team into a high-functioning team that creates better working relationships, more collaboration and a higher level of success.

best practices for team meetings

Increasing Employee Engagement And Retention


New research from the Ashridge Business School in the UK was just released. This research, commissioned by Engage for Success, interviewed several CEOs on the topic of employee engagement and found some issues preventing companies from establishing high engaged workforces. While the report focused on the U.K. economy and business culture, there are definitely lessons for leaders in other areas of the world.

Some of the highlights from the research shows:

  • CEOs may lack an emotional connection to engagement due to a fear of feedback or resistance to sharing power
  • Leaders may be so intensely focused on bottom line results that they don’t buy in to employee engagement
  • Some executive leaders may genuinely lack awareness of employee engagement and how to improve it
  • The company’s hierarchy, system and culture may lack the necessary support for employee engagement

Several of their findings resonate with research in the U.S. about some of the barriers CHROs face in driving higher levels of employee engagement. Increasing employee engagement is a universal concern for all organizations and only when leaders are willing to take the time to analyze and identify what needs to be done can steps be taken to improve employee engagement.