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.

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.

Choosing The Best Leadership Coach


Did you know that about 25% of all coaching relationships have to be terminated? That’s the finding from an AMA research study. When most experienced coaches are polled, another study found that almost half felt that unqualified coaches threaten the effectiveness of coaching.

As a professional executive leadership coach, I am constantly interviewed for assignments as well as interviewing other prospective coaches for my clients. Rarely, are we put through a rigorous screening process, so it’s no wonder some poor hires make it through to the intended coachees. How do you know what to look for in a quality executive leadership coach? And what is the best fit for your organization?

Download my presentation on Choosing the Best Leadership Coach and Maximizing Results to learn how to select the best leadership coach for you and your organization. You’ll also learn how to leverage that relationship to enhance leadership development and achieve stronger results.


Guidelines for choosing an executive coach

Choosing the Right Executive Coach


Executive Coaching, once a sign of trouble for leaders, is now widely considered as a valuable leadership development tool. According to a recent American Management Association survey, coaching’s three most common uses are developing leaders, improving performance and optimizing strong contributors. The survey found that 50% of companies provide coaches only to midlevel or senior staff, while 38% make them available to anyone.

The Executive Coaching industry is growing at a rate of 18% per year, per Harvard Business Report. This increase can be attributed to the unprecedented challenges that today’s leaders face including economic uncertainties, global demands, complex technologies, and the pressures of being “on call” 24/7. Executive Coaching has proven to help CEOs manage their increased responsibilities, while enhancing the productivity, quality, strength, motivation, retention, and profitability of their teams and organizations.

Finding the best fit for a CEO is a science, so how do you choose the right executive coach? Here are some tips to consider when hiring an executive coach:

    • DUE DILIGENCE: When hiring a coach, apply the same stringent guidelines (e.g., background and reference checks) that you would for other consultants and contractors. Don’t just go with “reputation”. Conduct your own research and ask for referrals from others with similar types of issues to be addressed.
    • EXTERNAL VS. INTERNAL COACH: Qualified external executive coaches are most helpful when the level of the coachee is VP+, the developmental needs are highly complex, and the degree of change required is high. Internal coaches are most helpful when the level of the coachee is Manager or Director, the development needs are easy to moderately complex, and the degree of change is low to moderate.
    • SEEK QUALITY: Search for a highly qualified, experienced leadership coach who supports and challenges executives. Coaches who offer direct and honest feedback with an action plan for improvement are “must haves”.
    • GOOD CHEMISTRY: The personality styles of the CEO and executive coach must mesh well to maximize success. Building trust is the foundation of any coaching relationship and good chemistry can accelerate this outcome.
    • WATCH FOR RED FLAGS: If coaches appear to make unrealistic promises, such as immediate results with minimal effort, walk away. To truly improve, leaders must invest time and effort.
Selecting an experienced executive coach can be a life changing experience for the leader, team, and organization. The feedback of an experienced executive coach can help leaders develop the essential skills they need to adapt, grow, and thrive in an ever-changing business climate for continued success.

3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers: Excitable

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Many leaders start to exhibit derailing behaviors when faced with stress. These particular behaviors may have helped them succeed in the past and have been reinforced over time as acceptable for their careers. Stress may be caused by excessive workloads, goals difficulty, tight timelines, poor team performance and more obstacles that could cause a leader to believe he or she may fail. Hogan has identified 11 traits that all leaders possess. Their research has shown when these are over-used during stressful conditions derailing behaviors occur.

As part of our new blog series “3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers”, we will take a look at each of the 11 behavioral traits identified by Hogan and include examples with suggestions to overcome each derailing behavior.


I was coaching a senior leader who was a President at the time running a very large manufacturing facility producing consumer products. In his case, when I interviewed his team to collect confidential information about his leadership style he was described as “running hot and cold” on ideas and people. He would start something and put a lot of energy and time into getting it going and then seemingly lose interest and start something else. An often cited example was that he felt the parking lot car spacing lines had to be painted a certain way in dimensions and his team disagreed and also wondered why he was so involved in something like that vs. bigger picture issues and opportunities.

coaching tips for derailers

When coaching the President, who expressed frustration over not being able to get his team behind initiatives, he told me that when faced with resistance (often) he would just back off and quit pushing something. So, he was caught in this leadership dilemma of seemingly not able to get his team to follow his direction on all his new ideas. The team perceived him as having all these ideas that were good for a few weeks, so if they waited and did nothing, it would blow over and another idea would come their way from the President. This pattern had been repeated many times over the years. Once this was discovered by the President he realized what he had been doing and we changed his approach to motivating his team on key initiatives. When the President’s assessment results became available he had scored in the High Risk area for Excitable.

He was a perfect example of the excitable derailer; someone who ranges from emotional calmness to being moody, hard to please, and with a tendency to show emotional ups and downs.


The leader should continue:  Acting with passion, energy and enthusiasm

The leader should stop:  Losing emotional control and yelling at everyone

The leader should begin:

  • Analyzing upsetting situations to understand triggers
  • Recognizing signs of an impending loss of control
  • Leaving the situation, taking a “time out”
  • Moderating your initial enthusiasm about people and projects to avoid being discouraged later
  • Avoiding defeatist thinking when you encounter problems
  • Making sure good implementers are on the team for when your excitement wears off

Leaders can be assessed using the Hogan suite of assessments which are very helpful to leaders by increasing their self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of why they are not getting the results required in their roles.

Look for our blog series to continue in the next few weeks with coaching tips for the other derailing behaviors identified by Hogan.

3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers: Cautious

coaching tips for derailers

As part of our blog series 3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers, we will take a look at each of the 11 behavioral traits identified by Hogan’s research that caused leaders to derail and include examples with suggestions to overcome each derailing behavioral trait. This week, we highlight the derailing behavior cautious.

All of us are cautious to varying degrees. In fact, as a senior leader responsible for company assets, some degree of caution in decision making is prudent. Being careful and precise has served many leaders well over their careers. Leaders with cautious derailing behavior typically range from being confident and willing to take on new ventures, to being cautiously reluctant to try new things.

For example, Joe Blake, a senior executive in a financial services company was very successful and had risen to a C-level role in Operations. He had a number of great strengths including organization and execution, attention to detail, implementation prowess, interpersonal savvy, and communications. He had been going through a change in CEOs which for him created more stress to be seen as a key player and supporter of his new boss.

This stress and new boss at his level caused his Cautious derailer started to show in his leadership. His team started to question his leadership since most major decisions were stuck on his desk. Over the months he began to alienate his staff and lose followership among his most loyal team members.

As we started the executive coaching process I made him aware of how his extreme cautiousness and fear of being wrong impacted his leadership and credibility. His new boss was questioning his effectiveness as a key leader. As we worked together over the months he began to deal more effectively with his situation and began to get more comfortable with his new boss and started to regain his confidence. He started to lead as he did in the past and sped up his decision making taking more risks. In short, he had to push himself to make decisions when all the facts and information was not known and time was critical.


The leader should continue: reviewing critical proposals and plans for unnecessary risks

The leader should stop: holding up progress by not making decisions and resisting new programs and technology

The leader should begin:

  • Providing solutions for suggestions rather than just raising objections
  • Prioritizing – finding the key issues for which a decision MUST be made
  • Recognizing that few decisions are irreversible and that mid-course corrections are usually possible
  • Soliciting trusted friends to help evaluate ideas

Leaders can be assessed using the Hogan suite of assessments which are very helpful to leaders by increasing their self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of why they are not getting the results required in their roles.

Our blog series will continue with more helpful tips for the other derailing behaviors.