Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Five Tips for a Great Performance Review

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


The anticipation.
The flop sweat.
The fear it won’t go as well as you want it to go.

It’s the annual performance review. Those aren’t the doubts of the employee. They are the uncertainties of the manager.

Everyone’s been there at least once. We’ve had memories of performance reviews, even when they were positive, where we wished the manager worded something differently, or clarified information in their message, or provided enough time for us to express an opinion about what was said. These are the reviews that scar new managers or propel them to vow they will ‘do right’ by their employees during evaluation periods. Then the time comes and they find themselves tongue-tied, nervous and unsure how to proceed.

One of the more weighty responsibilities of any manager is providing annual reviews to his or her staff members. They are a wonderful opportunity for both manager and employee to get one-on-one time and to discuss important career milestones and objectives, achievements, and opportunities for improvement.

While managers are given standardized documents and a process for capturing information about an employee’s performance, companies leave out how to process all the feedback, consolidate the message and deliver the positive and constructive information.

Some may debate delivering a performance review is more art than science; less formula and more finesse. To be sure, managers must possess a certain level of diplomacy when they convey what is in the evaluation. But, there are steps managers can take to ensure the experience is a just and fair one for their employees.

Following five straightforward rules of engagement, managers at any level of experience can deliver great performance reviews:

  1. Be prepared before you walk into the review. In reality, there should not be any surprises to the employee if the performance review process is executed properly. There should not be any surprises to you as a manager, either. Employees expect managers to have a comprehensive, accurate picture of their performance during the year. Collect feedback from others who work with your employee, even if your company does not have a 360 review process. Do not disappoint them by consolidating the feedback without reading or understanding all of it. Go back to the contributors and ask questions if you are unsure of the information returned to you for your employee.
  2. Focus on the strengths. Traditionally, there is polarity in the delivery of performance reviews. Much wasted time is spent on opportunities for improvement or focusing on weakness. Mention them and then move on. What is it that makes employees valued assets to the company, to the team, and to you? Emphasize those qualities, and discuss ways the employees can continue to flex their muscles in these areas.
  3. When delivering tough messages, place the spotlight on behaviors and not the individual. No one likes to hear negative feedback, especially if it is a behavior they unintentionally exhibited. Assume merit and positive intentions, but address the damaging behaviors that impact individual employees, their colleagues and the company. In order to properly course-correct without retribution, you must be just and fair in the approach. Come prepared with specific examples of how the behavior, not the individual, caused issues and provide suggestions on how the behavior might be altered to create positive results in the future.
  4. Use your ears as much as your voice. Allot time for employees to express their concerns and their expectations. As much as it is a review of performance, it is also a forum for them to talk about their career outlook and aspirations.
  5. Develop a measurable and meaningful action plan. Close the chapter on the year in review, and look to the future. Explore career growth, and how their strengths may be applied in achieving both their goals and your organization’s objectives. Map out a strategy that has clear milestones and deliverables, and discuss how these will be achieved realistically. Don’t be afraid to add challenge to the plan, but make sure to tie deliverables back to the agreed-upon plan.

How about you? Do you have any managerial tricks of the trade you employ when delivering performance reviews? Share them with our reader community.