How to Conduct a Performance Review: Essential Tips for Employers

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Oct 26, 2018

Oct 26, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

It's not just employees that hate getting performance reviews. Managers hate giving them as well.

Few employees walk away from a review feeling great. After all, part of the process involves telling employees where they fall down on the job. It's the kind of thing that can make subordinates dislike you on a personal level.

In spite of the universal loathing that reviews enjoy, they give you an opportunity to course correct wayward employees. Just as importantly, they let you affirm employees that excel.

That means it's important that you know how to conduct a performance review. If this is a weak spot for you or you just want to hone your process, keep reading for some key performance review tips.

Don't Make Expectations a Mystery

Some companies take a seemingly sadistic joy in keeping their policies a mystery from corporate partners. Don't be the managerial equivalent of those companies.

Subordinates can't meet expectations they don't know about or understand. Worse still, they'll resent you for critiquing them on things they didn't know mattered.

As the more senior person, you get more of the big picture view. You know what the higher-ups want and where they're focused.

For example, say that the higher-ups develop an obsession with qualitative measurements. You should inform the people under you that they should make a point of collecting qualitative data.

Arm your team with this kind information as early in the year as possible. That gives them time to adjust their thinking and react accordingly.

Assuming some people are fresh off last year's annual review, this is the time to set up individual meetings. Discuss more specific expectations based on the prior review and set up action steps or training for them.

Make Performance Reviews a Year-Long Project

Good management happens in the moment when you praise, assist, or correct employees. Yet, by the time that annual review rolls around, you probably won't remember the details of those interactions.

Say that you strongly encouraged a subordinate to brush up on their skills on a critical piece of software. Over the next month, you see their work improve on the software. You also see them skimming through a book on the software.

You might praise them at that point for taking proactive steps. What about eight months and two major projects later? You might remember that they took your advice about something, but probably not about what.

Takes notes about these kinds of performance changes as you see them. You'll end up with a more balanced and nuanced sense of your subordinates performance over time.

It'll also speed up your paperwork when the formal review rolls around. Everyone wins.

Prep Employees

In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day work, it's easy to forget that performance reviews are on the horizon. Make a point of scheduling those meetings at least a month or two in advance. It lets employees acclimate to the idea a little.

As part of that scheduling process, ask employees to put together their self-appraisals. Every company handles self-appraisals a little differently but it should include a few key points:

  • Major achievements
  • Goals
  • Any current projects
  • Where the employee improved
  • Where the employee could improve more

With luck, self-evaluations will make employees take an honest look at their performance. Ask for a copy of the evaluation a week or two ahead of the meeting. This lets you compare your notes to their self-appraisal.

Choose the Right Room

If at all possible, don't use your office for the performance reviews.

Your office act as a symbol of your authority. Holding reviews in it signals the power imbalance between you and the employee. Even if it's only subconscious, it will make your subordinates more defensive about the content of the review.

On top of that, you'll struggle with interruptions.

Look for a quiet, neutral space. A conference room works well for that because it's not home turf for anyone.

Don't sit directly across from the other person. It creates a sense of competitiveness or combativeness.

Sit next to the other person and turn your body toward them while you talk. It helps establish a more relaxed atmosphere.

The Discussion

Preparing performance reviews can make comparatively minor flaws loom large. One school of thought holds that every review must include some correction because no employee is perfect. You might find yourself blowing things out of proportion just so you can correct something.

Any other day of the year, you would probably describe most of your subordinates as decent to excellent employees. Reflect that reality in your reviews.

Tell those employees that they're doing good or doing very well. Assure them that they're jobs are secure.

Reserve criticisms for things you feel the employee must work on.

For problematic employees, however, don't hold back. Tell them if they're on the bubble in terms of employment. Tell them why and what must change.

Offer More Frequent Reviews

You can lessen the misery of annual reviews by engaging in a formal or informal quarterly review program.

Quarterly reviews offer some benefits.

The review focuses on recent events, which makes a stronger impact. It also lets employees course correct before things spiral out of control.

It makes the paperwork easier for everyone because each review covers less ground. You can still use the last review of the year for big-picture concerns.

Parting Thoughts on How to Conduct a Performance Review

Everyone arrives at slightly different answers for how to conduct a performance review. In most cases, the differences reflect personal style. But regardless of style, you can do some things that make the process go better for everyone.

Set clear expectations early on in the year. Make notes about performance over the course of the year. Schedule the review meetings well in advance and get those self-appraisals.

Pick a neutral room to minimize defensiveness. Focus on positives. Reserve criticisms for things that employees must change.

If annual reviews don't generate good results, consider quarterly reviews.

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