It’s that time of year again – the dreaded performance review! In many organizations, performance evaluation write-ups and discussions are in full swing right now – and anxiety levels can run high for managers preparing the reviews and employees waiting to receive their feedback. But it does not have to be that way. When we teach Effective Feedback in our leadership development programs we advise managers to make feedback an ongoing part of their regular interaction with staff members. That way, the annual review is merely a summary and culmination of the developmental discussions that have been taking place throughout the year. Stress goes way down!

On the flipside, if you are not receiving regular feedback from your manager, then you must ask for it. Schedule the sessions yourself if you have to. Prepare a self-assessment of your performance on a current project, and ask your manager to review your assessment and comment on it. No one should ever be blindsided with critical feedback related to their work – there’s nothing more damaging and demoralizing to employee engagement.

If you are a manager who is dreading the upcoming performance reviews (or even if you are looking forward to the discussions) you have in front of you, here are five tips for making the upcoming conversations, and all feedback conversations, as productive as possible:

  1. Choose your attitude – If you walk into a meeting geared up for battle, then you’ll get one. Feedback can be hard to hear at times, and hard to deliver at times, yet it is an opportunity to focus on the individual – his or her strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, misses – and discuss ways for her or him to be an even stronger performer. So, as you head into the performance review session, breathe, hold a positive perspective, and focus on the outcomes that will serve you, your employee, and your organization best.
  2. Be specific – The best feedback is specific and actionable. “You’re doing a great job!” is not very helpful to an employee. What exactly did they do that made you feel good about their performance? What behaviors did you observe that were effective? The same applies to constructive feedback. “You need to be more strategic” is also not very helpful. What do you mean by “strategic?” What behaviors and actions must be exhibited in order to be viewed as strategic? Using verbs in your write-up will help you to be more specific and behavior-focused.
  3. Have a two-way conversation – The performance review is an opportunity to engage in critical dialogue with employees about their goals, careers, desires, and development. Asking questions, pausing, and sharing perspectives are all ways to create meaningful dialogue and gather as much input and information as possible during the discussion.
  4. Create the right setting – It may seem obvious, but the review should be an in-person discussion. If that absolutely cannot happen, then set up a web conference where you can observe facial expressions and body language and make a personal connection with your employee. Development discussions should be considered highly important meetings that should not be moved or interrupted unless absolutely necessary. We have heard many horror stories of managers (or employees) taking phone calls during the discussion, multitasking, and allowing for other interruptions. In addition, schedule enough time to have the conversation without being rushed.
  5. Set up for success – Ultimately we all want employees who are fully engaged and growing professionally and personally. Performance reviews are a critical piece of the puzzle for increasing employee engagement and development. While looking at the previous year is essential for assessing performance and, for some, determining compensation, the look ahead to the new performance year is where the greatest payoff lies. To lay the groundwork for a much better performance review experience next year, be certain to:
  • Set clear expectations for performance
  • Discuss what support and resources will be needed from you to help meet those expectations
  • Agree on specific goals, behavior change, and skill development
  • Get out your calendars and schedule monthly development discussions going forward
  • Ask for feedback on what would have made the performance review more helpful and effective
  • Offer positive encouragement and confidence in your employee’s ability to meet and exceed their performance goals

By following these five simple tips, you can lower your anxiety as well as that of your employees, and make the most of your development discussions.

For those of you who have completed your performance reviews, please share your experiences with us. What went really well in your performance review discussions this year? What did not go so well? What tips can you share for making performance review time desirable and not dreaded?
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