Annual reviews should not hurt anyone

Early in my career, I was actually asked to write a self-review in third-person voice. I was completed dumbfounded by this request and ultimately lost respect for my manager, who apparently, couldn’t be bothered writing an evaluation himself.

That’s an example of how not to conduct a performance review. Let’s talk about how to make them work well for all parties.

An effectively written evaluation can create positive change in the overall performance of an employee. Constructive, thoughtful feedback, with examples of what they did well and how the employee can continue to develop skills, can go a long way in building a strong, confident workforce. Part of your job as a manager is to coach, mentor and counsel your employees. This includes periodic meetings to set clear expectations, and give appropriate feedback and kudos whenever deserved. Note: I said periodic. Ultimately, there should be no surprises on the employee’s annual review, because you will have discussed everything during your periodic meetings throughout the year.

I like the simplicity of sandwiching areas for improvement and development between accomplishments and strengths. Start and end the review on a positive note. But if you are reviewing a poor performer, don’t sugarcoat the message: Be factual and to the point. Remember to give examples and ways to improve. Pick the top 3 to 5 areas the employee should focus on. Too much negative feedback is overwhelming to hear and hard to digest. For a sub-par performer, you may want to consider a performance improvement plan. I typically am not an advocate for these — I prefer to call them “action” plans. Any type of action plan should be thoughtful, measurable and attainable. If you are using this plan only as a documentation tool so you can terminate the employee, please rethink your process. It’s not worth the time or effort for either party.

If your employee completes a self-review (in the first-person, please!), you can use that as a tool to help you get started on writing the actual evaluation. It is a good measure to see if the employee has an elevated point of view of their contribution to the department/company. It can be just as helpful to see if an employee has confidence issues. Utilize this information as a foundation, and build on it.

If a merit increase or cost of living adjustment is being given, I suggest removing that information from the written review. You can tell them at the end of the meeting that they are receiving a salary increase. I am sure we have all had an employee who immediately jumps ahead and looks at the last page to see how much money they are receiving. This can be counter-productive and a distraction during the meeting.

There are many apps out there that can help with the administration of the annual review process. As with any type of software, however, the output is totally dependent on the data that has been input. Regardless of what technology and format you use, no technology can deliver the human input and the impact behind the words.

Deliver the review in person. Schedule an appointment, so your time with the employee is uninterrupted — turn your email off, and put your smartphone down. If possible, try to schedule the review off-campus. Grab a cup of coffee, some lunch, or if your company culture allows, meet after work for a glass of wine; it can make everything go down more smoothly.

For assistance creating and conducting meaningful performance reviews without pain, contact me.