10 Tips for Conducting Successful Employee Performance Reviews

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Performance reviews are an essential part of running a successful business. Not only do they serve as a check-in to make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations and duties, but they’re critical for team growth. The truth is, performance reviews are stressful and can be uncomfortable, for both employees and managers. Managers are left having a face-to-face conversation with someone they work with and telling them what they are good at, not so good at, and what they need to improve on. You have to remain tactful but also be direct. If you don’t do a good job at your performance reviews, your employees can feel confused, disappointed, and anxious. On the other hand, a well-done performance review is a powerful mechanism for positive change in your company. It will help reinforce solid performances and redirect poor ones, as well as provide cohesion and vision for your team. So, how do you be sure to conduct a successful employee performance review?

How should performance reviews be conducted?

During any performance review, the goal is to give constructive performance feedback to your employees, as well as set clear goals going forward. A good performance review will focus on performance improvement or reinforcement, productivity, specific responsibilities, future goals, reiterations of your company’s mission and values, as well as provide your team members an opportunity to voice concerns or feedback.

How do you give a good performance review?

A good performance review will be one that is clear, specific, and goal-oriented. Your focus should not be on blaming but on problem-solving. Managers should guide their members towards growth and opportunities in a way that is conducive to the overall goals and mission of your company. This can be done with proper preparation on your part.

How often should you conduct employee performance reviews?

Performance reviews should be conducted routinely, but the frequency of those reviews will depend on your company. Things to take into account when deciding how often to do performance reviews are company size, availability of resources, the specific needs of your company, how frequently you give informal feedback to your team members, and how frequently goals change or shift in your company. Many companies conduct reviews annually, but the trend is moving towards semi-annual and even quarterly reviews. Longer periods between feedback can cause team members to feel stressed about what they might hear if they haven’t heard much feedback in between reviews. Regardless of how often you have performance reviews, follow our performance review tips for managers.

Strategies for Directing Employee Performance Reviews

1. Set Goals and Expectations 

Long before a performance review, your employee should already have a pretty good idea of what goals and expectations come with his or her position. These goals should be laid out upon hiring and reinforced through consistent feedback. Many companies find it useful to revisit these goals at the beginning of the year and they should absolutely be revisited at a performance review.  A great way to set expectations is to use SMART goals:

Specific

Goals need to be specific and narrowly-tailored to the task at hand so that your team members know what results in you expect from them.

Measurable

If a goal is not measurable, it will be difficult, and maybe even impossible, for your team members to know if they are making progress. Setting milestones will help team members remain focused.

Attainable

Setting high standards can be a motivational tool for your team members, but keep goals attainable and realistic.

Relevant

Goals should align with the overall mission of your company. If you set expectations for your team members that feel out of step with the overarching principles of the company, they are more likely to perceive them as unimportant and ignore them.

Time-bound 

Goals should have start dates and deadlines. Without time bounds, goals can be put on the back burner as new issues pop up. Deadlines will help set up appropriate expectations for your team members.

2. Make Time and Space

Team members will feel heard and you’ll be most effective in giving feedback if you make performance reviews a priority. This means creating a time and space which is conducive to communication. Make sure you’re allocating an appropriate amount of time and energy to the reviews. Plan them well in advance so that you can keep your schedule clear of any other time-consuming tasks. Make sure your team members know the times and dates in advance so that they can do the same.

In addition to making time, the environment you choose will have a huge impact on the overall feel of the meeting. Is this a closed-door or open-door meeting? Is it in-office or are you going off-site? Will there be other people present? The right call will vary depending on many factors, but planning for this ahead of time will help you set the right tone for your specific company.

3. Prepare Your Documentation 

Review your team member’s file, including any awards received, workshops taken, progress on goals, and any other relevant paperwork. Make notes about any accomplishments that merit recognition as well as any issues and suggestions that need to be addressed.

Preparing an agenda will help you stay on time, keep focus, and make the review more productive. Your precise agenda will be unique to you, but some common discussion points are:

  • Discuss objectives of the performance review
  • Review of performance against objectives
  • DIscuss job satisfaction
  • Feedback and ideas specific to their position
  • Review the meeting points
  • Discuss new objectives going forward

4. Review Past Performance 

Ideally, you’ve been giving feedback and guidance to all employees throughout the year. Hopefully, you’ve addressed any major issues that came along the way. Any issues you address at a performance review shouldn’t come as a total shock to your team member. It’s still important to review any major issues, even if they have been resolved so that you and your team member can be on the same page and evaluate a full picture of the employee’s overall performance. This meeting will be a new opportunity to address and correct past and current performance in real-time

5. Help Your Staff Members Prepare

Just as your preparation will make the review more productive, a prepared team member will also help make the most of your time together. Give your team members plenty of notice prior to the performance review so they can mentally prepare. You can also provide them with the agenda beforehand so they know what to expect. Let them know that you welcome comments and feedback. This process is as much about them as it is about the company, so they should be invested and active participants in the process.

6. Give Constructive Feedback

Performance reviews are not only about praise and goal setting. Oftentimes, they involve difficult conversations. When you do have to give criticism, make sure it’s always constructive. The goal is not to place blame or fault, but to problem solve and adjust actions accordingly. Make sure you are focusing on behaviors and outcomes, and not personal faults or shortcomings. Focus on the stop, start, continue. This will give your team members a clear direction on how to adjust their behavior going forward. Make sure to explain the reason behind your call to action so that they can understand where the guidance is coming from and what you’re trying to achieve.

7. Take Notes 

Another important tip for successful employee performance reviews is to take notes about the different agenda points you discuss in the meeting. This will help you prepare for future reviews as well as track your team member’s progress. It will also help you keep track of any goals you set with your team members, as well as keep track of any ideas which come to you. Make the notes as detailed as you can so that you have as much information as possible to work with in the future.

8. Be an Active Listener 

Performance reviews are a great way to learn more about your team members and how they help meet company goals. Let your team member self-evaluate and talk about their achievements as well as ways in which they can improve. Ask them if they are getting the support they need to meet their goals and deadlines. It’s also important to ask what their long-term goals are within the company. But, be open to hearing feedback yourself. Ask if they have any constructive criticism for you or the company. Performance reviews should be a two-way street with the goal of improving the overall morale and productivity of your company.

9. Be Specific and Transparent 

There’s no need to beat around the bush. Be direct with your team members. Avoid vague phrases such as, “you need to show more initiative,” or, “you need to be a team player.” Give specific examples and clear directions. Make your expectations for future performance clear by using measurement-oriented language and listing specific actions.

10. End with Agreed Upon Next Steps 

At the end of your performance review, wrap up your meeting by reviewing your notes together and defining goals for the future. This is the time to take the feedback and use it to formulate specific goals. In order for your performance review to bear fruit, it’s vital to formulate an action plan your team members can follow going forward.

The best employee performance reviews are a result of consistent feedback and collaboration on a year-round basis. Your team should feel supported and listened to, so be sure you’re open to a review as well. With these performance review tips, your review discussions will be a natural extension and summary of the guidance they constantly receive instead of an anxiety-inducing meeting they dread.

Related: How to Invest in Employee Development

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About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.