Everything you love to hate about performance reviews

The performance review. Universally reviled by all involved, this annual exercise is one that causes managers and employees to recoil in horror.  Managers hate writing performance reviews and holding meetings. Employees dread the annual discussion of what could be done better. While some companies have, in recent years, moved to eliminate the formal, annual review process, this often complicates matters because individual managers are expected to come up with their own methods for delivering feedback. But most of us are stuck with the annual review process, so we may as well make the best of it.

If you’re an employee, here are some things that you can do to make the performance review process less painful for you:

Plan ahead. You need to start thinking about your review a full year before it happens. Set clear, manageable, measurable goals, and work on executing against them.

Note your accomplishments throughout the year. You won’t remember everything you did throughout the year so keep a running log.  Be sure to quantify your achievements when possible.

Evaluate yourself honestly. In addition to thinking about what you’ve done really well, what are areas in which you could improve? How can you improve in those areas in the coming year?

Look forward, not back. Use the review meeting as an opportunity to plan for future successes, and not a time to simply rehash the previous year.

Guide the discussion. This is not the time to hand over control to your boss. You can guide the discussion and set the tone of the meeting.

For managers, you can make the review process more palatable by doing the following:

Focus on results. Worry less about your employees’ work habits and more about the output. Obviously, if someone has a disruptive work style, you will want to address that. But just because a member of your team doesn’t do things in precisely the same way you would does not mean that it’s wrong.

Highlight the positive. In the past, there has been a feeling that review time is the time to address an employee’s shortcomings. This is not productive, and, quite frankly, can border on abusive. People respond favorably to positive reinforcement. Imagine the amazing results you could achieve if you focused on what your team did well, and not on what it needed to do better?

Make sure it’s not a surprise. If you have an employee who is struggling, the review discussion should not be the first conversation about this. Not only is it unfair to the employee, but it also puts the employee on the defensive. I had a client tell me that her manager said to her that she had poor communication skills, and cited an incident from 6 months prior to support that. This is poor management. You should be having ongoing, regular performance discussions with your employees.

Eliminate formality. The performance review should not be like a graduate student defending her dissertation. The unnatural sense of formality under which the review process is conducted often puts both managers and employees on the defensive.

Boss and employee

The bottom line

Managers and employees should be having ongoing conversations throughout the year on performance. This should include adjusting goals as they change to meet the business needs, but also addressing any issues that may arise. That way, the review process can go much more easily, without any surprises. You will have more open and honest dialogue and happier employees.


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