Small Business Services

Performance Reviews Matter: 8 Tips

Conducting employee performance reviews can be one of your most challenging tasks as a manager. Doing them thoroughly and truthfully, though, can have far-reaching impact. You’ll help your staff work to their potential. Your department will run more efficiently and effectively. And that benefits the company as a whole.

All of which will be noted on your own performance review.

The more you look at this responsibility in that light, the less you’ll dread it.

Here are some other ways to manage this critical element of your job.

Involve employees from day one. You or an assistant will undoubtedly be spending time on new employee orientation. This onboarding process should include not only a discussion of job responsibilities, but of employee goals. Job descriptions outline what employees are expected to do. Beyond that, what progress do you expect will be made in each area?

Encourage an interactive atmosphere. Too often, performance review sessions are monologues, with the manager reading the actual written evaluation to the employee and asking for a reaction. Get your employees involved from the moment they come in the door. You might ask them to prepare a list of their own positives and negatives in advance. Let them launch the discussion by sharing that with you, point by point, and weave your own praise and room-for-improvements into the dialogue.

Make performance reviews a year-round process. Create a paper or digital file folder for each employee and make notes throughout the year that you can use when the time comes to compose the formal review.

Don’t keep all of this ongoing evaluation to yourself. Consider scheduling time at set intervals – or when it seems needed – to have less-structured conversations with each employee about performance issues, good and bad. This will minimize surprises at review time and encourage incremental change.

Be specific. Include as much detail as you can, which you can pull from those notes you’ve been writing all year.

Couch negatives in positive terms. Which would you rather hear?

“You missed way too many production deadlines last quarter.”

Or…

“What can we do to accelerate or simplify the production process? Are there ways we can ensure that deadlines get met? This seems to be a problem area.”

You will in all likelihood have to include this concern in the written review. But there are better and worse ways to approach it, especially verbally.

For reasons unnecessary to mention, be especially vigilant about documenting the negatives. You can be more frank in your internal notes, but be sure that the employee understands exactly what areas fall in the less-than-satisfactory range.

Cover a range of responsibilities. Make the review as focused and organized as possible. One way is to break down employees’ performance using several barometers, including:

  • Leadership. Does the employee manage his or her tasks – especially as they intersect with other employees’ work – in a decisive way?
  • Job proficiency. How well does the employee understand the company’s products or services and his or her role in developing/selling/supporting them?
  • Creativity. When a solution to a problem is elusive, does the employee apply critical and creative thinking skills to resolve it?
  • Approach to the job. Try not to use the word “attitude”, but talk about the level of effort the employee expends, and his or her interest in the job and the company. This is a gray, touchy-feely area, so tread lightly.

Have a clear, quantifiable plan of action in place. Formulate your own concrete suggestions for improvement, but let the employee try to come up with his or her own first. Set target dates, and make sure the methods of measuring success are quantifiable.

Acknowledge the fact that the employee is part of a team, and that the employee’s success is in part dependent on the work that others do. Don’t belabor the point, but let it be part of the discussion. Be open to hearing about problems that are beyond the employee’s control, and factor them into your final evaluation.

You can’t control your employees’ reactions to their performance reviews. The process may evoke overly positive or negative responses, depending on the tone and content of the session. Best possible scenario? Your team members walk away from their evaluations with a clearer awareness of their value to the company and a renewed sense of direction.

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