Performance Review Dos and Don’ts
Performance reviews rarely rank high on the list of responsibilities managers enjoy. Giving feedback can be awkward and uncomfortable. Still, some things can make the experience more productive and less gulp-inducing.
Not surprisingly, preparation heads the list. What do you need to know or find out about the work the employee has been doing? How has the employee performed since your last conversation about performance? How can you help the employee continue to do well—or do better, if improvement is called for? What documentation will be helpful to have handy at the review?
In giving employees feedback, avoid generalities (“you sometimes seem like an angry person”) and focus on specifics (“when you get stuck, you have a tendency to raise your voice to customers”). Be prepared with examples, and preferably examples that span the period under review. Offering only recent examples suggests you haven’t paid attention to work earlier in the review period. Furthermore, it may be unfair to emphasize recent lapses if they’re not representative of the work the employee has done over the entire performance period.
It’s important to point out strengths you’ve witnessed—almost all employees crave recognition for the work they’ve done. Pointing out strengths may be especially important if much of the performance has been inadequate. Excessive negativity, whether deliberate or unintentional, damages morale and zaps any motivation to improve. Give praise where it’s due, but don’t hesitate to deal with issues that are holding employees back and causing problems for their work.
It’s sometimes suggested that managers shouldn’t ask employees how they think they’ve performed. I don’t agree. If there’s a difference in perception between the manager and the employee, with one seeing the performance as better or worse than the other sees it, that’s a data point that bears exploring.
Of course, when performance reviews are held more frequently than an annual review, managers and employees are more likely to see eye to eye. When managers regularly and consistently offer brief feedback, that feedback is more likely to be based on what and how employees are doing. Such reviews enable managers to communicate expectations in a meaningful time frame. And given that formal annual reviews often lead to little or no change, periodic brief conversations with a focus on past performance and plans for the future are much more likely to lead to genuine improvement.
No matter how much time you allocate for a review, don’t bring it to a close until you and the employee are in sync with each other. Loose ends not resolved at this review won’t disappear; they’ll still be there—and will perhaps be even bigger—at the next review.
In all aspects of a review, choose your words carefully and with kindness aforethought. An article on the National Federation of Independent Business website relates a story about a supervisor who stopped while writing a review to ask the employee, “Is dirtbag one word or two?” There’s something for your not-to-do list.