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Performance Reviews Don't Have To Be A Nightmare

The words “performance review” can strike fear in even the most confident, business-savvy professional.  There is something about those annual, bi-annual or quarterly meetings that cause so many to break into a cold sweat.  It harkens back to our elementary school days when we were graded for our performance and got sent to the principal’s office for bad behavior.  And for every employee who stays up all night awaiting the dreaded review, there is a manager who would rather be doing anything else than preparing it.  Performance reviews do have a terrible reputation, but they don’t have to be negative experiences.  In fact, they are extremely useful career tools and the start of a constructive dialog between an employee and a manager. 

The following are tips for both managers and employees to make the review process more valuable, and comfortable, for everyone. 

Managers should:

Be timely.  Whether reviews at your organization happen once a year or every few months, stick to the schedule and meet them within a week of the deadline.  Dragging out the process builds anticipation and sends a message that the review or the employee isn’t valued. 

Have a game plan.  Take the time to prepare for the review.  Think about the main messages you want to relay and how you want to frame your feedback, as well as how you will communicate with those you are reviewing. 

Give just the facts.  So much of a review is subjective—it is the manager’s opinion of the employee’s competencies.  You must have concrete evidence to back up your feedback—both positive and negative.  For example, if you are reviewing a successful salesperson, cite his or her sales numbers.  If you are commenting that an employee is often late, give specific examples of when he or she broke that specific office rule.

Be the manager.  If you have to deliver constructive criticism, see it as a vital part of your role.  Don’t gloss over difficult topics or back down to avoid confrontation.  You owe it to your direct reports—and their careers—to be honest and straight-forward about how they can improve their performance. 

Start with the positive.  Giving positive feedback at the start of the review sets a more relaxed and productive tone.  It is human nature to dwell on the negative, even if 90% of what an employee hears is positive. 

Pick an appropriate setting.  Set the right stage for conducting the review.  Over lunch or coffee may be too informal or distracting.  You may also want to consider neutral territory—not your office where you will be bothered by the phone or emails.  Try a conference room with a closed door to give weight and respect to the review. 

Offer solutions.  If you do have issues with an employee’s job performance, suggest ways they can improve.  Would additional training help?  Does the employee need to meet with human resources?  Would a mentor relationship be advantageous?  Work out some options with the employee so he or she feels more in control of the outcome. 

There are also ways employees can make review time more productive.  Employees should:

Be prepared.  Consider what you want to express to your manager ahead of time.  Are there projects or accomplishments you are particularly proud of?  Are there areas upon which you wish to improve?  Are there other concerns you’d like to address?  This one-on-one meeting is a great time to bring up any and all aspects of your job and your career path. 

Back it up.  If you are proposing a change in your position or want recognition for a job well done, have hard facts to support your opinion.  Numbers such as, “I brought in eleven new clients this quarter,” speak volumes. 

Don’t get defensive.  It is best to anticipate that there will be some constructive criticism during the course of the review.  A good employee—and manager—will recognize that there is always room for growth and improvement.   

Manage your manager.  This is the time to receive feedback, and also the time to give it.  Be honest with your manager about your relationship and those things you need to do your job well.  Make sure you leave the review knowing that you expressed all your concerns and opinions.  
 
In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any surprises during the review process because managers and employees would have many conversations throughout the year about performance and expectations.  However, review time is a perfect opportunity to establish that type of communication.  If managers and employees meet more often to conduct informal check-ins about job performance, the working relationship is bound to improve and be more productive.  Instead of conjuring up nightmares, managers and employees might actually look forward to scheduled performance reviews!

Photo Credit: Rph At Work