Perfecting Performance Reviews through Best Practices—Part I

Sep 08, 2015

Perfecting Performance Reviews through Best Practices—Part I

Performance reviews are among the most dreaded workplace processes—for both employees and managers. The accompanying fear and anxiety of what could potentially be an uncomfortable conversation discourages both parties from truly getting the most out of what is intended to be an improved form of communication.

But, performance appraisals bring news that causes employees to fret over job security, status, eligibility for promotion, and potential bias. Despite any apprehensions, performance reviews are necessary to measure employee performance and to determine salary and wage increases, so reviewing performance is not only an important competency for a manager; it is absolutely necessary in order to manage effectively.

The perfect opportunity for a manager to give feedback is during the performance review process. Managers who are effective at reviewing the performance of others prepare thoroughly beforehand by making expectations clear, providing training and development opportunities, matching their actions to their words, and giving employees responsibility. Managers who effectively prepare for employee evaluations reduce the stress on themselves and their employees.

Essentially, two kinds of performance reviews exist: informal and formal reviews. A manager informally reviews someone's work when he or she talks about the person's performance in an unstructured, soon-after-the-fact meeting. While it may be scheduled, it is essentially a review concerning a specific task or how the person handled a particular incident. Formal reviews are scheduled—usually once a year—and are typically done by all managers during the same time period in the year. They are designed to review the person's performance for an entire year and are "official." Typically, a written report is produced and entered into the person's personnel file. But before the next round of evaluations gets under way, there are some key recommendations for conducting and leading effective performance reviews.

Formal Performance Review Best Practices:

  1. No Surprises: If the employee is surprised by something he or she is told in a formal review, then the manager has not been communicating enough during the year.
  2. Listen to the Employee: Because most people judge themselves more harshly than anyone else does, it is a good idea for the manager to ask the employee to give his or her assessment of the job the employee has done over the year. After hearing from the employee, the manager will have an idea of how the employee views his or her performance, and only then does the manager have an accurate platform from which he or she can effectively coach the employee.
  3. Write It Down: Before the meeting, write down what must be clearly communicated to the employee and the results and outcomes that are expected. Also, have these expectations reviewed by a peer manager or by an HR representative.
  4. Sleep on Bad Reviews: If you must write a poor review, sleep on your decision and comments before sharing with the employee. While this is good counsel for anyone who is angry or disappointed, it is especially true for a formal performance review. In this setting, the manager is directly affecting the employee's job, career, and often his or her compensation, so the content of this meeting can have a significant impact on the person's sense of confidence and morale.
  5. Do Not Postpone the Meeting: Employees are usually anxious about their reviews and have told loved ones and friends about their upcoming review and therefore are either embarrassed or frustrated when their reviews are delayed.
  6. Acknowledge Unacceptable Performance: Do not let unacceptable performance or behavior go unstated or unwritten.
  7. Do Away with Subjective Grading: Most companies have an evaluation process that entails having the manager assign a subjective grade to various competencies or performance indicators. This grading opens the door for disagreement between the manager and the employee and most often lends itself to demotivating the employee.

Even though performance reviews can be a cause of anxiety, they can also be beneficial opportunities to reflect on employees' performance, provide a medium for praise and constructive criticism, and help both managers and employees improve communication between one another for a more effective relationship. Next week, we'll incorporate these best practices into a three-step approach for performance reviews.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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