Also known as a performance appraisal, performance reviews are a formal assessment that provides an opportunity for managers to evaluate their employees. This includes their work performance, identify strengths and development areas, offer feedback and set goals for future performance.
But recently, this type of appraisal has received negative feedback, with publications from The Economist to Forbes calling these meetings ‘pointless and insulting’, pouring doubt on their relevance in today’s workplace.
In light of this, is it possible to make the performance review a positive experience for both manager and employee, and to gain positive outcomes?
This month celebrates Employee Appreciation Day (6th March), so what better time to ensure you are making the most of interactions with your team; appreciating them, and providing encouragement, growth and leadership to help them on their career journey.
In this post, I want to share strategies that are applicable in your daily interactions with your team, and critical for your performance reviews as you move forward.
Following these guidelines will help make your performance review positive, motivational and improve your ability to interact with your team to get the best out of individuals and help them grow in their career too.
Maintain Momentum – Meet Regularly
Firstly, how often do you hold performance reviews?
Many leaders and managers find that the traditional once a year format doesn’t work anymore.
Pressure around this type of review can mount up, building the annual event into a significant occasion for the employee where his or her behaviour and achievement over an entire year is taken into account.
While for the manager, it can be challenging to refer to events that may have occurred many months ago and relate them to what is happening now with the person concerned.
The result is that for employees, the performance review can be stressful and leave mixed messages that only create confusion or disappointment. And for managers, the discussion can be tense.
Dick Grote, the HBR and Amazon bestselling author says in his book, How to be Good at Performance Appraisals, “What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable.”
Dick has a point! Though when it comes to looking at the bigger picture, the whole point of a performance review is to do just that; help people improve their performance and align expectations.
Logically then, a reaction to the annual formal review is a move towards more frequent feedback.
This has been gaining traction – quarterly, monthly or even weekly. This includes casual manager check-ins and one to ones.
Business researcher, Josh Bersin, estimates that about 70 per cent of multinational companies are moving toward this type of more informal, regular model.
This more frequent, semi-informal method of feedback can help an employee understand what they’re doing well, how to improve, how their work aligns with bigger company goals and what is expected of them in the role.
And because it allows a conversation to take place in a narrower time frame, situations and behaviour can be addressed while events are still fresh, making them easier to deal with.
This format also helps managers recognise high performing employees who can be nurtured, correct situations before they become serious issues, and communicate the company’s expectations. Additionally, it can be used to encourage development and foster even more engagement with employees.
However, it’s wise to remember that if there is a problem with an employee’s work, the performance review shouldn’t be the first time they hear about it.
Fact: Discussing performance and areas for possible improvement should be a regular activity in today’s modern workplace, whether you are a large corporate or small business.
Plan the Meeting Format
Preparation for an appraisal meeting is vital – ‘winging it’ will not work. The performance review doesn’t start when you enter the meeting room on the day – planning is crucial if you want to ensure opportunities for improvement and feedback are not missed, and that you are delivering encouragement to your individual team members.
Bullet the main points you want to make with your employee. For both developmental and positive comments, make sure you have as many behavioural examples as possible – these will help your employee understand and act on the feedback you provide.
Plan what you want to say at the performance review. That includes goal setting, so it’s clear what is expected of your employee. Without a written agreement and a shared understanding of goals, success is unlikely (more on sharing goals later in this article).
Think about how you will evaluate your employees‘ performance.
- Will it be related to achieving specific objectives?
- Will you also utilise a competency framework?
- Does your review include an employee self-evaluation?
On this final point, remember appraisals are a two-way thing, and from day one, your employees should be encouraged to bring along their assessment and review of their performance too.
Once you have the initial pointers for the conversation, it’s time to gather feedback.
It’s crucial to make sure feedback is behavioural and specific; it’s not helpful to the employee to be told they are a ‘great innovator’.
Give them examples. For instance, you might say, “I think you’re a great innovator. Those creative ideas you came up with for increasing sales at the last quarterly meeting resulted in a 5% growth in new business!”
Depending on the size of the organisation and the sector, some companies employ a 360-degree format for feedback, where an employee‘s immediate manager, co-workers and any reporting staff are asked to provide feedback on performance and behaviours to give a more rounded view of the individual.
Sharing the results of this type of feedback in advance of the appraisal meeting allows the employee think about the comments before the review, helping reduce any potential emotional reaction at the review itself, and enables a rational and positive discussion.
Accentuate the Positives
It’s wise to remember that the median cost of employee turnover is 21 per cent of their annual salary, so employee morale is something every leader should consider adding to their agenda.
While the review needs to address any problem areas, concentrating too much on development areas will result in a drop-in employee morale that could lead to disengagement, affecting productivity and, ultimately, loyalty to the organisation.
So, spending time on the positives is crucial during the review. Positive feedback should encourage development and focus on growing performance: employees who feel appreciated and encouraged will be more motivated.
Though don’t neglect areas for improvement and be direct. Avoiding the discussion or being vague will imply the situation isn’t serious or could even leave the underperforming employee in the dark to the fact that there’s a problem at all.
Make it a Conversation
Focusing on encouragement and acknowledgement of a job well done, alongside advice for development areas, will enable a conversation to take place where both leader and team member feel empowered to make a positive change.
You want your team to be motivated and excited by their ability to grow, learn, develop and contribute to the overall success of the organisation. Therefore, aim for a two-way discussion, framing your questions to gauge how the employee feels about their work.
These could include questions such as:
- How can I provide better leadership to you?
- What are your goals in your current role, and beyond?
- What support can I offer you to help you reach your goals?
- What training and education can I provide to aid your professional development?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s essential to make the performance review a conversation about shared goals so that you can understand your employee’s career aspirations.
Establishing goals that address the company’s needs as well as supporting the individual on their career path will result in an engaged and motivated employee, who feels invested in by the organisation and is therefore likely to achieve more.
Trusted leaders will improve individual performance and achieve positive outcomes. By engaging reflective listening, you will encourage development and inhibit resistance. This will also prevent individuals from becoming defensive or making excuses for behaviour and will promote acceptance and reflection on the feedback you provide.
Having regular conversations about performance and development needs with your team will change the focus of reviews, helping develop individuals and build the workforce you need to remain competitive both today and in the future.
The more you encourage this type of listening and feedback; the more your team will improve.
Keep these strategies in your leadership toolkit to help improve your team relationships, encourage individuals to grow and contribute, engage with everyone in the bigger goals and enhance overall relationships to boost organisational culture and aspirations.
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