Five Steps to Dismantling the Conventional Performance Review

At some point in our working lives, we’ve all been on one side or the other of an uncomfortable performance review. The meeting tends to be riddled with stress and ridicule and more often than not nothing productive comes from it. However, as a manager or supervisor, it falls on you to conduct these reviews at least once a year. The ideal performance review is meant to increase communication and put the employee on the right path to improving their potential in the workplace. They should be civil, informative, energizing, positive, and constructive, but the conventional review isn’t designed to work like that. The standard performance review usually ends up putting the employee on the defensive while the supervisor lists everything they’re doing wrong. Today, we’re going to dismantle this outdated review and discuss five steps you can take to improve your performance reviews and, in turn, the performance within your department.

Step 1: Conduct them Frequently and Regularly

It’s the annual review that employees dread the most. They have it on their calendar months in advance, and yet it always manages to sneak up on them. Because it’s been 52 weeks since the last meeting, there is a lot to cover and the meeting can drag on and become quite unorganized. HR professionals these days say your reviews should take place at least twice a year, with informal meetups dispersed between those. Your biannual reviews should be a little more structured, but the meetings that fall in between should be casual and enjoyable. Take the employee out for coffee or discuss their performance over a game of chess. Anything you can do to create a relaxing atmosphere will break down the barriers of boss-to-employee well eliminate the tension that comes along with a formal structure.

By only holding your performance reviews once a year, it is impossible to put in motion any course of action to adjust the employee's performance. Without consistent follow-up, there’s no way to monitor whether the employee is staying on track with the plan that you agreed upon. Not only is the employee more likely to follow through with this plan when the know they’re only a few weeks out from their next review, but you’ll also be aware of those employees that don’t improve their performance at a much earlier note. Frequent reviews will keep the employee and manager in tune with the other’s expectations and keep the employee on track to hitting their goals.

Step 2: Keep them Brief

With the increase in the number of reviews you’re holding, you can feel comfortable keeping them on the shorter end. With a little planning and preparing on both ends, you can keep those informal meetings to fifteen minutes or so and the biannual meetings to around thirty minutes. The employee should have an idea about what’s going to be covered so they can prepare, and you can even consider giving them a worksheet to fill out ahead of time. One effective method is to have a list of attributes pertinent to the job that the employee would rate themselves on. Then, during your meeting, you can go over each question and discuss why your employee rated themselves where they were and where you think they fall. This is more effective than doing it the other way around (where the employer rates the employee) because it puts the ball in the employee’s court and lets you get an idea about how they see themselves without putting them on the defensive right off the bat.

Step 3: Keep them Light Hearted

In furthering our attempt to dismantle the standard performance review, it’s important to emphasize again the need to keep your meetings light-hearted and constructive. Of course, this can be difficult when the employee is failing to stay on course, so it’s important you don’t mistake “light-hearted” for “no criticism allowed.’ There will be times that you will have to offer constructive criticism and even put disciplinary measures in place. However, so long as you have a positive relationship with your employees this shouldn’t be difficult. Likely they will be expecting it since it’s only been a few months since their last review, so that can take some pressure off of you. Explain to them how they have failed to enact the game plan you put in place at your previous review and even go so far as to ask if they believe the punishment is fair. Perhaps the previous plan was too difficult for them to stick to and needs to be tweaked a little. By showing that you’re willing to hear their side of the story, not only will they feel more respected but they’ll also dread these reviews just a little less.

Step 4: Provide Positive and Negative Feedback

Performance reviews need to have a good balance of criticism and praise. There’s a good middle ground there that you should aim for, though keep in mind that the ratio of each is going to vary from employee to employee. For some employees, you might have to get pretty nit-picky in order to find areas where they can improve upon, while others you probably won’t have to think twice about. Both kinds of employees deserve the opportunity to grow and improve. Sandwiching your critiques between two compliments is a common method of delivering negative feedback, but at the end of the day, it’s all for nothing if it doesn’t sound authentic. Praise that is blatantly given just to not make somebody feel bad is incredibly demoralizing, and being showered with compliments when you’re looking for honest feedback isn’t terribly constructive.

Step 5: Avoid Correlating Reviews with Pay Raises

This one may come as kind of a shock for some of you. With your standard annual performance review, the employee comes in, stoically receives criticism and then presents why they believe they should get a pay increase. The focus then turns to money and financial incentives and doesn’t allow for any personal growth. While you should certainly evaluate your employees’ salaries regularly, this should occur at a different time from your performance review. Then you can base the salary increase on what you’ve learned from your performance reviews.

Performance reviews can open up all kinds of opportunities for managers and employees alike. That’s why you have to make the most out of them. Now go out there and use them as an extension of your culture to enhance company transparency and energize your workforce!