Delivering Effective Employee Reviews

December 6, 2012

Q. As a new manager, what are some tips for giving effective annual performance reviews?

Ah, the dreaded annual performance review. I don’t know which is worse — being on the receiving or the giving end. In either case, I’ve heard more horror stories about bad reviews than I can count. 

They usually have a sad, but similar theme. If one were to advertise the position, then it might read something like this: Inexperienced manager with passive-aggressive tendencies sought to give nebulous feedback without any specific call to action or definitive follow-up.

A bad performance review can be one of the most frustrating experiences for today’s employee. So, what exactly can you do to improve your skill set in this area? Let’s start with preparation.

An annual performance review shouldn’t be an assignment that sneaks up on you. Rather, it’s something that you should be preparing for all year.

So start from the beginning. Make sure that you sit down with your subordinate at the onset of the year and clearly lay out your expectations and set reasonable goals.  What do you want them to accomplish in the coming year? What skill sets do you want them to develop or improve? What will success look like and how will it be measured?

Once that’s finished, you both have something to work from. Keep notes on your employee and chat with him or her each quarter to ensure that those goals and expectations remain on target.

By the time you get to the annual review, much of the work will already be completed.

Focus on job performance

One of the things that I used to resent when I sat on the other side of the desk were pro-forma or off-the-shelf performance reviews. You know the kind — grade your subordinate on a scale of one through five on a bunch of factors that don’t have anything to do with clearly defined objectives, such as showing up to work on time.

Frankly, performance reviews should be tailored to an individual’s unique job responsibilities. You may not care if your staff arrives to work at a certain time each day as long as they’re getting the results you want them to achieve.

Use criticism as a tool aimed at scoring better performance.  Too often, the annual review becomes an opportunity to tell someone what you don’t like about them as an individual. Keep it focused on job performance. 

And, when you do criticize someone’s performance, you need to be specific. Where did they go wrong and how did it impact the work product? How can they improve? More important, how are you going to help them? If you’re going to tell someone that they’re not doing something correctly, then you need to offer them both training and encouragement to improve.

Finally, be willing to take a look at yourself.  Ask your subordinate what you, as his or her manager, could be doing to help them accomplish goals and be a standout employee.

Remember, if you let employees know that you truly want to see them succeed, then chances are, they will.

Ann Willets
Ann Willets is president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc., an ethically focused PR agency. She was the 2010 chair of the Counselors Academy.


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