Performance reviews are meant to develop employees to the best of their potential and address problem behaviors in a way that is constructive and professional. But how do you handle a performance review that involves some news employees won’t necessarily welcome?
Change your perspective
Performance reviews can be a daunting managerial task, especially if you work for a company whose human resources department mandates many aspects of the process. But simply changing your perspective on the real purpose of a review can shift its entire feel—regardless of the feedback it entails.
Many managers view the performance review as a task to accomplish to keep HR off their back. The true intent of performance reviews is to improve performance, and if done effectively and honestly, the feedback probably won’t be 100% complimentary. However if we are evenhanded in our positive and ‘coaching for improvement feedback, and have an engaged relationship with the employee throughout the year, the conversation typically is valued and effective for both parties.
Don’t make this the main event
The formal annual review is often seen as a “finale” in that it announces annual merit increases and bonus compensation, but it shouldn’t be the one time in a year you discuss the employee’s performance, needs or challenges, and future goals. In fact, if any information in the performance review comes as a total shock to the employee, it signals a managerial need to have more frequent constructive, honest communications.
Your company may stipulate that you rank a certain percentage of employees as top performers, others as “meeting expectation,” and the remainder as “needing improvement,” but it’s important that you be accountable for the category you place the employee in, providing factual and detailed accounts that support your rationale. Blaming the “system” as the reason an employee was ranked in a certain category, and as a result, may or may not receive a bonus or merit increase, will quickly devalue the feedback in the report, positive or negative.
As Brad Federman, chief operating officer of F&H Solutions Group, which specializes in performance and culture improvements for companies, reminds, the performance review process is personal, despite the bureaucracy that may lie beneath. “Don’t make it about the form; they are guides used for documentation. Reviews are sensitive because they impact compensation, and that is personal. This is a time to connect with your employee.”
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Choose your delivery carefully
Ensure that you choose “non-threatening” language (avoiding “you” or “them”), and sandwich your feedback in a way that presents one piece of positive feedback, followed by a negative (or two)—but always ends on a positive. If the employee will get a raise or bonus, for example, end the review delivering that good news.
Lisa Sansom, positive interventionist at LVS Consulting, says that in addition to being sensitive with delivery, the key to a positive performance review is to focus largely on what’s working, limiting the focus for improvement to just one or two things. “It’s also about creating positive action plans that learn from the past, but don’t dwell on it. Consider what strengths the employee brings to the position, what positive actions can be implemented to move forward, and build in small wins along the way. Progress motivates.”
Query the employee
Failing to inquire how your employee’s current role syncs with his or her longer-term goals as part of the review negatively positions it as a one-sided conversation. Allow for time in the review to invite and discuss the employee’s thoughts and how he or she feels about the job, the company, the culture, the team and his or her relationship with you. Discuss ways in which you can further support the employee’s career development to formulate a plan for improving negative aspects of the review, and to help the employee build the skills needed to reach the next desired level of his or her career.