Employee performance reviews should be like visiting the dentist. Everyone needs their oral health checked every six months or so. Unless special treatment is required, it should only be a 15-minute visit.
Communicating with your employees will help maximize retention, promote productivity and improve morale, yet we fail to do it regularly.
The longer between reviews, the harder evaluations become. If we do performance reviews annually, it is a confrontation that is dreaded by employee and employer alike.
It is not the concept, it is the execution.
However, employee performance reviews are a fantastic tool, if they are used correctly. In this post I explore some best practices and provide a simple framework to conduct an effective performance review.
Best Practice for Performance Reviews
Running effective performance reviews is a matter of selecting the right frequency, keeping documentation, listening and coaching and then setting clear goals and actions. Here’s how you should be thinking about them.
Choose the Right Frequency
Conduct evaluations every 3-6 months, not annually. Think of them like the dentist, the longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes.
Four 10-minute evaluations a year are far more effective than an one 40-minute annual appraisal.
Keep Detailed Documentation
Keep good records so you do not have to remember what you discussed the last time. You may conduct 50 evaluations, but for the staff member, it is only one and employees always remember every detail of their last performance review.
Make sure you don’t start on the wrong footing by keeping detailed notes of all employee performance reviews.
Make Sure to Actively Listen
If you have ten minutes for an evaluation, spend the first four minutes allowing the employee to evaluate their own performance.
People can be pretty tough on themselves and it is better to have employees beat themselves up on their work rather than you having to do it.
While your employee is speaking, listen. Really listen. Listen to what they are saying and how they feel about it.
Act Like a Coach
Spend the next four minutes on your observations of their performance and any areas you would like to see improved. Be fair. Focus on performance, not personality. Remember to praise any performance improvements that occurred since the last evaluation.
Everyone wants to do a good job and no one argues with a boss who really wants to help them succeed. In performance reviews, you are their coach.
Set Clear Goals
Wrap up the evaluation by mutually agreeing on goals that are specific and attainable. Agree how you will measure progress and success. End the evaluation on a positive, supportive note.
How to Conduct Effective Performance Reviews
The agenda for my recommended performance review is simple, yet there is power in the simplicity. It focuses on reflections and outcomes and is flexible enough to have with any employee in any industry.
Here’s my suggested agenda:
- What you did well
- What you can do better
- Goals and actions
If possible, get a third party to help facilitate the meeting. By creating a safer environment for your employees, this will encourage greater participation and uncover more insights.
Then it’s down to five simple steps:
Step 1: Set the stage
Get yourself in the right mind, remember:
- Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally.
- Listen with an open mind.
- Everyone’s perspective is valid.
- Set the time period you’re discussing (last month, last quarter, year, etc.)
- Focus on improvement, rather than placing blame.
If you’ve run a review previously, quickly revisit the themes and actions from last time to build a sense of continuity.
Step 2: What you did well
Run through what your team member did well and their key strengths. Discuss each item or strength briefly with your team member so they more deeply understand what’s important and why.
Step 3: What you can do better
Have your team member discuss what they think can be improved. Then share your thoughts. For each item, explain why you feel like this is an area of improvement and the impact it has on the business. This will allow your employee to place the point in context of why it matters. Discuss each item in more detail with your team member until you’re confident it is agreed.
Step 4: Goals and actions
Have some ideas ready but then also brainstorm actions that can be taken to improve problem areas. Giving ownership of the ideas and solutions to your employee will increase their level of buy-in.
Step 5: Record the discussion
As noted previously in the best practices, it is very important to document the meeting so you can review the notes before the next performance evaluation. A simple word document with dot-points documenting strengths, areas of improvement and actions will suffice.
Why bother with the reviews? Without direction, guidance, support, challenge and feedback, people – like cars – will burn out and break down.
Performance reviews are a simple tool you can add to your management arsenal to lift retention, productivity and morale. All you need to do is take the time and care to do them the right way.
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