Do you dread the annual performance review process? Don’t worry, you’re not alone; managers and employees both get anxious about performance reviews for many reasons. Managers are often scared of the employee’s reaction to constructive feedback and suggestions, and often the employee is afraid of hearing it. When performance is less than stellar, there’s also the worry that talking about it might lower morale, decrease engagement and eventually make that employee’s performance even worse. From the employee’s perspective, performance reviews can seem like the annual revisiting of everything they’re doing wrong. Not surprisingly, folks tend to take their performance reviews very personally, and that can dredge up all kinds of feelings surrounding the process.
It’s not all bad news, though. The investment of time and energy in the performance review process is worth it. When done right, performance reviews can actually increase engagement, streamline professional development and succession planning efforts, and improve overall business results.
The key is to create a system that does three important things:
1. Sets expectations. We hear all the time that there’s a disconnect between what managers think they’re communicating and what employees are hearing. The result? Managers think they’re saying something over and over, and the employee still isn’t actually hearing what is expected of them. To be effective, your performance review process needs to create clarity around expectations, and empower the employee to succeed.
2. Builds on in-the-moment feedback. Timely feedback is important, but it’s only part of the equation, and it’s not enough all on its own. Employees need overarching direction, big-picture context and reinforcement to do their jobs well, and the performance review process can effectively provide that. Make note throughout the year as you acknowledge important events in-the-moment, so you can revisit those moments during the performance review, and reinforce desired behaviour.
3. Gives them an opportunity to improve. In a perfect world, performance reviews would be a pleasant back-patting conversation recapping all the ways your employee is rocking it, and all of the exciting things they’ll be part of in the future. The reality is that not every employee is a top performer, and that means that performance reviews often involve discussions we’d all rather avoid. To keep the conversation productive and get the performance outcomes you want, avoid nailing them with things they’re doing terribly as soon as they walk through the door. Set the stage for a positive conversation and put them at ease. Then paint a picture of future desired behaviour and by setting tangible, specific goals and motivating them to improve, rather than fixating on where they’ve gone wrong in the past.
The takeaway? Gone are the days of numbered ranking systems and backwards-looking annual performance reviews. It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be a process that everyone dreads.
Your Engaged HR Assignment: This year, commit to using the tips above as your guide. Performance review process need a complete overhaul? A fresh perspective can make a big difference, and we’re more than happy to help make your performance reviews a forwards-focused, development-oriented process that creates clarity for both managers and employees.