Improve Performance Review Process

Delivering performance reviews can create a lot of anxiety for many bosses. They tend to put off preparing for them because of the enormousness of the paperwork involved and their discomfort delivering them.

Sadly, reviews are often viewed by managers as a “necessary evil” instead of an opportunity to help staff grow, advance their careers and improve performance (and, therefore, the business.) Performance reviews can be an effective method for bosses to acknowledge and recognize performance and identify and resolve employee role confusion or performance expectation gaps.

Used strategically, they also offer senior leaders a method to identify potential companywide challenges and opportunities.

The success of any company’s performance review process is dependent on top-down sponsorship to ensure cascading support from middle man- agers on down. Middle managers need to understand what is expected of them in delivering reviews. This isn’t likely without senior-level prioritization, clarity of expectations and proper sponsorship.

I work with many senior leaders who espouse that performance reviews are “important” but then fail to set the example by delivering well-executed reviews to their direct reports.

Midlevel managers are unlikely to put much effort into delivering reviews to their people if their bosses either don’t bother delivering theirs or do them at the last minute on the fly.

The first person to deliver a review in the company should be the top leader. This allows senior leaders to model performance review “best practices” to their direct reports and establish strategic goals for the coming year (so these goals can then be implemented into the reviews down the line).

Unfortunately, many companies overburden their managers (many who have large numbers of direct reports to review) with outdated, complicated forms and review processes that require countless hours to complete. Some have literally created internal monsters.

Here are some suggestions for improving the review process.

  • Success starts at the top. Senior leaders need to be actively engaged in the process — establishing reviews as a priority and backing this by providing tools and resources (coaching and training) for managers to deliver them effectively. A key skill in delivering reviews is providing feedback that has the desired effect. Managers aren’t born with this skill — but it is a skill that can be learned.
  • Develop a review process that works for people (simple and consistent). The emphasis should be on the employee versus having to complete monstrous forms. Long, complex review forms with highly subjective criteria can lead to noncompliance and often can defeat the purpose. Collect feedback on the forms/process — ask your people how it works or doesn’t and their suggestions for improving it.
  • Best practice in many companies begins with the employee first submitting a written self-evaluation to the boss. This way the boss doesn’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper. He or she can then add, agree or disagree with the points in the employee’s self-assessment. The boss then “conducts” the actual review (which should be a two-way conversation), exploring and further clarifying areas of disagreement, confusion, gaps and developing the improvement plan.
  • Though reviews by nature tend to focus on the past, they should also include goal setting for the coming year. Top-level managers need to establish goals that get passed to the next level down. Set goals that are “doable,” relevant, measurable and specific — with “by whens” (a date in the future when this should be completed — otherwise there is no “commitment”). Employees should walk out of a review clear about what the “success bar” looks like for the coming year and what kind of support they will be given to achieve it.
  • After the review conversation, task the employee with creating a document that summarizes what was said (and agreed to) in the review. The boss then approves or signs off on the document, which brings the review process to a close. That approach can lessen the paperwork burden for bosses and provide a document to refer to for next year’s review (and coaching conversations along the way).
  • Don’t count on improvement without a plan or follow-up.

To increase buy-in and commitment, involve the employee in the creation of the plan. Then periodically check in with the employee to see how the plan is going throughout the year.