Performance Review Help

It’s that time of year again — time for the often-dreaded performance review.

Though we could easily debate the merits and imperfections in the review process of many companies, we will instead focus on how managers can better prepare to deliver an effective review.

Most managers want their people to come away from a review feeling acknowledged for what they do well, supported, engaged, motivated and clear about what is expected of them in terms of goals and future performance. Performance reviews are a critical and challenging task for any manager, and delivering them well requires considerable time and preparation.

When delivered well, performance reviews can drive improved business results for the organization and be powerful and motivating experiences for employees. Yet at the hand of the unskilled, those on the receiving end can feel like they’ve been run over by a truck. Poorly delivered reviews can result in demoralized, unmotivated or disgruntled employees — something most companies can ill afford.

In my coaching practice, clients often use me to help them prepare for a performance review (either as the one delivering the review or receiving it). Here are some typical complaints I hear from frustrated employees following their review (and how to avoid them):

“My review was totally subjective.” Stick with the facts; subjective comments lead to arguments.

“My boss couldn’t give me any examples.” Clarify the specific situation in which the behavior occurred to back up what you assert in the review.

“The feedback I got was vague.” Avoid generalizations or clichés, like, “You have common sense,” or “are a good leader.” Make clear the behavior you either want continued or changed.

“I was totally taken off guard.” Performance reviews shouldn’t be a surprise; managers should be providing ongoing and continuous performance feedback.

In my experience, most employees really do want to know how they are doing in their boss’s eyes, and want to understand how they can improve if they aren’t meeting expectations or what they need to demonstrate to be promoted. Unfortunately, many managers are simply unskilled and lack training in delivering this information.

Here are a few coaching tips to help you prepare for delivering a review:

  • Before conducting a review, get clear about your objectives. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to recognize and motivate a strong contributor? Retain a “star”? Put a poor performer on notice? Help a new or young employee map out her future with the company? Clarify the employee’s role and/or your expectations? Your objectives should drive how you deliver the review and your focus.
  • Take the time necessary to prepare well (employees can tell when you have), and identify examples to share with the employee to help him understand your feedback. Consider how you will deliver the kind of feedback that will motivate the employee for any desired behavior change.
  • Schedule smartly to avoid low energy, for you and the employee. Reviews in general can be draining experiences. Avoid scheduling them back to back (or last thing in the day when most people’s energy is low). Allow sufficient time for a meaningful, two-way conversation.
  • Consider the emotional component. Identify your own emotions around delivering the review. How you manage your own emotions during the review is important (particularly if you are highly anxious). Anticipate the emotions of the person you will be reviewing. How might you respond if you were hearing this?
  • Review last year’s goals. Remember, it’s an “annual” review, not a review of just the past few weeks.
  • Choose your words carefully when you are describing the employee. Use language that specifies behaviors or observable actions vs. generalizations and/or inferences such as “not professional.” Define what you mean.
  • Look ahead to goal setting for the coming year, whether or not your company’s review process encourages this.
  • For loaded situations, get help (either a professional coach or your HR professional). Even the most capable manager can benefit from expert help in delivering bad news and preparing for anticipated rebuttals or resistance. Having an outside perspective or someone to role play with you can help you better prepare for how the employee may respond or react.

I offer coaching help to leaders anywhere in the world preparing for reviews. or 360 682 5807.

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.

Better Performance Reviews

The annual management task of delivering performance reviews. More than 70 million Americans go through this annual ritual, yet dread both giving and receiving them.

“Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams claims that the annual performance review is “one of the most frightening and degrading experiences in every employee’s life.” The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some “dos”:

  1. Set the stage for a two-way conversation. Relieve tension and facilitate dialogue by communicating upfront your review process agenda. Let employees know they have input.
  2. Start by letting employees assess themselves. What are they most proud of, and what do they consider areas for development?
  3. Seize the opportunity to acknowledge what you like and appreciate about how the employee performs.
  4. Identify what success looks like for the coming year, given company objectives, etc. Create an employee development plan with specific goals and tasks.
  5. Focus on the employee. Be truly present. Listen and make a genuine attempt to understand concerns and any feedback (yes, you should ask).
  6. Talk about their strengths and challenge areas. Deliver the negative (avoid sugarcoating) but make sure the employee knows what he or she can do about it.

On the other side, don’t:

  1. Talk too much. Reviews should be interactive. Don’t let whatever “form” you use dictate your process; it’s not about the form. If you are doing all the talking, you’ve probably lost them. (You’ll know when their eyes glaze over!)
  2. Make it personal. Stick to behavior specifics.
  3. Offer challenging feedback using generalizations. Many clients tell me they are told during their reviews that they need to improve areas such as “communication.” Most people have no idea what this means. Identify how you and the employee will know if he or she meets your expectations for improvement.
  4. Make assumptions about how the employee is receiving the feedback. Emotionally charged situations often foster misunderstanding. Probe for understanding and reactions, including confirmation of critical elements of the review.
  5. Avoid the negatives. We all have room for improvement. Even the most talented individuals want to know how they can reach the next level. Refusing to identify issues, challenge for improvement or hold the individual accountable does not foster growth. When you avoid giving tough, direct feedback, you aren’t doing them (or you, or the business) any favors.
  6. Hammer on negatives. Don’t shred personal self-esteem by telling them every negative thing you’ve ever noticed. Reinforce that it is behaviors and actions you want changed, and that you have confidence in the person you are challenging.

As a professional coach, I am often brought into situations requiring review and expertise with “challenging” personnel and difficult workplace relationships. Most leaders who find themselves stuck in these situations want options and practical help with how to review and coach frequently outstanding individuals that will support positive behavioral change.

Here are just a few scenarios that may require special help:

  • Reviewing the individual with great technical skills but who lacks the interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence to do the job effectively. The first challenge is how to acknowledge the value of the employee’s contribution while increasing his or her self-awareness of emotional and interpersonal patterns and their impact. The next challenge is coaching and/or training the employee to develop new behaviors.
  • Leaders from organizations in the midst of major “cultural” change often struggle with how to set and manage expectations around the change. The challenge here is developing expected performance standards with a highly defined process for regular feedback and measurement.

An organization’s most valuable resource is its people. The best leaders understand that personnel require both acknowledgment and challenge — and that skillfully developed and delivered performance reviews can be a highly effective management tool in today’s workplace.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: