Performance reviews: How to stop sweating the process

It’s summertime. The sun is bright and school is out, but formal performance review time will be here faster than you can say “watermelon snow cone.”

If you haven’t thought about employee appraisals in a while, don’t worry. It’s not too late to get back on track, but the clock is ticking. Here are some ways to make the performance assessment process work for you instead of the other way around.

Use your time wisely

Performance reviews are an ongoing process in which managers and employees regularly communicate the following:

  • What the employee is expected to do in their job role
  • Whether the employee is meeting those expectations
  • Measures the employee can take to improve

Easy enough, right? Then why do the hallways echo with groaning discontent when performance appraisal time rolls around? It’s because most people are playing catch-up.

For a lot of managers, it’s incredibly difficult to find the time to regularly appraise their direct reports. Just remember that putting it off turns your job into a reactionary one. If you keep up with employee performance by regularly checking in with your staff, you’ll spend less time putting out fires.

Heed the warning signs and confront any issues head-on to keep damage control as minimal as possible.

Avoid these five pitfalls

Performance assessments have a dicey reputation for several reasons, but many are directly related to how management handles the review process. Steer clear of these less-than-stellar tactics, and your employees won’t start shaking with fear when it’s time for their appraisal.

You talk, they listen
Assessments require two-way communication, so don’t preach the whole time. Gathering employee feedback is a crucial part of the review. Moreover, having employees complete a self-review as part of the process helps identify differences that may require further discussion.

The bad, the bad and the ugly
Don’t focus solely on the negatives or let one or two shortcomings color the entire appraisal. Reinforce good work habits while making recommendations that foster improvement.

Mad dash to the finish line
As stated earlier, reviews are supposed to be ongoing. Waiting until the year is almost over to get started means you’ve missed many opportunities to encourage improvement. Help your employees set milestones for the year, and check in regularly to see if they’re being met. That means fewer (or no) surprises come review time.

Blame game
Criticizing employees for things that are out of their control can do more harm than good and doesn’t ultimately resolve the issue. Evaluate shortcomings to determine their cause, and attack the root of the problem.

Temporary effect
Have an agreed upon plan for what you want the employee to work on next, and be sure to follow up on it. As one review cycle ends, the next begins, leaving little time for a “honeymoon.”

Start strong, stay strong

Effective performance reviews begin with everybody being aware of – and, more importantly, understanding – everybody else’s expectations.

A new employee might get a taste of these standards when they read the job description, but managers must help them create and refine individual goals. This provides a personal touch, makes the goals more meaningful and keeps them in the employee’s line of sight.

New managers, on the other hand, are faced with the daunting task of learning about an entire group of people and how to best set them up for success. Asking questions, jotting down notes and taking the time to learn everyone’s strengths and weaknesses will have a huge impact on the success of those initial appraisals.

When it comes to formal performance reviews, document important performance-related events, stick to the timeline, be comprehensive, and end with a one-on-one interview that successfully concludes the appraisal cycle.

And finally, master whatever system your company uses for its employee assessments. If you aren’t in control of the process, it’ll fall apart around you – faster than you can say “volleyball barbecue.”

Many companies are turning to continuous performance management, also known as continuous improvement processes, to build morale and improve productivity.  Read our blog, Continuous Performance Management: A Better Method, to find out more.

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