Five Ways to Make Performance Reviews Bearable and Valuable

As we near the end of the year, forget the turkeys and trees. It's performance evaluation time. From startups to Fortune 500 companies, we all crave feedback. It's the rare (and unfortunate) professional who doesn't care how s/he performs. For the most part, we all want to know: "what can we do better?"

Yet, we dread this time of year. Evaluations take time, energy and always seem to sink to the bottom of the to do list until we get those threatening "now or never" emails from HR. So here are five ways to make it worth your while (and theirs!).

1) Start with a S/O matrix
For each employee you have to review, start with a simple strengths and opportunities matrix. Create a four block and with stream of consciousness writing, quickly bullet point that employee's strengths and opportunities with specific examples of each. And if you can't come up with a specific example, don't include the strength or opportunity!  This helps jumpstart start the process and ensures you're evaluating that employee on actual work rather than just past predjudice.

2) Stay away from personal judgments
Many managers don't think about the affect of what they write--especially when it comes to being both fair and legal. If you're frustrated that an employee's work has suffered based on his/her schedule, refer specifically to how limited hours in the office has hurt project progress rather than judgments like "now that you are a parent, you're spending less time in the office."

3) Use email search functionality
It may sound silly, but across the past year, you probably have received numerous emails thanking or recognizing your team members. Do a quick search of your email using search terms including the employee's name and "thank you," "congratulations," or "appreciated." Better yet, start next year with an email folder you can file these in when they arrive and when review time comes, you can can can can tap into the folder.

4) Ask for lessons
Most companies don't teach managers how to conduct great reviews on a formal basis. So ask for help! If you're a newer or first time manager, ask more seasoned managers what they've learned over the years. Your HR business partner, or HR professional can also provide tips on what kind of feedback is most valuable to your team members, what's appropriate and what's fair.

5) Separate the good and bad
It's really easy to use conjunctions in performance reviews: "John is a really good communicator BUT he..." However, sentences like this make it hard to understand the difference between what an employee does well and where they can improve. So separate the strengths from opportunities.  For example:

  • Strength: John is known as a strong communicator in the office. He keeps everyone up to date on project successes and issues especially on the Sampson project.
  • Opportunity: John's communications are often long and include more detail than necessary meaning that they often don't get read.
  • Example: His weekly project update emails would be more effective if they were one paragraph long with links to key resources on our shared drive.

Reviews are a big deal: when someone relies on you to be a better person, you have to come through. And that's what performance reviews are--a chance to help someone be a better person. Don't shirk on what might be your most important role are year.

Readers: what are your favorite performance review tips?

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps  companies build cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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