5 tips to perfecting performance reviews

Performance review process doesn't need to be painful
By Jacques Gaumond
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/25/2008

Love them or hate them, regular performance reviews are an integral part of an effective talent management strategy. While most managers dread doling out constructive feedback, most employees dread hearing it even more. This can lead to feelings of nervousness and discomfort every time the words “performance review” are uttered.

However, avoiding the process is not an option, as the failure to perform regular performance reviews has been shown to cause lower employee morale and increased turnover. Since employees are the most valuable asset in any organization, it is important employers treat them well and provide ample feedback, both positive and negative.

Performance reviews help ensure employees know where they stand within the organization and help them set goals for themselves for the next work period. They also help managers identify areas of weakness, which they can work to resolve through focused training programs, and areas of strength, which employees can further develop to advance their career.

The review process doesn’t need to be painful. Here are a few tips and techniques that every manager should follow to help make the performance review period more effective:

Don’t wait until the review to give feedback

Regular performance reviews provide a great opportunity to shower employees with praise or point out areas that need improvement. However, they should never be used as the only time to give formal feedback. While annual reviews tend to be the norm, semi-annual reviews are most ideal.

Aside from semi-annual reviews, informal feedback should be continuous, happening whenever a result or an observation is done, whether it is a major accomplishment or a situation in which an employee did not meet expectations. The most effective managers engage in ongoing and constructive communication with their staff, boosting employee confidence and allowing employees to improve on problem areas immediately.

Measure employees against attainable and measurable criteria

While setting performance criteria and objectives, it is crucial to ensure the criteria are measurable and the objectives are attainable. Carefully setting these objectives will help in accurately measuring employee performance, plus nothing can be more discouraging for employees than being measured against unrealistic expectations.

Encourage employees to assess their own performance

For employees to get the most out of their reviews, it is important for them to also look inward and assess their own performance. While managers have been put in place to oversee the company’s operations, the employees are ultimately in control of their own careers and should be encouraged to be introspective of their performance on a regular basis. It can be helpful to have employees fill out their own performance reviews throughout the year, providing concrete examples for each criterion. When review time comes, this will make it easier for managers to conduct an individual assessment and also help the employee to understand where management is coming from in the evaluation.

In addition, the active participation of an employee in the review assessment process will provide management insight into an employee’s specific goals and development needs. Encouraging employees to identify their needs will create a unique opportunity for an employee to set a path for success within the company and promote a sense of belonging.

Provide examples of employee strengths and weaknesses

Most organizations have established a rating system to aid managers in the performance review process. However, complementary examples are often required as a much more effective and useful tool in providing feedback for employees.

Employees find it most helpful to have their ratings put into context through the use of concrete examples showing when their performance was above or below expectations. Since the most effective time for feedback is immediately after a situation, it is best to use recent examples still fresh in the employee’s mind.

Offer development programs to improve performance and set goals

One of the greatest benefits of the performance review process is it allows managers and employees to identify key areas of weakness and strength, which creates the opportunity for improvement and further development. It’s also a great moment to enquire about and discuss career aspirations. Managers should not only identify those areas and provide examples, but work with the employee to create a personal development plan, which should include training and development programs that reinforce strengths, address areas of weakness and develop talent.

In the end, this will help motivate employees, help the business achieve its goals, and help to build a stronger team going forward.

It’s important to make reviews less stressful situations by keeping them consistent. If you do this there will be fewer unpleasant surprises and the meetings will likely run more smoothly. Performance reviews are a good vehicle to keep the lines of communication open and understand the future development needs of individual employees. However, through regular, frequent communication with employees, managers build the true value of the evaluation at the end of the year.

Jacques Gaumond is vice-president of sales and marketing at Technomedia Training, a Montreal-based provider of web-based talent management and development solutions. For more information, visit www.technomedia.ca.

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