Global Leadership Blog

Performance Reviews, Ugh

Does the task “prepare performance reviews” keep falling to the bottom of your “to-do” list? The responsibility of providing feedback to direct reports often finds itself relegated to the “have to’s” of our work lives instead of the “want to’s.” I firmly believe that performance reviews can be beneficial to you as a manager, to your direct reports, and to your organization, when done right.

Doing performance reviews right, though, takes deliberate effort and planning.

Some organizations, such as Adobe, have transitioned to year-round coaching-based approaches, 360 degree evaluation processes, or real-time status communication software like 15Five.

If your organization still requires traditional performance reviews, make them assets by:

Incorporating Clear Objectives

As much as companies try to create systems and scales to quantify performance and therefore be able to give a rating, both parties often walk away from the evaluation process feeling vague at best and demoralized at worst.

Your direct report should be well versed on the content of their objectives long before your performance review meeting. If the objectives are not SMART, it may be time to go back to the drawing board in order to collaborate on objectives that your employee is enthusiastic about (and that help your business be profitable).

Preparing Your Delivery

The work of a performance review happens long before you are sitting across from one another. In addition to designing the objectives and tracking the progress, you need to be prepared to deliver the review in a way that encourages. This can be a challenge since many people associate performance reviews with negative possibilities and go into the meeting on the defensive.

Preventing Surprises

Have you been having conversations along the way? Touching base for check-ins frequently? There should not be any huge “surprise” moments in a performance review.

Shifting the Focus from Numbers to the Reasons Behind Those Numbers

While a specific set of objectives is part of an effective performance review system, your ability to extend the conversation to the reasons for progress (or lack thereof) is going to make an impact on the usefulness of the session.

Seeing the Big Picture

The performance review can be integral to helping your employee design their career plan. Who is in a better position to help them understand the strength they have to bring to a new position, the weaknesses they need to work on, and the additional networking they need to do than someone who has intimate knowledge of their work product (i.e., YOU). If your organization is truly forward-thinking, they will make career goal-setting a part of every performance review.

Recognizing the Legality of the Performance Review Document

Although many organizations have loosened their performance review procedures, the performance review document is still a legal document. Although many performance reviews end up filed away and do not see the light of day again, keep in mind that they are a permanent record. Mark Grove, Human Resources Consultant, emphasizes the potential role of performance reviews in legal proceedings. They can be called up on to document goals achieved or not achieved, promises of training kept or not kept, and other employee feedback relevant to an individual’s record.

Despite the current break some organizations are making away from “traditional” performance reviews, the bulk of organizations still require some form of a traditional process. I choose to frame them as a positive part of organizational life. When done well, they can encourage, develop, and inform.

In her article, Banish ‘Annual’ From Your Performance Review Vocabulary, Beth Miller writes, “Your organization’s approach to performance reviews should not be a carbon copy of any other company’s.”

How can you create a performance review system that is unique to your organization yet consistent with these reliable principles?

I work directly with organizations to improve their performance review processes. Visit my website at Lamson Consulting for more information.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson


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