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Top 5 Ways Managers Can Improve Performance Reviews

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by on
in HR Soapbox

Performance review meetings can bring anxiety to both sides of the desk. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right planning by supervisors, the meeting can be a productive, morale-boosting exchange.

If you’re a manager, here are five steps to help you conduct productive and stress-free reviews:

1. Keep a performance log for every employee 

How many times have you sat down to write a review and can only remember what the person has done the past few weeks. Or you allow only one single incident (good or bad) to color your assessment.

That’s why the best way to prepare for a review is to take notes throughout the year. To do that, keep a performance log for each employee. This can be as simple as notes on a piece of paper or on a Word document. A few key points about performance logs:

  • Include notes on both positive and negative work and behaviors.
  • Avoid making references to protected characteristics – like race, age or gender.
  • Don’t make assumptions about the reasons for a behavior or work habit – stick to facts.
  • Assume that the notes could someday be read in court, because they could.

2. Be aware of employee’s main concerns

Employees are understandably anxious before reviews. Here’s a list of some of the top questions they’ll have … and that you can plan ahead to manage:

  • Does the employee know the expectations he’ll be evaluated on? Were they explained in advance?
  • Will there be any surprises? (Have you been giving the employee feedback during the year?)
  • Will the evaluation be honest and unbiased?
  • Will the manager listen to what the employee says?
  • How does this review affect the employee’s pay?

By being prepared for employee’s questions and concerns, you’ll be better able to handle them.

3. On review day, create the right atmosphere

Your goal is to help the employee feel at ease. So hold the review in a private, neutral environment, such as a small conference room. You want a setting that supports discussion and cooperation – not confrontation. Sit next to your employee if possible—not across the desk or table.

Schedule the time in advance, with the employee’s input. Avoid meeting during a busy or stressful time for the employee. Don’t squeeze it in between meetings or before lunch. Finally, eliminate all interruptions and focus solely on the review.

4. Cite specific examples of good and bad work

Stay away from broad generalizations. Specifics will help point out exactly what the employee needs to improve on.  Specifics can also help your review stand up later in a legal dispute.

For example, don’t just tell an employee: “You don’t get your work done on time.”  Instead, say something like, “Over the past six months, you’ve submitted 6 of your 9 customer reports at least three days late.” 

Again, taking good notes in a performance log will help you present these specifics.

5. Remember the ABCs of giving feedback

A – Accurate. Offer objective, concrete examples, backed by your performance log notes. Avoid words like “always” and “never”; they’re exaggerations and don’t usually reflect realistic frequency.

B - Business-oriented. Focus on the business reasons for the corrective comments. Stay away from personality critiques. 

C- Consistent. Remember to provide regular feedback throughout the year.  Don’t dump it all on the employee at performance review time. Consistency is the key to improving performance.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jocelyn Aucoin October 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Or you could just get rid of the performance review! :) Amazing tech like WorkSimple allows for consistent feedback between manager and workers and workers and coworkers so there really isn’t a need for a performance review at all. Everyone is connected and aware of what everyone is doing. Transparency is key. Autonomy increases. Anxiety decreases. Productivity increases. This is NOT lip service. Sounds like it, I realize! People interested should check out http://www.getworksimple.com. For real.


Richard Mello October 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I really enjoyed reading your post, its somehow practical and this tips you shared would really help managers on how to conduct this employee performance reviews.At some point in time, we need to conduct this kind of review to determine if the employees are productive enough and if not what training or seminars that we need to undergo for them.


Wally Hauck October 13, 2012 at 7:18 am

I could write an article about “how to effectively drive a car that has two flat tires” but who would read it? Giving advice about how to conduct a meeting that is systemically flawed, like the typical performance appraisal, makes as much sense. The typical appraisal is inconsistent with systems thinking and therefore it will never work properly. The process itself must be completely re-designed including the removal of the rating of the employee regardless of what so called professional managers like Jack Welch says.


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