Rise Above the Annual Performance Review (part 2 of 2)

By Tom Davidson

Make your annual review conversations productive and helpful rather than the painful nuisance that they are for so many managers. Here are some tips how: 

Whether or not your annual performance review period is fast approaching, as it is for many managers this time of year, it’s always a good time to visit the key factors that make it possible to rise above the form.

By rise above the form, I mean that the conversation is not about the form but about helping the individual stay on track to success. We want to make our annual review conversations productive and helpful rather than the painful nuisance that they are for so many managers.

To rise above the form, I recommend these three things no matter what your corporate form says or how it’s laid out:

1. Cover the how, not just the what (see last blog post)
2. Make sure there are no surprises
3. Gather the employee’s perspective before the meeting

We covered the first of these in yesterday’s blog, so let’s take a look at the other two today.

2. Make sure there are no surprises
Performance reviews can be hard enough without unnecessary confrontation and hard feelings. If you want to avoid problems like these, make sure there are no surprises on the day of the discussion and decision. Specifically, there should never be any surprises about (a) exactly what is expected in the time period being evaluated and (b) how the employee is doing as the year goes along.

If you haven’t had periodic discussions (formal or informal) between annual reviews, you’re just asking for trouble. If you do have these conversations, then be sure they are documented so you can refer to them if necessary.

Formal interim reviews and occasional informal checkpoints keep everyone on the same page in a fair manner and give the employee the needed opportunities to adjust their behaviors and results along they way. Much like keeping your automobile out of the ditch, these conversations help the associate stay on the road to success, which is what everybody wants anyway!

3. Gather the employee’s perspectives before the meeting
Just as you don’t want the employee to be hit with any unnecessary surprises during the annual performance review meeting, neither do you want to be hit with any!

This is one reason to collect the associate’s opinions and evidence of performance that you might have missed (or forgotten about) from the year or other time period you are evaluating. You want to give them all the credit you can and give them every opportunity to be treated fairly. You don’t want to be embarrassed by forgetting something important, because your decision is likely to be final or very nearly final at the time of the performance review meeting.

Remember that your job is to compare performance to expectations and make a fair evaluation, then help put the employee on the best possible trajectory going forward. So, make sure they have a copy of the form you’ll be using, any documents related to expectations, goals, or performance behaviors that might have been developed during the year, and documents related to the subject’s job description and competencies needed for success in the role.

Ask for their perspectives at least a week in advance, and don’t hold the meeting without it. Just asking them to bring their thoughts and evidence to the meeting is not enough, because you want to have time to assimilate what they’ve given you, ask questions and check things out before the pivotal meeting day.

If the conversation goes badly, you don’t want it to be because you were unprepared. If you do prepare and follow the three principles (i.e., cover the how, not just the what; make sure there are no surprises; and gather the employee’s perspective before the meeting), the conversation is unlikely to go badly at all.

In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised and actually look forward to these events next year!

What other tips do you have for ensuring a positive and productive outcome from the dreaded annual performance review?

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