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Making Performance Reviews Matter

Published December 11, 2014

performance_review

As the end of the year arrives, all of us are thinking about performance reviews; ours and those of the people who work with us. I thought this was a great time to update this post from last year and get the conversation going.

Performance reviews can be a big source of anxiety for team members and leaders alike, causing stress and sleepless nights. It does not have to be that way. Here is how you can make performance reviews a tool that really helps to improve and celebrate performance for everyone on your team!

  1. A Performance Rating should never be a surprise. This is where I have seen many leaders fail. Just because you sit down and give a review and someone signs it does not mean you’ve done the right thing. In fact, I would argue that you would have been better off not giving the review. Someone’s annual review is not where they should learn how you view them and their contributions.
  2. Schedule quarterly updates with everyone on your team for a 30 minute update on progress made towards goals and objectives. This is such a great time for you and them. It allows several things. One, it allows you to check in face to face and review progress, but more importantly it gives them confidence that the direction they are heading is the right one. Two, it gives them a chance to course correct if needed and actually be able to make real adjustments to improve results versus waiting until the end of the year and both of you wishing things were different. Lastly this face to face interaction goes a long way in removing any apprehension about a performance review because in essence they are writing their review as they go throughout the year so that by the time the official review time comes around, it is already written, and most importantly everyone feels great about the results and the direction.
  3. Encourage everyone on your team to write a self review. This is important because when someone writes their own review they take ownership for their results and believe me they will be much harder on themselves then you will be, and this takes the pressure off of you as a leader while at the same time giving you the chance to offer objective, constructive feedback on opportunities and recognize accomplishments that they might have missed. Your comments go on the same review form they used to write their self review. Most importantly it allows the team member to pull together measurements, documentation, and information that help them construct a detailed review that will help them in their future role as a leader. Remember, the performance review process really should be driven by the team member, not you as the leader. You will write a review and measure results against the desired goals and objectives but the team member should provide the details.
  4. Help your team understand how to write goals that matter. They should stretch their abilities but adhere to the SMART goal system; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timebound. When goals are written using this format there is a lot of excitement throughout the year about the results being achieved, but also about the opportunities that present themselves because they know WHAT they are focusing on versus just flailing about hoping they are focusing on the right things. Having good goals helps to set your team up for success and also teaches them how to make adjustments to their action steps as needed throughout the year.
  5. This is about the conversation, not a piece of paper. One of the biggest sources of anxiety is the official review document. Make this a non-event by having great conversations surrounding performance. Don’t read off of the form. Look your team member in the eye and have a conversation. What they’ve written you have already read, and what you are saying is what you’ve written down and they will read that later. Focus on the conversation. The piece of paper used to write the review is just extra texture for the conversation, which is the most important part of the review process. It is helpful to have an ability to look back at feedback when measuring performance but it should NOT be the focal point of a performance review.

Following these principles has helped me to create many top performing teams over the years, and in hundreds of performance reviews I have NEVER had someone disagree with their rating. This helped to facilitate a high performance culture with clear understanding about the direction we needed to go as an organization. Not surprisingly this also created a deep bench of strength in our people pipelines for succession planning, and we had leaders who knew exactly how to duplicate this process within their own teams. This is sustainable leadership and performance management at its best.