The do’s and don’ts of performance reviews

6 min read
Curtis McHale

It turns out that both managers and employees usually dread the performance review. It doesn’t need to be this way, particularly not if you help your employees understand expectations and give them a say in the goals that are being set for them.

We’re going to walk through what it takes to provide a great performance review to your employees.

One that they look forward to getting because it enables them to be better at their jobs. We’re also going to touch on some of the things you need to avoid if you want to achieve good performance reviews.

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Never do these 3 things in a performance review

We’ve all had performance reviews and if we’re honest, we don’t like them. Here are three things virtually no one likes from a reviewer.

  1. Forgetting everything except the last month.
  2. Leaving them out of the goal-setting process.
  3. Doing all the talking.

After we list the no-nos, we’ll talk about the things you can do to make performance reviews a useful exercise for everyone.

The don’ts of a good performance review

Probably the biggest mistake that anyone who has to do performance reviews makes is leaving feedback until the dreaded “yearly” review. Many companies don’t address anything for their employees until this review comes up, and employees rightly feel left in limbo about how they’re doing.

In one of my wife’s first jobs out of college, she found out that she’d been doing something for 11 months that the boss hated.

For 11 months they’d been getting more and more annoyed about it — while she thought she was doing the best job possible.

Needless to say, that 11 months of resentment meant that my wife didn’t stay at this job for much longer. She expected that in another year they’d have other things that they’d been angry about all year and she’d be blindsided in her performance review.

1. Forgetting everything except the last month

Performance Review Restaurant Worker
A year is far too long for the average person to remember everything. Take notes.

Just like you should be having meetings regularly to give feedback to your staff, you should be collecting feedback regularly so that you can give it to your employees. It’s far too easy to let whatever has happened in the last few weeks colour a once-a-year performance review, for good or for ill.

So as you end every week, think about what’s been happening and jot down a few notes about your employees that you can refer back to as your performance reviews come up. Doing this will help you have a more balanced look at how they’re truly performing overall.

2. Leaving them out of the goal-setting process

One of the quickest ways to turn a review into a process that your staff dreads is for them to expect to walk in and be given a big list of goals that they need to accomplish. It’s easy for them to think that unless they hit these targets you’ve created, they’ll be out of a job.

Instead, bring them into the goal-setting process.

Ask them what they want to achieve and what work gives them the biggest feeling of engagement. Then try to help them focus on those things.

3. Doing all the talking

A good performance review should be a two-way conversation, so don’t assume that you’re the only one who should be talking.

You should be asking employees during the interview to give their feedback on the company and how they feel they’re doing.

If you’re not sure how to go about drawing out someone who’s particularly quiet, then you should read “The Coaching Habit.” It provides a great set of seven questions to help draw out the person you’re talking to and get them engaged in the review process.

My favourite question in is No. 5, where you ask an employee how you can help them. Knowing what support they need to do their job well gives you a tangible way to help them succeed.

The do’s of a good performance review

One of the first and best things you can do to help performance reviews go well is to prepare beforehand. You should have:

  • Notes from throughout the year about each member of your staff
  • Time set aside to go over these notes before the performance review

When you don’t schedule time to prepare, you’re telling your employees that you don’t care about the review process, and that you don’t care that much about them.

Be specific with your asks

When I got my counselling degree, one of the things we learned was that there are always three things being said:

  1. First, there is what you are thinking
  2. Second, what you actually say to someone
  3. Third, what they hear

At each transition between these points, there is the opportunity for interpretation and miscommunication.

”The illusion that both parties to the conversation know what the other party wants is pervasive,” says Michael Bungay Stanier, author of ‘The Coaching Habit,’ “and it sets the stage for plenty of frustrating exchanges.”

Performance Review Man Pointing to Smiley Face

To combat this in a performance review, make sure you specifically ask for the things you want. If you want an employee to stop taking a bunch of personal calls in the day, make sure you specify what that means. Are emergency calls okay? Is it alright for their spouse/partner to call and ask them to pick up milk on the way home as long as they don’t engage in a 30-minute discussion?

While it can feel like you’re getting legalistic about things, being clear ensures that they understand the expectations and don’t assume that they’re not allowed personal calls even if a relative is being rushed to hospital.

Making performance reviews positive

Performance Review Two Women Talking
The goal is to think like a coach, not a judge.

Performance reviews don’t have to be something anyone dreads. They can be a great time for employees to understand how to do their jobs better, and for management to understand how to support their employees so they can be awesome.

You can have performance reviews that people look forward to if you:

  • Check in more often than once a year
  • Prepare for them
  • Ask employees to help set their own goals
  • Work to draw out quiet workers
  • Give clear, concise feedback

Performance reviews like that will help you build an awesome team, and grow your bottom line.

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