Performance reviews are the perfect opportunity for employers to communicate an employee’s current standing in the company and how they can progress. It’s also the best time to talk about future goals and exchange constructive criticism each party can work on for the next review.
While this feedback is crucial, employees may have hesitations going into the review process. As experienced HR professionals, the members of Forbes Human Resources Council know these fears can lead to an ineffective meeting. Below, 15 members give their best strategies for making performance reviews painless.
- Get Clear On The Intention
As they say, feedback is a gift. A gift is meant to provide a positive feeling to the recipient. For us to create the same effect when we do performance reviews, we need to do it with the intent of helping the person get better and move forward. Equally important, we need to be able to translate this intent into the act of giving clear, concrete and constructive feedback to the employee.
- Reduce The Chance Of A Surprise Review
Ensure that any feedback given is never a surprise to an employee. Continuous feedback throughout the year is critical to an effective, fair, respectful and trust-building performance review process and solid relationship-building between a leader and direct report.
- Build Employee Trust
Build trust with your employees and regularly give them advice, coaching and feedback — when things go well and when they can be improved. Ensure that you are giving feedback from a place of helping your employee succeed. Don’t wait weeks or worse, months, to give feedback. Give it “in the moment” and then when you get to the more formal review, nothing should be a surprise.
- Provide Structured Reviews
Treat it like a behavioral interview. Ask employees as well as managers to take each competency and describe instances where it was demonstrated or not demonstrated. Keep it simple and provide an observation of behavior that would help employees truly get what they could have done differently, do more of the same or even how their actions were perceived differently from their own.
- Converse With Your Employees Frequently
The more frequent the feedback, the less heavy and daunting the formal performance conversations become. The greatest tool for this is having a 1:1 with each person on your team on a regular, frequent basis. This allows you to connect deeper than the day-to-day conversations in passing. It is a time to check in personally, talk about performance wins and challenges, and discuss development plans.
- Set Clear Expectations
Aim for clarity and frequency. Performance is an ongoing activity and not a once-a-year process. Clear goal setting is critical to ensuring that expectations are clearly set. The frequency of discussions around the clarity of purpose is important to be better aligned by having transparent discussions. Constructive feedback works well when there is psychological safety and that comes down to culture.
- Prioritize Fairness And Consistency
Be consistent and fair. Trust is part of the performance review process. What we do as leaders and HR experts is build trust by being consistent with our words and actions. Give fair and accurate feedback. Then self-assess by removing any biases based on a perception that can be relayed in the review process.
- Be Positive
Start with a compliment or a positive piece of feedback. Help the employee recognize what they do well and how they can leverage that skill or result to improve in an area where they’re struggling. Once they understand you have noticed the areas where they are excelling, any constructive criticism will be viewed more objectively and less emotionally.
- Promote An Open Door Policy To Foster A Strong Work Culture
Striving not to center all feedback around the performance review is key. If organizations can foster a strong culture centered on giving and receiving feedback in the moment, the stress, pressure and surprise should be taken out of the “performance review” itself. Make it more of an ongoing process, not an event.
- Separate Compensation From Reviews
As companies adopt hybrid office policies, it’s important that office status and compensation remain separate from the feedback section of a review. Tying reviews too tightly to compensation can hamper employee career development and their work towards the company mission. During performance reviews, the conversation should focus on career development, goals, strengths and areas of improvement.
- Schedule Intentional Conversations
Regularity and intention. If you’re only talking with your direct reports once or twice a year about performance, of course, it’s going to feel like a loaded conversation. Instead, set up monthly conversations where both you and your employee know that the topics are focused on how you’re both doing (ie. you as a manager, employee as employee). This way the feedback goes both ways and it’ll naturally lower the temperature.
- Build A Successful Relationship
Trust and psychological safety is the bedrock of any successful relationship and is true for manager and employees as well. If this exists, performance reviews become dialogues and not an onerous exercise. The traditional clock-calendar performance review should change to just-in-time dialogues and check-ins. This helps employees thrive in their performances and takes the edge out of performance reviews.
- Give On-The-Spot Feedback
Formal annual performance reviews are a thing of the past. Employees crave on-the-spot feedback to allow for course corrections and continuous growth. Making performance a standing item on one-to-one agendas creates a culture where ongoing feedback is expected, desired and not feared. As a bonus, supervisors are more inclined to participate thoughtfully rather than checking off an HR-driven task.
- Provide Consistent Assessment Criteria
Performance reviews should be a natural, time-bound bookend to the dialogues you are already having with your team or manager. One strategy for making performance reviews simple and painless while still being super effective is consistency. Discuss the wins and learnings from the same OKRs (objectives and key results) or KPIs every week or month.
- Create A Feedback Culture
Creating a culture of feedback as a foundation is crucial to enabling open, honest and transparent conversations about performance. The building blocks should include at the core: trust and psychological safety. Giving and receiving feedback requires work and continuous investment in building trust across any organization. Ongoing check-ins and real-time discussions will embed that feedback culture.
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