7 Ways to Prepare for a Performance Review: Manager Version

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Published 3/21/2015

The annual employee performance review is an essential human resource process for documenting how well an employee performed throughout the year, an opportunity to provide feedback to the employee, and serves as a springboard for setting performance and development objectives for the coming year.

However, the annual workplace ritual been compared to a trip to the dentist to get a root canal.

Both can be accurate descriptions.

Just like taking care of your teeth, the reason the annual performance review ends up feeling like a root canal is because of a lack of preventive maintenance.

With a healthy amount of upfront planning and regular check-ups, the annual performance review can be as painless as an annual teeth cleaning.

Here’s seven ways a manager can prepare for an annual employee performance review in order to make it a productive and painless discussion:

1. Start with performance expectations and goals. Preparing for an annual performance review starts with the hiring process. A well written job posting and job description clearly spells out what is expected from the employee and what good performance should look like.

Performance expectations don’t have to take the form of a formal job description. See How to Write Real Performance Expectations that Make a Difference for a more informal and effective way to develop and communicate performance expectations.

See How to Set Annual Employee Goals for an effective way to develop goals with your employees.

Just be sure to discuss these expectations and goals with the employee and revisit them on a regular basis. Things can change, and when they do, the employee shouldn’t be the last to know.

2. Provide regular feedback throughout the year. A big part of making the annual review painless is the elimination of surprises.

Employees deserve and need positive and critical feedback on a regular basis. In order for feedback to be effective, it needs to be timely, delivered as soon as possible after the performance result or behavior. Sure, critical feedback can sting a little, but it’s way less painful that getting it all at once at the end of the year.

Follow these 10 tips for delivering more effective critical feedback.

3. Deal with performance problems swiftly and decisively. The annual review is NOT the time to address a serious performance problem for the first time. Managers need to learn how to recognize, diagnose, and discuss performance problems throughout the year.

See The Difference Between Performance Problems and Pet Peeves and How to Deal with Difficult Employees.

4. Maintain documentation throughout the year. One of the hardest parts of preparing for a review is trying to remember everything that happened over the course of a year. When a manager doesn’t keep a record of employee performance and behaviors throughout the year, they tend to base their review on recent memory.

A simple way to document throughout the year is to keep a folder for each employee for performance reports, examples of good and bad behavior, summaries of discussions, customer feedback, attendance records, and anything else pertaining to performance expectations and goals.

5. Get feedback from others. While a manager is the best person to evaluate an employee’s performance, it’s also helpful to solicit feedback from customers, co-workers, and other managers. This can be done on a regular and informal basis, or with more formal survey methodology. Feedback should be confidential and anonymous, and used in aggregate to verify and support the manager’s assessment.

6. Ask for feedback from the employee. While a manager should NEVER ask an employee to write their own review, it’s a good practice to ask for a self-assessment from the employee as part of the preparation process.

The employee may have information that the manager was not aware of, and at a minimum, the manager can get advance notice of any blind spots the employee may have.

7. Be prepared with examples. For performance, provide objective, measurable performance documentation if at all possible. For behavioral feedback, provide 2-3 specific examples for each competency.  

When a manager follows these preparation tips, the annual discussion should merely be a summary of everything that has already been discussed throughout the year. The focus can then turn to setting expectations and goals for the following year.

For more on performance reviews, see The Top 10 Performance Appraisal Blunders a Manager can Make.