Conducting Effective Reviews

A performance review can and should be one of the most positive and productive tools a manager has to communicate with employees. Yet most managers dread conducting a review, and most employees fear receiving them.

As a manager, you must remember that evaluations are a time to provide feedback, direction and leadership to your employees. A large part of the manager's role is to guide, encourage and support employees. The manager must also educate the employee in areas that need improvement.

A well-done performance review will communicate positive feelings about employees and their efforts. Employees should walk away from the review with a good feeling about their accomplishments, as well as a greater understanding of where and how to improve.

If the manager prepares all year long, he or she will find doing an effective review is easy.

The purpose of the review is to:

  • Set goals for the next six to 12 months.
  • Provide constructive feedback.
  • Analyze strengths/weaknesses.

Employees should gain insight as to how their performances contribute to the company mission, what your expectations of them are and the areas in which they excel or can improve.

The first thing you should do is to review the employee's job description. The purpose of a good review is to objectively evaluate the employee's ability to perform a specific job, and to effectively ensure objectivity, managers must first understand that employee's job. Remember, the best evaluations focus on issues that are relevant to the job, not on personal factors.

Reviewing employee job descriptions is also an excellent time to revise and update job descriptions to reflect current duties and responsibilities.

Next, gather information such as appraisals, notes, reports, letters of commendation or complaints and warnings from prior years. As a manager, you should have already been adding notes and comments (pertaining to specific occurrences) to employee personnel files during the course of the year

When reviewing past evaluations, managers should look for any dramatic changes in performance, as well as whether goals were achieved. Properly set goals should have measurable criteria which make it easy to determine if the goals have been fully, partially or not at all achieved.

When writing the appraisal, managers should limit comments to a few specific areas. Keep in mind that maintaining the employee's self esteem is very important. Going over too many critical points can do more damage than good. If there are some critical points, or the employee hasn't met his or her goals, be prepared to offer specific recommendations as to how he or she can make corrections.

Balance criticism with positives. The employee will be more receptive to working on areas of concern this way.

You should get the employees involved in the appraisal process. Ask them to do a self-appraisal using a similar form to what you will be using. This helps keep the lines of communication open, and will give you valuable insight as to how the employee perceives his or her job performance. If the perception is very different from yours, then you haven't been very successful in communicating with the employee on an on-going basis.

Setting goals
Once you've evaluated the current year's performance, you'll need to set goals and objectives for the next six to 12 months. The goals must be easy to understand and measure. They should be challenging, but realistic.

There are four categories of goals:

1. Innovations: These are the new results employees will attempt to achieve as part of their job.
2. Solutions: These involve situations that require objective analysis to solve a specific problem.
3. Routines: This covers improvements in existing job standards.
4. Learning Objectives: These are the objectives that give employees the chance to grow in their careers, increase their responsibilities and learn new tasks.

Once goals are agreed upon, you'll have to reach an agreement on the steps employees must take to achieve them, as well as what method will be used to measure the achievement. Finally, you'll have to agree on the benchmarks that will be used to monitor progress.

The review
Now you're ready for the actual sit-down, communicating with employees. Did the employee perform at an average, above-average or below-average level? It's critical that you define strengths and weaknesses as they relate to your expectations and goals.

I don't recommend tying compensation reviews to appraisal reviews. The employee will be more interested in the dollars than the review.

Because performance reviews can be highly emotional, it's best to approach the review with a specific agenda in mind. Your agenda might include: a review of this year vs. last year; an overall summary; specific strengths and weaknesses; feedback; agreement on corrective actions and a time frame to see improvements, and agreement on future goals/objectives.

Legal issues
The biggest job-related legal problems are often a direct result of unrealistic employment reviews. Managers may try to avoid conflict by failing to appraise a poor employee's performance truth-fully. To help keep it legal:

  • Do honest, realistic, fact-based reviews - in writing.
  • Give employees a copy of the review, and be sure you both sign it.
  • Conduct consistent reviews.
  • Be aware of any form of discrimination.
  • Have specific examples and documentation.
  • Establish grievance procedures.
  • Get more than one manager involved when necessary.
  • Communicate all year long.
  • The Halo Effect - only saying good things
  • The reverse Halo Effect - only saying negative things
  • Comparing employees
  • Vagueness
  • Failure to use evaluations as tools for improvement
  • Using a short time frame - i.e. only analyzing the last few months
  • Conducting evaluations without two-way communication