“All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting. If we want different results, we must change the way we do things.” –Tom Northup, author of Five Hidden Mistakes CEOs Make: How to Unlock the Secrets that Drive Growth and Profitability
Company-wide change begins with individual employees. Providing feedback—especially when it’s positive and forward-looking—is crucial for employee development. Want to help your employees grow, improve company culture, and drive overall company success? Learn to effectively execute performance reviews. Whether you facilitate performance reviews annually or more frequently, it's importand to avoid these common stumbling blocks.
Not defining actionable takeaways
A Gallup study including data from 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees indicates that only half of employees know what is expected of them at work. Of course, employees cannot do what you want them to do if they, well, don’t know what you want them to do.
Here are some examples of actionable takeaways:
- “Please follow up all sales emails with a phone call within 24 hours.”
- “Always send the report to Rick for review before submitting.”
- “Keep a record of when and where you meet with potential clients.”
Here are some examples of vague statements that may not leave employees with clear, actionable takeaways:
- “I need you to collaborate more.”
- “You’re not meeting expectations.
- “I want to see more creativity.”
To find out what your employees need to know, you have to listen to them. That’s why performance reviews should be less of a speech and more of a conversation. “An effective leader is also an effective listener,” Dr. Artika Tyner writes.
Asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers is an important part of the employee coaching process. Asking “How did you get to use your strengths this year?” “Is there a gap between what you wanted to achieve and what you did achieve?” and “What goals would you like to set?” provide opportunities for self-correction and help foster a collaborative and solution-focused culture.
Anticipate spending a few minutes of the meeting discussing any questions or concerns your direct report may have, and make sure your employees understand that performance reviews aren’t their only opportunity to share ideas, get feedback, and ask questions. “Remind [them] you have an open-door policy so that they may contact you with concerns or issues right away,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc.
Focusing on the negative
The words “performance review” might fill some employees with dread because all they can imagine is their manager pointing out all of their mistakes. End this stereotype by including positive feedback, which is arguably even more important than negative feedback. Nearly seventy percent of employees indicate they’d put more effort into their tasks if their achievements were more recognized, and 39 percent say they don’t feel appreciated at work.
“Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.” - Sam Walton, Leadership Institute at Harvard College
Don’t worry about using the “Sandwich Approach” (providing first positive comments, then negative comments, then positive comments again) for delivering feedback. Most people know about this strategy, so using it will likely both draw out the suspense before you provide the negative feedback and make the compliments seem canned or insincere. Just be direct and explain the feedback however it seems natural.
Focus mostly on positive feedback and provide suggestions for increased employee success. You’re providing solutions, not delivering judgment. At the end of the meeting, your direct hire should feel energized from the positive feedback and empowered with ideas to do even better work in the future.
“Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery,” Warren G. Bennis writes in his book Managing People Is Like Herding Cats. “Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens, people feel centered, and that gives their work meaning.”
Focusing too much on what recently happened
Recency bias occurs when managers only discuss how an employee has performed in the past few weeks or months instead of evaluating the whole designated time period. Conducting evaluations this way can be unfair to your direct reports and result in inaccurate performance reports.
Imagine that one of your direct reports acquired the company’s best client in February, but you conduct performance reviews in December. You want to make sure you mention that big win during the review, even though it happened at the beginning of the year.
Here are two suggestions for overcoming recency bias:
- Take notes on previous performance reviews so you know what you discussed before and can evaluate progress. Also, keep a basic record of important employee successes and milestones. Did one of your direct reports create an awesome solution to a problem? Write it down. You will remember to mention it in the performance review and will also have the solution on record just in case you run into the same issue down the road.
- Schedule more one-to-ones or conduct performance reviews more often. The takeaways of a performance review shouldn’t come as a surprise for direct reports. The results are in: people want to hear more feedback—both negative and positive.
If you prepare in advance and focus on being kind and transparent, you’re well on your way to delivering performance reviews that help employees and, by extension, your company. Provide your direct reports with consistent feedback throughout the year and remember to consider their feedback as well.