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Employees often dread performance reviews for two main reasons:

  1. They think it’s a waste of everyone’s time, an annual nuisance that takes away from their time with nothing valuable in return. A mere 14% of employees claim that performance reviews help them improve. That’s why you’ll mostly notice a series of short, thoughtless responses and a series of 5-star ratings: it’s technically a valid response, it won’t cause controversy, and they get done with it quickly. 
  2. They feel they’re not reviewed fairly and are often left distraught by unnecessarily negative commentary. Unfortunately, some employees take performance reviews and 360-feedback as an opportunity to sabotage people they’re holding a grudge against. Victims of these reviews are quick to disengage and start looking for another job.

In reality, the opinions are divided. A majority of employees still appreciate the useful feedback, and when conducted correctly, performance reviews do increase employee performance and satisfaction, after all!

To change the way your employees think and feel about performance reviews, and to actually create an *effective* performance review, you need to start from scratch and tailor a performance review process that puts your staff first.

In return, you’ll get correct feedback and be able to use it for company growth — harnessing the power of your satisfied employees. 

These four evergreen tips will make you think differently of performance reviews, and start using them as the powerful employee performance optimization tool they truly are.

4 Evergreen Strategies for More Effective Performance Reviews

#1 Trust a Proper Manager to Do the Job

Avoid micromanagement and hire the right person to perform the performance review from the start. In case you’re a manager reading this, be sure you’re not cutting the branch you’re sitting on.

A Wall Street Journal bestseller “It’s the Manager” proves with decades of research that a good manager can make it or break it — “it” being the entire business.

Coaches, nannies, shrinks, niche nerds: as a manager, you take on many roles and you’re responsible for your team as a whole, and each employee comprising the team. Concerning performance reviews, a great manager needs to excel at the following things:

  • Recognizing the weak and strong sides of an employee, so each employee always works on a task that’s inspiring and engaging for them. In a performance review, this will manifest as a highly-rated worker-to-task connection. If you have this balance right, performance review questions such as “Are you fulfilled with your day-to-day work?” will be answered affirmatively, while “How often do you feel overwhelmed with your workload?” type of questions will ideally have “Rarely/ Never” as an answer.
  • Helping employees overcome professional issues, so they aren’t stuck in the same role without a challenge for years. 
  • Be a goal-oriented person and direct every effort to reach the company objectives. This includes OKR methodology, time management, and planning skills.
  • Empathy and communication skills. Plain and simple, being able to connect with people. Understanding their motivation, what irks them, and what makes them thrive is a social skill so important it should be a deciding factor when you’re struggling to choose between two exceptional managers. Skilled communicators can smell a toxic employee from miles away, resolve a conflict, and build a team that loves working and spending time together.

Circling back to the performance review itself: if the answers are constantly unsatisfactory, whether it’s overall productivity, sense of belonging, ability to meet deadlines, or being content with the workload — it might actually be the manager.

#2 Continuous Feedback Works Better 

Keeping the feedback loop constantly active lets you:

  • Nip every bad occurrence in the bud as soon as you notice things aren’t going to plan before it’s too late.
  • Allocate resources better and spend less time and money on mending issues after the fact.
  • Avoid the snowball effect whereby unaddressed small issues grow into a huge problem.
  • Circumvent unpleasant surprises so that no party is surprised when the official day for performance review comes. Instead, both the manager and the employee can prepare, knowing what has been going on recently.

But, wouldn’t this make performance reviews excessive?

Not really. 

As they are, performance reviews are a necessary addition for several important reasons:

  • More 1-on-1 time for employees — Your average weekly team meeting lasts about 30 minutes, and that’s when you briefly revise the week before and read the notes for the next week. This operates well in fast-paced work environments, but can’t replace performance reviews. Face-to-face feedback is deep and personal; only when you have a personal conversation with an employee can you dedicate the required attention to them.

A performance review is an opportunity to have a lengthier talk about their career path, pain points, and possible improvement strategies. Employees will also feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and responding to any feedback.

  • Performance reviews reveal the bigger picture — If there’s a pattern or repeated behavior, a performance review will address it. When you monitor work performance day by day, you may miss some things.
  • A good way to sum things up — An important part of a performance review consists of taking a step back and analyzing staff productivity, one employee at a time, to make an accurate assessment of your team.

#3 Use Performance Feedback as a Coaching Opportunity

The goal of performance feedback is to:

  • Streamline daily work processes and uncover any blockers.
  • Help set more realistic goals.
  • Examine strengths and weaknesses.
  • Set the path for the future: career path, possible specialization.

Contrastingly, the purpose of performance feedback is NOT to:

  • Create a gap between high-performers and pit coworkers against each other.
  • Aimlessly pick apart the employee, killing their mood and will to work.
  • Serve as a justification for lowering the wage or terminating the contract.

Criticism should be constructive first, not scare people off or make them resentful.

Managers that take the coaching role are the ones that keep the employee turnover rate low, and help each team member excel at what suits them best; in the end, that’s the very thing that improves company culture and employee experience.

#4 Back Every Claim With a Tangible Example

Some of the frequent complaints about performance reviews claim that reviews are stripped from context and are confusing. Subjects receiving the performance review often can’t tie reviews to specific cases, or prove them wrong.

On the other hand, managers are even more unaware of the context in which critiques were made. This renders them powerless when it comes to deciding whether the claims are valid, or how to help the subject overcome the described issue.

Aside from asking specific questions and linking them to specific projects and events, you can use tools to track employee productivity. A staff monitoring system is a handy, easy-to-use tool that provides managers with indisputable evidence of work:

  • Working hours, shifts, and breaks
  • Project and task efficiency
  • Project tracker with a timeline
  • Notifications and reports
  • Rich productivity data to assess while conducting performance reviews

Best of all, software for monitoring computer activity works just as well on-premise and with hybrid workplaces. Reviewing remote employees can be tricky with their physical absence taking away more social aspects of work, but a good online employee tracking system bridges the timezones and distance easily.

So, when there’s anything unclear about the performance review, you can pull the data and compare. The data itself is more than evidence — it’s material employees should review with their managers and discuss possible improvements.

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