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The dreaded performance review

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From an employer's point of view

Performance reviews may be the most hated ritual in business but, as an employer, you will probably want to give performance reviews to your employees because feedback matters. The only way for people to get better at what they do is for the people they work for to provide candid, timely performance evaluations. "In today's environment, you have to evaluate what's changing and what's staying the same, what's working and what's no longer working," says Bruce Tulgan, author of FAST Feedback (1998, HRD Press) and founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a consulting firm based in New Haven, Connecticut. "Feedback plays that role." Anne Saunier, a principal at Sibson & Co., a consulting firm based in Princeton, New Jersey, puts it this way: "If you have ideas and information that will help someone perform better, it's hostile not to share them."

For an employer, It’s not an easy job and some have a difficult time with it. . An employer who gives constructive criticism will usually outline that criticism with clear examples and balance negative with positive feedback. Although constructive criticism may be expected during many employee reviews, negative criticism may be given instead and usually comes as a surprise to the employee expecting to learn something from the situation.

Part of the problem with reviews is that human nature hasn't changed - few of us enjoy hearing about our shortcomings, and few of our bosses and colleagues look forward to describing them. Part of the problem is that work itself has changed - it's more team- oriented, less individualistic. The tougher it is to measure individual performance, the tougher it is to evaluate it.

But the biggest problem with reviews is how little they've changed. Too many leaders still treat feedback as a once-a-year event, rather than an ongoing discipline. "Doing annual appraisals is like dieting only on your birthday and wondering why you're not losing weight," says Saunier. Too many leaders confuse feedback with paperwork. "Filling out a form is inspection, not feedback," says Kelly Allan, senior associate of Kelly Allan Associates Ltd., a consulting firm based in Columbus, Ohio whose clients have included Boeing, Paramount Pictures, and IBM. "History has taught us that relying on inspections is costly, improves nothing for very long, and makes the organization less competitive."

Done properly, employee performance reviews allow you to develop your people, shape the culture of your organization and get more things done faster and better. On the other hand, poor performance reviews can actually hamper your performance and harm your company.

The way you approach a performance appraisal speaks volumes to the person being reviewed. If you rush through it and offer a few lukewarm comments (and perhaps a small token raise), your employee will walk away feeling that she doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Her attitude will be: "ho hum . . . back to the old grindstone. How long til 5:00?" (Yawn.)
On the other hand, if you go into the review well prepared, armed with specific goals for your employee to work toward, exuding an attitude of enthusiasm, she will feel like an important and integral part of the organization. She will walk away revved up and excited about the future. Suddenly, instead of feeling like a renter, she'll feel like an owner . . . with all the energy, creativity and work ethic that implies.

Examples of effective ways of conducting performance reviews

Example #1:

Connie Swartz, president and CEO of Creative Courseware, gradually developed her own model for performance reviews. based on two sets of questions, one for Swartz and one for the employee under review. The questions are designed to start a dialogue between Swartz and the employee - one that Swartz finds "more useful" than a more traditional review.
Here's what Swartz asks the employee to tell her.

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of, and why?
  • What have you learned this past year?
  • What are the most frustrating things about your job?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  • What can I (the boss) do to help make your job easier/better?
  • If you were I, what one change would you make in our company?

And here are the questions that the employee gets to ask the boss.

  • During the past year, which of my accomplishments are you most proud of, and why?
  • What do you like the best about the way I (the employee) do my job?
  • What are the most frustrating things about how I do my job?
  • If you could change one thing about my job, what would it be?
  • What can I do to help make your job easier/better?
  • What do you think are my roles and responsibilities, and how do they fit with your vision of where the Creative Courseware is going?

Example #2

Susan Bates, president and ceo of Bates Communications suggest the follwoing firve easy tips for employers

1. Prepare ahead of time. Think about what you want to say; how you will you introduce the topic and frame the issue: what words and phrases best convey your point; nd what tone will you take.
2. Engage each person in a dialogue. Some people are better able to process in the moment than others so you do need to be respectful if they are flabbergasted by the feedback. For the most part, people will tell you what they think and even if they are hurt they will be open to discussing how they can address the issues.
3. Listen to each person carefully. You may believe you’ve made your point and then hear through the grapevine after your conversation that the individual didn’t “get it.” Avoid this by asking more questions, listening to what is said and NOT said, and noting body language and tone.
4. Give it time. An hour is a good guideline. Your high performers should get more time, not less. Don’t assume just because they’re doing a great job that they don’t want to hear it from you.
5. Talk with your coach, mentor or a colleague about how to improve your performance feedback. Become the kind of boss everyone wants to work for. Think of a boss you respected and seek their guidance or at least recall what they did that brought out the best in you.

*Remember that providing constructive guidance is not something that just happens at performance review time; it’s a year round tool for improving organizational performance. If you’re doing it well, when you sit down in December or at the end of your fiscal year, virtually nothing you say should come as a surprise.

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