Performance Reviews: How to Give Feedback Employees Can Actually Use

· by Brady Hammond

Brady Hammond is a certified Predictive Index Practitioner and CliftonStrengths Coach. She specializes in leading teams through assessments, team building, and leadership training.
Spread the love

The Dreaded Performance Review.

There’s really no good way to sell it to your organization, few people like them. Generally, employees find them nerve-wracking and managers find them time-consuming. And at the end of the day, everyone ends up worrying about them so much that the question must be asked, is any good coming out of this?

If this is a scenario that sounds familiar to you, then it’s probably time to shake up your performance reviews. But how do you make the most of them? And more importantly, how do you give your employees feedback that they can actually use?
We’ve outlined some steps that will help you take the negativity out of the performance review process and infuse it with a new sense of purpose.

1. Look to the future:

Goal setting is crucial to an effective performance review. The rating scale method of reviewing is often found not to be informative or motivational. In fact, it can have the opposite effect, and can demotivate employees. Instead of pitting your employees against each other with arbitrary numbers rating their performance, set clear expectations and goals to achieve and strive for. Make it clear what the goals are for the coming months, and document it someplace visible to yourself and your employee. That way, your employee knows exactly what it is they’re working towards.

2. Trust the data:

Avoid personal bias by basing your performance reviews on those goals you set. Rather than thinking subjectively on how an employee has done, have specific numbers you can point to that substantiate your feedback. If you can point to percentage completion or numbers met, then you can back up how you came to any conclusions based on the employee’s actual performance in meeting their goals. It makes it easier for the employee to digest constructive criticism if they can understand why they’re getting negative feedback. It also makes it easier for the manager to remain professional and unbiased.

3. How much is too much:

The truth is this depends on the culture and size of your organization, but as often as possible is the best rule of thumb. If you move away from lengthy, time-consuming paperwork and ratings, then it’s easier to have your reviews more frequently. This gives your employees the opportunity to talk about issues and roadblocks in a timely manner, and gives managers the opportunity to address performance concerns or praise as they arise. Six months to a year is a lot of time to cover in one conversation and, inevitably, the important things will be forgotten. An abbreviated performance review that focuses on goals and conversation can be managed much more easily and much more often. So then your employees and managers are always on the same page.

4. Keep it comfortable:

Conversational style performance reviews that allow both parties to speak equally yield much more honest results. The time spent between employee and manager should be just as much about the employee’s needs as it is about the manager’s. This is an opportunity for the employee to talk about what is challenging them from their perspective, what their manager could be doing more for them, how they could be better utilized within their role. There are always going to be things the manager wouldn’t think of on their own that the employee will, and vice versa. That’s why a sit down where both parties share equally is always going to lead to more innovation and productivity in the future. Managers must be just as open to critique and suggestion as the employee is. In fact, they should welcome it.

5. What’s your opinion:

Self-review is key to a manager understanding employees’ perspectives on themselves. Before you ever try to evaluate employees, have them evaluate themselves first. Does the employee have the same opinion as their manager on what their strengths and weaknesses are? Where they have room to grow and what support they need to get there? If you aren’t sure where to start a performance review, this is the perfect launching point. Before any productive conversation can begin, you and your employee need to be as much on the same page as possible. You can’t work on where to go if you don’t know where you’re starting.

6. Don’t sugar coat it:

Be specific and honest if you have negative feedback to give. A lot of time managers want to gloss over the difficult stuff and sandwich it between a bunch of good stuff. There’s nothing wrong with starting and ending on a positive note, if everything you’re saying is truthful and representative of the employee’s performance. But you can’t rush through the negative feedback just because it’s uncomfortable. As much as everyone wants to be told they are perfect and do everything correctly, that’s never going to be the case. So be honest on how your employee can work to improve.

The easiest way to do this is to have specific examples to point to. Not to nit-pick or micro-manage, but to back up your claims. Otherwise the employee can ignore the comments they don’t like, because you didn’t tell them exactly what situation the critique was stemming from. It seems more like your opinion than it does fact without examples. Employees want to improve, they want to do a good job. And they can’t do that if they’re never told what they’re doing wrong.

7. Keep it positive:

Focus on strengths and how they can help an employee compensate for weaknesses. Now, this isn’t to be confused with sugar coating, we just covered that. But you can still ground your performance reviews in what the employee excels at, and how they can use that to overcome the things they don’t excel at. Point to where your employee shines, there will always be something they’re best at or that’s another conversation entirely. Then, work into the critiques how they may use those talents that come so naturally to help themselves improve in other areas.

Tell them what they’re good at, tell them what they need to work on, then tell them how they can use what they’re good at to work on the other stuff. You’re still citing examples and keeping it honest and objective, but you’re also giving them clear direction and action items. This is the kind of feedback your employee can actually work with.

8. What can I do for you:

Ask for feedback. On everything. Ask for feedback on your leadership style as a manager. Ask for feedback on the rest of your team. Ask for feedback on senior leadership within your organization. On the company’s culture. On the performance review process itself. On company morale. On benefits. On training. On the snacks offered in the vending machine. Just ask! Innovation and progress aren’t born out of everyone assuming they’re doing the best they possibly can and never changing anything. They’re born out of conversation, honesty, change, asking questions, and caring about the answers. Listen to your people. Your employees aren’t the only ones who need performance reviews. And they aren’t the only ones who need feedback they can actually use.