For many companies it is fast approaching “that time of year” again. You got it, the dreaded annual review process. Most employees hate it and managers despise it. Typically it is because it is some bureaucratic nightmare of forms and paperwork that is thrust upon staff and managers to complete. Regardless of the system or form that your organization has or uses, the actual performance review meeting can still be a very productive use of everyone’s time.
Rightly or wrongly, for managers and their staff, it is the one time of year that they can actually carve out some time together for a face to face discussion and humanize their relationship! So how can we make the best out of the annual performance review meeting? Well, it takes input and effort from the manager and employee to make it all work. Here are some tips for both parties to help your performance meeting be more productive:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare: Yes, I know, you don’t have time. You have deliverables, etc. The truth of the matter is that this meeting with your employee is very important. Both you and your employee may downplay the meeting, but I can assure you, this meeting is very important to your employee. They want to hear how they have done and they want to know where they are going (career-wise). This meeting is doubly important to them if your merit increases are directly linked to the performance review rating. You owe it to your employee to be prepared. You need to have completed a well thought out review that covers the entire year. Set time aside in the months prior to the meeting to work on it. Hopefully you have kept some sort of a log throughout the year that references examples of your employee meeting/exceeding their goals or demonstrating critical competencies. Reference this information early and often. Remember, completing their performance review is not something that can be completed 30 minutes before the actual performance meeting!
- Seek out additional inputs: This can be done in the form of having the employee complete a self-appraisal or gathering some form of 360 degree feedback. Regardless of the approach, you have to keep it consistent for all your staff – that is, all get to complete self-appraisals, all are assessed via 360 feedback etc. It also doesn’t have to be as formal as 360 feedback. You can also gain input from other managers for whom your employee has worked with on other projects, etc. If you run a service based department, gather input from your clients/customers. Ask for them feedback on the service (level) they have received from your employee(s) – not anecdotal, but concrete examples of meeting/exceeding (or not meeting) service levels.
- No interruptions: In order to have an effective meeting, you need to schedule the time in advance with your employee and make sure the meeting is conducted where you won’t be interrupted. If you get interrupted a lot in your office, (phone calls, knocks on the door, etc.) than don’t have the meeting there. Find an alternative location like a conference room, training room, or someone else’s office! Make sure you schedule enough time in between meetings so you aren’t rushed or don’t have someone else hanging around outside your door. Better to finish a bit early than run late when conducting performance meetings.
- Be specific: The key to a great performance meeting, when reviewing the past year’s performance, is to make sure you have specific examples. When identifying whether or not your employee has achieved their goals, you need to cite specific examples or reasons as to how they met or did not meet the expected goals. As well, if you are rating them on core competencies, you need to have specific examples. Often your examples will be actual KPI’s (key performance indicators) that specifically measure their results via reports, dashboards, etc. Other times you will have to rely on manager observations- and that is ok too. Good managers observe their staff and coach throughout the year. It is ok to rely on manager observation as a measurement for success (or lack thereof). Kris Dunn wrote a great article on this last week and I encourage you to read it as it is absolute gold.
- Think about the future: A lost part of a performance review meeting is often the (lack of) discussion about what lies ahead. If all has gone well throughout the year from a communication perspective, the performance meeting is a mere wrap up of the conversations that have been had throughout that year. What is discussed should not come as any surprise to the employee. The real magic occurs when the discussion turns to what lies ahead for the coming year. The manager and employee should use this time to plan out goals for the coming year and what the employee needs to focus on. Whatever performance gaps were identified in their goals/competencies from the previous year should have a development plan in place that addresses them for the coming year.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare: In order to get the most out of your review meeting you need to be prepared. Complete a self-appraisal and cite examples of how/where your expected performance met expectations. If some of your goals were not met because you had been assigned to other projects, etc., than make sure you reference those specifics in your self-appraisal and be able to speak to your manager about the impact. Keep a log throughout the year of your progress against your goals. If you are uncertain of their status, make sure you discuss with your manager in the time preceding the performance review meeting. In the case of performance, no news is not necessarily good news! Overall, you need to come with your own prepared snapshot of your performance and be prepared to discuss during your performance meeting.
- Take ownership of your development: Many employees expect their manager to have a clear roadmap laid out for them when it comes to their development. I have seen/heard far too often of employees that were disappointed in their performance meeting because their manager did not lay out a plan for them that would move them “to the next level.” You need to either ask, or identify, with your manager where you want to go with your career. Take the lead and don’t think in terms of positions or titles, but focus more on actions and outcomes. In other words, paint a picture of what you want to be doing and accomplishing. Ask your manager what you need to do to get there, ask for the opportunity to demonstrate you have the skills to do it and then ask your manager for their support in helping you get there.
- Ask for clarity: If there is something in your performance review you do not understand – ask for clarification. You should never leave a performance review meeting feeling unclear about how you were assessed, or what you were assessed on. Your manager owes it to you to provide specific examples in support of the ratings you have been given. If you don’t feel that you were provided with those specifics, than press your manager for more details. At the conclusion of your performance meeting, you need to clearly understand your manager’s assessment of your performance so you can adjust/focus for next year. Remember, you own your own performance!
These are but a few suggestions for managers and employees on how to get the most out of the performance review meeting. I welcome any other suggestion on how to improve the annual performance meeting so that it actually becomes something both parties look forward to because it adds value to the employment relationship. As always, I welcome any other comments and feedback.
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