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Tips For Successful Performance Reviews

Thursday 28 June, 2007
by Onetest
The following 10 tips are designed to help you prepare for your next performance review process.

Most managers will tell you that they don't look forward to the annual performance review season. It's not hard to see why. Reviews are time consuming, they can often take hours to prepare for and many of us have had little or no formal training in facilitating a performance management process, let alone delivering sensitive feedback in a constructive manner or conflict resolution.

Relax. With a little bit of preparation and a positive attitude, you're certain to learn a great deal about your team and more importantly yourself. 

The golden rules

Before we look at the 10 tips below, there are a few golden rules of management that overlay the entire performance review process and in fact successful management techniques in general.

  1. Remember that your employees are probably just as anxious about the review process as you are.
  2. Like you, your team members have feelings and may from time to time show emotions at work.
  3. Treat your employees with the same respect and courtesy that you would expect from your manager.
  4. Establish the right mind-set

    If I asked you to rate your level of satisfaction with your company's annual performance review process, how would it fare? If you're like most managers in most organisations, it probably doesn't rate highly on the list of tasks outlined on your position description.

    For your performance reviews to be a success, it is imperative that you go into the process well prepared and with a positive frame of mind. To do this, you need to take a step back and see the process for what it really is; an opportunity for you to spend time with your team so that you can uncover ways to improve their performance and satisfaction. Why is this important? Well, if your team members are happy, they're more likely to perform better and less likely to leave your organisation. With happy, committed and more productive staff, your life as a manager can only get easier.

    We know for a fact that an employee's manager is the number one reason for employees seeking alternative employment. With this in mind, the performance review process is your opportunity to learn more about your team; specifically what motivates them, what new challenges they're looking for and how your needs (i.e. a stable, productive team) and theirs (i.e. personal development and career path) can align. Happy team members really do stay!
  5. Remember, reviews are a two way street

    As mentioned earlier, managers have typically viewed employee performance reviews as an opportunity to point out all the things an employee's "stuffed up" over the previous 12 months. Warning: If this is your approach, it's a sure fire way of increasing staff turnover and damaging employee morale and trust.

    Savvy organisations have long been using the performance review process to find out how their managers and indeed the organisation can lift its game. By allowing the employee to have their say about where they feel the company or manager could improve, they are also more likely to accept comments about their own performance gaps and areas they need to develop over the next 6 to 12 months.

    A small caution for all managers when hearing feedback about your own performance: sit back and listen to the team members comments - take it all on board. Do not jump down their throat in your defence as this will defeat the purpose. Instead, try to ask probing questions, "can you give me an example of that so I can better understand?' ‘How do you think I/we could handle that better in the future?". Acknowledge their comments, "'I appreciate your comments on that.' 'I'm sorry you feel that way.'"
  6. Take time out to prepare

    A large percentage of managers I speak with only spend 10 minutes on average preparing for an employee performance review. Often this is done 5 or 10 minutes before their next review meeting.

    If you're looking to get maximum value out of your review process you need to make time to prepare. Block out at least 1 hour in your calendar for every team member and if possible leave the office to do it; you need time to think about each team member without the normal day to day interruptions. Talk with your manager if you don't think your current workload or schedule will allow for that to happen and ask for assistance in covering for you during this time.
  7. Talk with other people before the review to source other opinions

    Performance reviews have traditionally been very insular. That is, they have been based on the opinions of two people - the manager and the employee. If you don't already, try talking with some other people such as your fellow managers, the employee's peers and even their subordinates. Try to do this at various stages throughout the year so it doesn't look like a last minute effort.

    We know that when feedback is obtained from multiple sources:

    • Employees are more likely to accept the feedback as accurate
    • Managers feel more comfortable discussing the perceptions of ‘many'

    If obtaining the thoughts of other managers, subordinates and peers is a little difficult in your organisation, there are a number of online performance review tools that can facilitate the collection of information from multiple sources. This is often referred to as 360 degree or multi rater feedback.
  8. Prepare an agenda and communicate this to employees in advance

    It is vital that you have an agenda for the review meeting: a road map that includes the things you intend to cover off. Having an agenda will convey to your team that you are treating the performance review process seriously and that there will be some structure to the conversation. It is particularly useful to provide each employee with the agenda several days before their review and that you encourage your team to add agenda items that they'd like to discuss. Understanding what is on the mind of your employees before the review meeting will help you to be better prepared.  No surprises.
  9. Stay on track

    It is possible that the review meeting may get a little heated. Conversation may also head in a direction that takes you out of your comfort zone or is non work-related. The minute this happens, excuse yourself [interrupt] and reiterate that you only have an hour now so whilst this issue is of obvious importance, it might be best to get back to the agenda given there are other important issues to get through. If required, the point of contention can be addressed in another forum at a later point in time.

    To minimise the likelihood of this occurring, make sure you keep the conversation work-related at all times and don't ever criticize or blame team members directly.

    If you can't reach consensus on a particular issue, always go back to the agenda and move on. The agenda is your friend; you just need to remember to refer back to it when required.
  10. Start and finish with positive feedback

    They say that as a rule of thumb, you should give 5 pieces of positive feedback for every 1 piece of negative or constructive feedback. Whilst this may be a little difficult to do in some cases; what it does indicate is that the overall theme or flavour of your review needs to be positive.

    Always start off by thanking the team member for their contribution over the past 6 or 12 months. Regardless of what you're about to say, you have to remember that they have turned up for work more often than not over the past 365 days and that they have probably spent more time sitting at their workstation than they have with their family. Scary but true.

    Ensure that you finish the meeting off on a positive note. The following point about action items will help you to do this.
  11. Create a list of action items

    One of the main complaints employees have of the performance review processes is that nothing ever seems to change after the review.  In fact you can hear these sentiments echoing around the corridors of almost every organisation in the land, "I just spent an hour and half talking about the same stuff I talked about last year and nothing ever changes". It's easy to see how employees can be skeptical of the performance review process.

    Managers have historically left the performance review process and immediately become ‘busy' again with their own day to day tasks.

    Like any serious business meeting, it is important that you take notes during the meeting. At the end of the meeting, recap the content of the meeting back to the employee; ask them whether you've missed or misunderstood anything. Spend 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the performance review meeting to brainstorm the top 5 key action items that can form the basis for that employee's development plan over the next 6 to 12 months.

    Make sure you spend 5 minutes to brainstorm the top 2 action items for you as their manager to walk away with. This will demonstrate to the employee that you're also serious about continual improvement and making their life at work better.
  12. Have the team member agree on the action items and next steps

    So you've created a list of action items. The next step in the process is to get the employee to agree and more importantly commit to the action items; that is to treat them seriously. Before leaving the meeting, seek verbal confirmation that the employee understands what was discussed and that they are comfortable with the proposed action items.

    The final piece of information to convey to the employee in the performance review meeting should be to advise them that you will be typing up notes from the discussion and booking in three half hour ‘catch ups' over the next 12 weeks to ensure momentum is maintained and the next steps are on track. This is best done in a more relaxed environment; say at a coffee shop over a drink, breakfast or even lunch. Don't underestimate the power of taking your team out of the office for a meal or a drink.
  13. View this as the start of the process not the end

    Many managers walk away from the performance review meeting and leave the conversation back in the meeting room. This is only the start of a 12 month program designed to improve the performance and satisfaction of your team.

    When you walk out of the review, schedule in at least 3 catch up sessions over the next 12 weeks. Once you have completed all of your performance reviews, block some time out of your diary once again to finish off the performance review process. This will include typing up the notes from each review and reviewing each action item to ensure you know what is expected of you as manager. Type up your action items as well and if you're brave enough (and you're not breaking confidentiality or trust to do so) stick them up on the wall in your office so that you are looking at them every day.

    As a rule of thumb, you should allow at least 30 minutes per employee for the post performance wrap up. 

Author Credits

For more information, call Onetest on 1300 137 937; Email: sales@onetest.com.au; or visit the Web site: www.onetest.com.au
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