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How To Conduct A Better Performance Review

Don't you love the performance review?

Said no one ever.

The performance review is an aspect of work-life that strikes fear into the heart of many. From an employee standpoint, it can lead to sleepless nights wondering about how their appraisal will go.

From a manager's standpoint, the performance review is also stressful in a different way—trying to figure out what to say, how to lay it out, and where to go with it.

Yet, we cannot ignore the performance appraisal. There's plenty of value to be gained from them when approached properly.

From an employee's standpoint, they provide an opportunity for self-evaluation and to discuss what's been going right and where they see areas for improvement.

From a management standpoint, a well-crafted performance appraisal will allow you to:

  • Provide construuctive feedback and coaching to your team member
  • Build connect and rapport.

In the longer term, performance reviews can be used to increase employee engagement and can lead to an uptick in an employee's performance.

In this article, I'll take you through how to conduct performance reviews the right way.

We'll go over:

Performance review best practices

There are many aspects in the review process that make conducting a performance review challenging.

Judging someone about their performance, and giving an appraisal, is no easy feat, but there are a number of ways you can make employee evaluation a much easier process.

Increase the frequency

Want to make each performance appraisal less of an ordeal? Conduct them more often.

This is something I covered in my article about performance management best practices.

There are many benefits to moving away from the annual performance review and towards more frequent performance reviews.

Conducting one each quarter can be a good framework to start with. With conducting performance reviews on a more frequent basis, you are far less likely to have aspects of employee performance fall through the cracks.

From a study conducted by Wakefield Research on the performance review:

Nearly half of employees don’t feel comfortable raising issues with their boss between formal performance reviews, but nearly three-quarters say they’d be more proactive in raising issues or concerns if they received more frequent feedback.

A year can be a long time for things to build up, and notable areas of performance can be forgotten or overlooked if they have to wait until the annual performance review.

There's a reason that a number of organizations have moved away from the annual performance review to a more frequent cadence. At the very least, try for one per quarter.

Be future focused

OK so performance reviews are all about employee performance over the last quarter, so some retrospection is, of course, required.

However, the past has already happened, so there's not a lot of point dwelling over it too much. Instead, turn the narrative to how you and the team member are going to work together to address any issues and put the team meber in the driver's seat for their development.

This means adopting something of a coaching mindset, which means asking questions that require the team member to work out the best path for themselves (rather than just telling them what to do).

Related read: how to go from manager to coach

Use data and feedback from multiple sources

Performance reviews are a mixture of data and opinions. Yours, the employees, and then the cold, hard facts related to their goals and KPIs.

The aim is to always remain as objective as possible and as constructive as possible.

To that end, you can also bolster your data using 360 reviews (particularly great for appraising managers), feedback from employee recognition platforms, and any client feedback.

Preparing and Conducting An Effective Performance Review

Before you begin having these performance conversations with an employee, you want to come in with something beforehand to make the performance review process smooth.

However, be aware that you don't need to stick to the script 100% if something interesting arises during the employee review. The employee that you are conducting the review with will likely bring up something interesting that will lead you off piste.

These kinds of performance review comments are worth their weight in gold, and you want to explore further when they come up.

Don't Make Them A One Sided Conversation

One Sided Conversation Image

When it comes to employee evaluation, it's easy to think that it's going to be a one-sided conversation. You as the manager will do all the talking while the employee listens.

This is something that you do not want to be doing. Effective performance management can only be reached if you're open to listening and obtaining feedback from the employee that you are doing the review process with.

By giving constructive feedback, and having an open conversation, the appraisal process will give great insights on both sides of the table. You just have to be ready to listen.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

One of the worst things that you can do in an employee performance review is tip toe around issues in regards to performance feedback.

For example, if you have an employee that is not performing well in certain areas and you don't address it you're doing them, yourself, and their team a great disservice. They’ll have little reason to improve their performance when they're not given feedback that they should be getting during the performance conversation.

It's easy for barriers to exist between managers and an employee in regards to communication and transparency. It's human nature, and frequently requires a conscious effort to address.

One of the best ways to express your honesty during an employee performance evaluation is thinking about how you would like to receive feedback. It's a twist of the golden rule - treat others as how you would like to be treated. Take a moment to step back and, again, walk a mile in their shoes.

To be clear, you don't need to be brutally honest in your feedback on their overall performance that, while it might be truthful, has them leaving the room in floods of tears. You have to find the right balance when it comes to constructive criticism.

Some employees in the performance review conversation may prefer you to be more blunt, while others will need some easing in. We're all different when it comes to that.

If you're still struggling with honesty, a performance review tip is to step back and look at your communication skills. If you need help in regards to your soft skills check out our article on why soft skills are more important than ever in the workplace.

Regardless of what you do, always ensure that you end things on a positive note. You want them to leave the conversation feeling inspired and appreciated, and with a clear roadmap of where they can improve.

Details, Details, Details

When you're giving feedback, you don't want to be vague. You don't want to be sweeping broad strokes and just talking in analogies.

You need to give concrete examples during the performance conversation. Perhaps there was something they did on a project last month that you want to bring up. Maybe they got a project back on schedule, or had a cause in things falling behind.

The more concrete examples you can give to back up your constructive criticism, the better.

This is why it's better to conduct performance reviews on a more frequent basis. That way you can use examples whilst they’re fresh and the details are still clear.

Related read: 5 tips to give more effective feedback

Remove distractions

Performance reviews are a little stressful so aim to create a calming environment to conduct them.

Whether that's tidying up your office, tidying up your background if you are on Zoom—do anything you can to make the performance review as painless as possible.

Remove as many distractions as you can—Slack notifications, phones buzzing, emails going off. Unless there's a fire happening, it can wait.

Make Use Of Available Tools

There are plenty of tools available to help while conducting performance reviews. Why not make use of them? They help make everyone's lives easier.

There is no one-size-fits all tool when it comes to the performance review. What tool you choose will depend on your organization, your working style, and how you go about conducting performance reviews.

For a list of Performance Management tools you should look into, check out our article on 10 performance management tools every HR pro should know.

Related read: Best Performance Appraisal Software for Skill Growth

Useful performance review phrases and employee evaluation Comments

Let's now get into some review phrases you can make use of.

To begin with, you want to start off with categories to cover during the performance review. This is by no means a definitive list - feel free to pick and choose, and add in what you want, but to get a start, consider the following:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Communication
  3. Accountability
  4. Quality of Work

With each of these, you can then create specific performance appraisal phrases. You don't want to be vague. As mentioned earlier, bringing up examples to help justify each choice will generate much better feedback rather than vague phrases like "they are a team player".

KPIs and metrics are also a performance review phrase that you will want to make use of. For example, if someone is in sales, you can outline in their Quality of Work how much they were able to meet these metrics.

That said, you don't want to only have all data in their reviews. You want to use it to justify the reasoning for their overall performance. You should make use of them in combination with examples to justify your decision in the review phrases that you use.

What are some examples of some performance review phrases you can use from the four listed above?

1. Problem Solving

  • Displays the ability to come up with different solutions and look at problems outside the box.
  • Displays the ability to clarify their reasoning for tackling problems.

2. Communication

  • Consistent communication with their peers, team, and managers.

3. Accountability

  • Demonstrates ability to admit mistakes made to others.

4. Quality of Work

  • Demonstrates a consistent and high-quality level of work on projects.

These are a few phrases to help you get started. Remember that for each one, the more you can justify it with prior examples, KPIs, and metrics, the better.

Next steps for your performance reviews

Now that we've gone over challenges in the performance review, how to prepare and conduct an effective one, and performance management phrases to make use of, where should you go from here?

I suggest:

Firstly taking stock of the frequency of your current performance appraisal process - perhaps you still conduct them on a yearly basis.

Review how detailed you are getting in the performance review process. Don't only use numbers and stats, but don't be vague with the reasoning behind the performance feedback you are giving.

Think about the areas you want to cover in the performance review, and what review phrases that you want to make use of. Again, don't be vague - always justify the reasoning behind it.

Want more information on how to create better performance reviews for your organization? Read our following articles:

By Paul Lopusushinsky

Paul Lopusushinsky is the founder of Playficient, which uses many product management techniques to improve the employee experience.