Posted on February 10, 2014

6 Tips for Better Performance Reviews

Did you know that a quarter of employees dread performance reviews more than anything else in their work lives? Make sure your team doesn't fall into that 25 percent!

In a recent webinar, Paycor HR business partners Becky Falvey and Lauren Ammon offered six tips for managing your team’s performance, with a focus on making the review process a true opportunity to develop employees in an ongoing way, and not just an awkward meeting once a year.

1. Keep it simple

First things first: Don't overcomplicate the process. Instead of worrying too much about numbers and scores, focus on an employee’s overall value. The goal of the review is to generate meaningful, candid conversations.

Many companies find it helpful to use a 1-5 rating system, but that’s not a silver bullet for every organization. Eighty percent of employees rate themselves in the top quartile of performance; it can be hard to reconcile inaccurate self-perception with company standards and distinguish between levels. As a result, some companies are abandoning rating scales altogether in favor of prioritizing the employee’s big-picture contribution.

2. Find a balance

Whether you want to improve a low-performing employee or encourage a high performer to keep up the good work, balance is crucial to the conversation. Reviewers should assess both what has happened in the performance period and what can be done going forward. It’s also important to reaffirm what went well and explain what future success looks like.

Be sure to consider:

* Accomplishments: Where did the employee excel? With whom and under what circumstances?
* Challenges: Where can you find opportunities to grow in the next year? What obstacles did the employee face and have to overcome?

Three other keys to a balanced review:
# Focus on skills and behaviors, not the person. Restrict comments to what happened and what the outcome was so employees understand the review is about their work, not their personality or character.
# Cite specific examples. Employees will quickly dismiss general statements that lack a reference to a particular project, instance or outcome. Use language that clearly explains the result of what an employee did (or did not do). In positive cases, specific examples will help your team know how to duplicate great behavior!
# Include action steps. Don't assume an employee knows what to do better or differently—or even how to keep doing well. Be clear about what works, what doesn’t and what you want to see from your employee.

3. Introduce crowdsourcing

A complete review includes more opinions than just the immediate manager's. That means sourcing feedback from an employee’s teammates and collaborators, including those from other departments and areas of responsibility. It’s important to understand what happens on a team when the boss isn’t around.

And of course, don’t forget about the employee! Make sure he or she contributes to the review process with a self-assessment and has an opportunity to be heard face to face, as well.

4. Set goals

State 5-6 goals for the next review period, and include both business and non-financial, personal objectives. Make sure expectations and measurements are clearly defined and understood.

Effective goal-setting requires two things:
# Collaboration: Allow for some goals (personal, career-oriented) to be owned by the employee, some to be owned by the manager (financial, measurable) and some by both. This fosters understanding and alignment and gives managers actionable insight into the employee’s thinking.
# Documentation: Every review needs a goals section, providing a one-pager for the employee. This becomes the foundation for performance and development interactions. It gives the employee a compass and sets an agenda for periodic one-on-one meetings.

5. Check in regularly

There are three best practices for keeping open the lines of candid, consistent communication:

# 1:1 meetings: Whether weekly or monthly, this is a standing time to discuss achievements, roadblocks and new ideas or projects. The goals page from the employee’s review helps create the agenda for these touch-base meetings.
# Personal development meetings: Whereas the 1:1 answers the question, “How are you doing at work?” the personal development meeting answers the question, "How are you?" Set aside additional time beyond the 1:1 to simply talk with your employee less formally about what’s going on in his or her life.
# On-the-job observation: This is the single most effective way to assess performance, because most people describe their work too positively or too negatively. Observation is the best way to learn what an employee really does and gauge the impact of that work. Almost any job provides an opportunity to do this: you can watch an employee with a customer or co-worker or simply see how an employee manages his or her time.

6. After the review: Calibrate

Remember: the review process is ongoing! So you need to calibrate and re-calibrate to determine key groups and drive action. This means categorizing top performers, developing leaders and low performers, then recalibrating later to assess development and adjust actions.

Want to learn more? View a recording of Becky and Lauren’s recent webinar.

These tips aren’t the only things that can help make performance reviews easier and more productive: Paycor’s HR application provides a user-friendly interface for employees and supervisors to manage performance reviews, access employee files and foster open communication. Learn more by speaking with a Paycor representative.