Why Most Performance Reviews Aren’t Effective, and What to Do About It

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As it stands, annual employee performance reviews are about as fun as an annual visit to the dentist. In most offices, performance reviews are a rushed process that revolves more around fear than recognition. As a manager, being tasked with conducting a review can be daunting, intimidating and sometimes just outright awkward.

But, reviews should be seen as an exciting time to look back on what your team has done, as well as an opportunity to plan goals out for the next year. Below, we’ll pinpoint some common problems for reviewers and the possible solutions to make your next round of reviews successful.

Problem: They’re rushed.

Starting the process right is essential to creating an efficient performance review. When companies decide they want to start giving performance reviews, the timeline is often compressed, both the reviewer and the reviewee aim to get things done as quickly as possible.

This puts stress on you as the reviewer to complete the task without a structure in place. This makes it unlikely you’ll be able to consistently replicate it. But doing one performance review, then never doing another one, is as productive as never doing one at all.

Instead, stress to your team that the performance review is an ongoing process, and needs to be treated as such. Set up a timeline with enough lead time to inform reviewees. Create metrics that both sides understand. It might sound obvious, but set up meetings for performance reviews well in advance to give the reviewee ample time to prepare. Companies often think performance reviews must be done at the end of the year, but take a look at your team’s annual workload. This could be busiest time of year, and therefore not the best time to reflect.

As a reviewer, you have the luxury of creating the timeline. Make sure you’re giving ample time and understanding to make the review itself a success.

Problem: There’s no system or structure.

So, you’ve got a proper timeline in place, but do you have a system to base the performance reviews off of? Often, the performance review is so anxiety-inducing for all parties because there’s no expectation of what will occur. When you give your team ample lead time (see above), you can work together to build a system that meets your need.

Structure can mean different things for each company. If your company has a flat structure, it might mean considering who reviews whom. If you oversee a team with a multitude of different roles, it might mean reviewing each role by different metrics.

If you can, meet with your reviewee(s) to discuss what they want the review process to look like. Do they want feedback from multiple parties? Do they want to do peer reviews in addition to your review? When your team, or single reviewee has a hand in setting up the process, they are much more likely to find the performance review effective when it takes place. Based on those brainstorming conversations, you can create a feedback form that engages the team.

A meeting before the performance review also sets up systems of accountability. You can let your reviewee know what you expect them to prepare. This way, no one comes into the performance review blind sighted.

Problem: They don’t feel productive.

Depending on your relationship, you can often expect sweaty palms and a disengaged employee when the performance review begins. As a reviewer, you need to do your best to alleviate that stress.

As noted above, make it clear to the reviewee, before the meeting, what you expect of him or her. What can the reviewee have prepared beforehand? As the reviewer, you’ll be expected to have feedback, but often the expectations of the reviewee are unknown until the formal process begins. If you want the meeting to be productive, you’ll have to convey the level of participation you need from the reviewee.

Employee performance reviews are a time to be critical, to be sure, but they should also be a time for reflection and praise. Criticism is essential, but to be productive, you need to move on from that. Allow the reviewee to take your feedback and build off of it, creating goals and a performance improvement plan for the next quarter.

While we tend to see performance reviews as critical or negative, they can also be used as an excellent tool to expand the way teams communicate and work with each other. By setting the correct expectations and understanding the system for both critical and positive feedback, you can ensure that the process is effective.