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Conducting a performance review for managers

Performance reviews are a critical part of any manager’s job. Whether you lead a team of one or hundreds, meeting with your staff to establish and review performance goals, and to exchange feedback, is the key to building a strong working relationship. Because of that, knowing how to conduct a performance review should be at the top of every new, and established, manager’s priority list.

What is a performance review meeting?

Performance reviews are formalized assessments in which a manager evaluates an employee’s work performance, discusses strengths and weaknesses, provides candid feedback, and collaboratively sets goals for the quarter and year ahead.

Also known as performance appraisals or employee evaluations, these meetings can come in many formats. Traditional performance reviews, for example, are done once per year or quarter. In these formal meetings, managers assess the employee’s performance from the previous year, offer guidance for the coming year, and set goals according to the company’s strategic goals.

Modern performance reviews, on the other hand, have largely shifted toward less formalized meetings, continuous feedback, and two-way communication. This has helped to breed more agile workplaces that collect, analyze, and respond to performance feedback on a continuous basis. In these workplaces, performance reviews take place on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

However performance reviews are done, they are critical components of successful workforce management. As a manager, you should use these meetings to clearly set expectations between yourself and your staff and to define what the goals are for all parties in the months ahead.

The importance of performance reviews

Performance reviews offer a wide range of benefits for both staff and managers. They’re an opportunity for both parties to put their cards on the table and to express what is working and what needs to change in order to be successful.

To illustrate the importance of performance reviews, we’ve identified key benefits for employees and managers.

Performance review benefits for employees include:

  • Helping them understand what they’re doing well and what can be improved.
  • Aligning their efforts with company goals, thus establishing clear impact on the mission.
  • Clearly identifying what is expected of them to be successful on the job.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to reflect on their achievements.
  • Providing the opportunity to have candid conversations with their managers.
  • Setting performance, employee development, and personal development goals.
  • Receiving commitment from the manager and company to support their growth.

Of course, many of these benefits are only possible in situations where the employee and manager have a candid personal connection, and are willing to speak honestly with one another. We’ll dig into how to facilitate these relationships later in the article.

Performance review benefits of managers include:

  • Providing an opportunity to share what you think your employee is doing well, and what they can improve upon.
  • Unlocking two-way communication with the employee to identify previously unseen issues.
  • Focusing employees and teams toward specific strategic goals or outcomes in the year ahead.
  • Allowing managers and employees to work through roadblocks or problems collaboratively.
  • Showing a commitment to your team, and building trust.
  • Receiving feedback on performance as a manager and leader.

While it is important for managers to conduct performance of their employees to help coach and steer them in the right direction, it’s equally important for leaders to receive that same guidance. As such, it’s recommended that companies include leadership performance as a grading criteria for any managers who are in charge of a team.

By doing so, leaders and executives can identify areas that may need additional training or resources and provide help where needed. By doing so, you remove the burden of performance solely from your rank and file employees and evenly disperse it to leaders as well.

5 common types of performance reviews

To help facilitate open and honest conversations during a performance review, it helps if you come to the meeting prepared. Here are five common techniques for collecting performance information that will help steer you in the right direction.

1. Self-evaluations

Self-evaluations are  an opportunity for the employee to judge his or her own performance based on predetermined criteria and questions that you provide. They’re typically done in advance of the full performance review and in tandem with a manager’s rating.

The goal of this review activity is for the employee to take an honest look at their own performance and areas of improvement. The manager is also able to see what the employee thinks of themself, and where there may be either overconfidence or lack of confidence.

2. 360-degree feedback

360-degree feedback is a modern approach to employee reviews that takes a comprehensive look at performance by pulling feedback from multiple sources around the company.

In 360-degree feedback reviews, employees may receive feedback from the manager, self-assessments, peers, direct reports, or non-direct supervisors. The idea here is that performance may be perceived in a variety of ways by the people that an employee works with daily. This activity aims to capture that nuance.

3. Behavioral checklists

A behavioural checklist is a quantitative and subjective analysis – conducted by the manager – of how closely an employee’s behaviors align with job requirements.

In these reviews, the manager responds to a list of carefully worded yes-or-no questions that relate to desired behaviours. Each question is given a weighted value, and the answers are then measured to see where they fall within predefined grading criteria.

4. Graphic rating scale

Like the behavioral checklist, the graphic rating scale approach aims to provide an objective, quantitative picture of employee performance.

Managers will create a three-columned table organized with performance traits, desired score, and actual score. They then grade employee performance on a scale of 1-5 and compare it to the desired score.

This approach gives a quick, subjective representation of perceived performance for core competencies.

5. Goals and results

Goals and results analysis is another quantitative approach that numerically measures an employee’s – or team’s – results versus their goals. This is a great way to establish more secure and assertive feedback that you can use to guide your performance review conversation.

Performance review goals and objectives

Before conducting performance meetings, it’s helpful to lay out some clear goals and expectations for what you hope to achieve from the process.

Here are three must-have goals and objectives to take into account when planning your performance review program.

  • Communicating motivation and expectations. Make it clear to your team why performance reviews are important, and what the desired outcome is for them. Many employees will get their guard up when they hear that a performance review is coming, so it’s your job as a manager to ensure them that it is, in fact, a positive opportunity. To help manage expectations, make it clear how the reviews will be conducted, and what they can expect from the process.
  • Creating plans for employee development. The number one goal for your performance reviews should be to clearly lay out what the employee and team want to achieve in the year ahead, and how they will get there. This turns the conversation into a collaborative, forward-thinking process that aims to create value for the company, team, and employee. A typical outcome for this step is a comprehensive professional development plan that helps move the employee further down their career path.
  • Setting immediate goals for the year. Based on the outcome of the conversation in the previous bullet, the next objective of a performance review is to establish clear and definable goals for the year ahead. Focus on creating SMART goals for your employees. In other words, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals may touch on productivity, efficiency, learning, communication, leadership, project management, or any other area of improvement that both parties deem important.

Once you’re clear on what your performance review goals and objectives are, you can begin to think through some conversation items that you’d like to tackle during the meetings.

What to discuss during a performance review

While it’s not always possible to plan through every question and conversation item during a performance review, it is helpful to come prepared with a list of talking points. This will help ensure that you’re using your time wisely, and covering all important topics.

Open-ended questions are a great way to keep the conversation flowing. Here are some examples:

  • What are your goals at our company this year?
  • What are you hoping to achieve from a professional development standpoint?
  • What can I do to better support you?
  • How would you like to receive feedback?
  • What roadblocks can we move out of the way to help you achieve your goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in 2 years?
  • How can I help you get there?
  • How can I better manage you?

As you can see, each of these questions is designed as a conversation starter. It asks the employee to reflect on their own goals, and prompts them to provide insights on how both parties can work together toward a common outcome.

The key for a successful performance review is to make it a conversation. To do so, you need to establish trust and rapport with your employees, and show a genuine interest in their growth and career.

It also helps to have a clear plan and process in place for every performance review session.

10 steps to the performance review process

Generally speaking, the performance review process is broken into the following steps:

  • Communicate to your team when, where, and how performance reviews will be given.
  • Prepare for each performance review ahead of time:
    • Understand the employee’s job description and requirements
    • Review existing performance goals
    • Review any performance metrics at your disposal
    • Compare goals versus performance using quantitative techniques
    • Identify areas where the employee performed well, or missed their mark
    • Prepare an agenda with questions and comments
  • Make it a conversation in which both parties candidly share what worked, and what didn’t during the period under review.
  • Allow the employee to assess their own performance, with a particular focus on how they did relative to goals, any potential roadblocks or areas of learning, and what worked or didn’t work.
  • Provide constructive feedback where necessary to help the employee identify areas of improvement and growth.
  • Provide positive feedback to identify areas where the employee went above and beyond, and to reinforce that behavior.
  • Set clear objectives for the year ahead by communicating strategic priorities, discussing the employee’s ambitions, and establishing a set of SMART goals against which to measure future performance.
  • Ask for feedback on your management and leadership performance. This turns the conversation into a mutual learning experience, rather than a one-way conversation.
  • Summarize takeaways, including highlights of the conversation, key action items, and timelines. Ask the employee to summarize their key takeaways to ensure that you’re both on the same page.
  • Reflect on how the process went with your employees, and gather their feedback on what they liked, or didn’t like, about the process. Tweak the process accordingly for the next round of performance reviews.

The above process works well for more formal and scheduled performance reviews. In addition to this process, you might also want to consider adopting a less formal approach where possible.

Establishing a culture that uses 1:1 chats and frequent feedback has been proved to provide better and more immediate performance improvements. That’s because it adopts an agile approach to workforce management that relies on ongoing, candid feedback that translates into immediate tweaks to workflows.

This, of course, requires strong rapport between team members and managers who are comfortable with providing feedback outside of a performance review setting. Making a strong and determined effort on a daily basis to build these relationships with your employees will make the performance review process easier, and more fruitful, for everyone involved.

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