I’m not sure I know anyone who likes performance reviews. I’ll be the first to say that I used to dread them when first starting my career. They’re stressful and unavoidable. As I’ve progressed in my field, I went from subject of the assessment on one side of the desk to a reviewer on the other. Honestly? It doesn’t make it any easier. Managing a team has its difficulties when it’s your job to give feedback. You want to be a strong leader, a mentor and a source of inspired guidance, but sometimes we have to take the (sometimes uncomfortable) steps to steer our teams in the right direction. The goal of evaluations, both positive and negative, is to improve the work process and bring out the best in everyone’s ability.
Delivering a constructive performance review takes practice; no one is good at them at the get go. To ease the tension and be effective when giving a performance evaluation – especially when corrective — I recommend the following:
Don’t wait until the breaking point
Negative feedback is never good to hear — we’ve all been there — but it’s part of the professional growing process. My recommendation is to never wait until critical mass to say something. Gentle suggestions that yield small, positive results are a good way to steer a team member in the right direction as issues arise. Offering responses on a weekly basis will also help managers get better at assessment and giving constructive commentary. This will also help avoid year-end surprises.
Negative news shouldn’t be done over email. A face-to-face meeting is necessary because nonverbal communication is important in these situations. An in-person meeting shows credibility and that you care about the person’s well-being, their success, and their goals. It also shows initiative and care, because criticism should be handled kindly – and honestly – so we don’t shortchange our employees.
Observe throughout the year
Keeping mental or physical notes on observations, wins, and losses will help you think through what needs to be said in a performance review. When sitting down to chat, lead with positive news to avoid having the recipient shut down. Having well-rounded commentary about highs and lows will allow you to start the conversation with positive details and observations before addressing the team member’s missteps. Having constructive details about employees, however minor, will convey your passion and interest in their development.
Remember how vulnerable you were in this situation? Once delivering not-so-great news, be honest and tactfully describe how to fix the problem. Objective judgments followed by positive alternatives allow the recipient to understand how to better handle situations in the future. This confirms that you’re criticizing the process, not the person. This is also the time to drive home the point that you want to see them master their respective role, and criticism is a chance for them to learn.
Make people feel valued
End the meeting with goals in mind for the remainder of the year. A co-worker is more likely to leave a performance review energized instead of discouraged if expectations are clear and checkpoints are established. I urge managers to let their team members know how much their strengths and contributions are valued. We all do better when someone sees our worth and potential. Post-meeting, build a positive rapport with your employees so they know you always have their best interests in mind. Monitor their performance after the meeting to ensure they understand what your critiques meant so that (hopefully!) you can give them a positive review in the future.
We all have things we can work on to be better, both personally and professionally. By being patient and brave in our roles, we have the power to help others help themselves. Valuable evaluations help companies build trust and a culture of greatness. Let’s be exceptional together.