How to Create a Positive, Engaging Performance Review Experience

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It’s the end of the year and for most employers, time for performance review conversations.

Have you ever left a performance review discussion feeling more engaged, inspired, and motivated? If you have, you understand that performance reviews can drive positive change and feelings, if done right. The trouble is that most managers don’t know how to facilitate these positive changes within the context of a performance review discussion.

All too often, performance reviews can be a negative experience for employees and managers alike, dreaded by some, avoided by others, and feared by even the best of performers. Managers often dislike providing performance feedback to their employees, and employees don’t like receiving it. Who can blame them? When the process is focused on judging, rating, and criticizing, as it is traditionally, it can lose its purpose and become a negative experience for everyone involved.

The performance review process doesn’t need to be perceived this way. It can be a time of re-engaging and re-directing employees towards greater success in the next year and affirming your support for their performance and development, while still meeting your administrative needs (i.e. merit increases, performance documentation, etc.).

Changing the perceptions of the process starts with changing the experience. Here are a few suggestions for your managers to create a more positive performance review experience.

Prepare and be objective.

Throughout the year, it’s important to collect information about your employees, including their specific accomplishments, performance problems, progress in their development, and current skills. This information will help you form a more objective evaluation of your employee. For example, every time your employee does something well, goes to a training, develops a new skill, has a performance issue, or goes above and beyond their duties, log the behavior, result, and cause (if known) in a diary for future reference. This will make completing your employee’s performance review much easier and accurate. Nothing is more frustrating to an employee than a manager who doesn’t have all of his/her facts straight or evaluates them too subjectively.

Deemphasize ratings.

Ratings can serve a purpose in the performance review process, but the focus of a performance review discussion should not be where the employee fell on the Likert scale or how the employee ranks compared to other employees. Employees can often get caught up in how they were rated and miss the bigger picture of the conversation. The performance discussion can quickly become an argument about differing opinions on ratings and this isn’t productive for either party. Additionally, remember that a manager’s core purpose in the performance management process isn’t to judge, but rather coach to improve performance.

Uncover causes of high performance.

A fair performance review should uncover an employee’s areas of high performance throughout the year and the causes of why the employee performed well on those tasks or projects. By identifying an employee’s successes and reasons for their success, you can better understand the factors that lead an employee to perform well, and maximize these factors in the future by recreating conditions that facilitate great performance.

Focus on improvement.

Another core purpose of a performance review is to improve performance. This rarely happens just by criticizing the employee and telling them what they need to improve. In fact, you’ll often find that employees don’t know where to start to improve, so there needs to be additional work, help, coaching, and development to close the performance gap that exists and to enhance and broaden skills. The performance review discussion should explore ways to close those gaps and expand skill sets, and discuss barriers to employees’ success as well as how those can be bridged or alleviated.

Suggest ways employees can learn and develop.

Explore learning and training opportunities and look for ways to align development with employees’ preferred learning styles. For example, some employees respond better to reading material, attending workshops, mentoring, or on-the-job training. The key is to find and suggest effective ways that employees like to learn and use these to encourage skill development. Map out a few learning objectives to ensure that employees are held accountable for building their skills.

Set goals and objectives.

A final step that’s beneficial at the end of a performance review discussion is goal setting. Setting goals towards the end of the conversation helps close the conversation on a motivational note, and get employees excited about new objectives and projects. Goals can strengthen performance and improve skills, and can be helpful in motivating employees to work towards new objectives. Ideally, employees should have input into what these goals are, versus just being arbitrarily assigned objectives.

Close with support.

Finally, it’s important to end a performance review discussion supportively. Express confidence in the employee’s abilities and let them know that you are there to support their success throughout the next year as they work towards their goals. Emphasize what they are doing right, what they can improve upon, and how you’ll help them. Cite specific ways that you will do this, and if possible, create a written action plan. Then, be sure to deliver on those promises. Even when an employee has much to work on, having the support and confidence of their manager can make all the difference between a negative or positive reaction to the discussion and feeling motivated to change their behavior.

In the coming years, make it a goal to have each and every one of your employees leave their performance review discussion motivated and inspired. You may discover that these discussions aren’t so bad after all, and create a more engaged team that’s ready to deliver great results in your organization.

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