How to Lead A Productive Performance Review

Employees and managers both dread the performance review, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Done right, there’s tremendous value in performance reviews.

Employees dread the performance review. They look to this end of the year evaluation with angst, annoyance, and anger. It’s a measure of their whole year bottled into a 1–2 hour meeting that will determine their promotion, raise, etc. They often don’t even leave with feedback on how to grow–it’s mostly a waste of time.

Leaders don’t like the performance review much either. The process typically takes them 5–10 times longer than their employees — and they often see a less engaged employee on the other end.

It’s a hard process. It’s time-consuming, vague and not focused. Still, the performance review process shouldn’t be scrapped. It can be done better — it can serve as a tool to align leader and employee, connect your team and organizational goals, and be a catalyst for employee growth.

How can you make the performance review something of value for you and your employee?

Let’s first start with the intention of the performance review process. The purpose of the performance review process is to assess your employee’s work over the past year (or quarter), agree on actions for improvement, and align on next year’s (or quarter’s) goals as they relate to the company’s core objectives.

I’ve broken the process down into a few simple steps to remove the vagueness, provide concrete actions to take and set you up with a framework to hold more productive performance reviews for your team.

Step 1. Assess successes and opportunities. You can’t just walk into a performance review meeting and wing it. It does take preparation. It should not, however, take more than 60–90 minutes to prepare for each employee.

In reviewing their performance, look at each of your employee’s goals in the following ways.

  • Analyze the outcome. Did she reach her goal? Yes or no. What are her tangible metrics?
  • Identify actions you want her to repeat. What did she do well that helped her towards this goal? What was the impact of her actions? Make sure to provide specific examples.
  • Identify actions you see as opportunities. What could she have done better? What was the impact? What is the potential impact of adapting? Share specific examples.

Write down notes and examples. It’s OK to use them during the conversation; it shows your employee you care about their growth and have dedicated time to giving thoughtful feedback. Ask your employee to do the same. Have her come to the meeting prepared to share her results. Following this structure will set each meeting up for success.

Step 2. Hold the conversation. This is your employee’s meeting. Sit back, listen, and ask questions for clarity. Then give your feedback.

For an ideal review, follow the four A’s: ask, add, agree, align.

  • Ask and listen. How did you see your performance over the last year? What are some significant accomplishments? What didn’t go as planned? What happened? What did you learn?
  • Add your feedback. This is the time to share your feedback. What actions did she do well? What are some opportunities for growth? Share specific examples for each.
  • Agree with the assessment. Do you agree with her assessment? What do you have to add to it? Does she agree with your assessment? What does she have to add?
  • Align with new goals. Now that you’ve agreed on the assessment of her performance it’s time to look forward. It’s a chance to set new goals based on company objectives and her desired areas of growth.

Where should she focus her energies to achieve business objectives for the next year (or quarter)? Where does she want to grow and develop herself? You should leave with three to five S.M.A.R.T goals for the upcoming year (or quarter).

You’ll know if you’ve been successful if your employee does most of the talking. It’s her meeting, about her work and her success is your success.

Step 3. Follow up and follow through. This is where most bosses miss the mark. We spend all of this time preparing for the meeting, the meeting happens, and we never bring it up again. In turn, nothing changes.

There are a few simple elements which will help make it easy for you to follow up with your employee and follow through on the actions you agreed to in the meeting.

  • Follow up on review outcomes. Send a recap email summarizing the results of the conversation and the three to five goals set. Ask your employee to review and confirm. This is a great way to make sure what you heard in the meeting is the same as what she heard.
  • Track follow through on action towards goals. Once a month, review progress on these goals with your employee. What’s working? What’s holding her back? How can you support her? Asking her about these goals highlights their importance, your dedication to her growth and allows room for adaptation and adjustments in real time.

Stop looking at reviews as a burden and time suck. It’s an opportunity to align and lead your team more powerfully.

When done well, the performance review process will engage your employee, create more clarity and make your role as a leader easier in the long run.

Originally published with Forbes on January 12th, 2018