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Employee reviews: a ten-point checklist

They are a bit like fruitcakes – traditionally turning up once a year, whether you like them or not. But employee reviews shouldn’t really be like this. And they needn’t be something that both employees and managers dread. So, how do we make employee reviews a little less fruitcake, and a lot more conversation?

1. Little and often

So many companies only do their performance reviews annually (or worse). No-one can work in a vacuum for that long. In an ideal world, reviews should be regular, with a varied format, too. Maybe a formal review twice a year. Throw in a personal development meeting at least annually. Maybe add in a ‘pay chat’ every 12 months too. The basic trick is to ensure regular contact and clear goals for each chunk of the year. In addition, most employees want frequent, verbal feedback. Daily, if possible. It makes them feel valued and motivated. And that’s especially true of millennials – who’ve grown up in the Ebay/Amazon feedback-for-everything culture.

2. Be clear, and be realistic

Your people need clear performance goals, and need to know how their success will be measured on these too. None of us can perform well if we don’t know exactly what we are trying to achieve, and what ‘results’ should look like. Employees who have a clear idea of their goals, can measure their own progress, and who get feedback on it, will stay on task and stay focused. And managers need to know when to change goals – no workplace is trapped in amber.

3. Include self-evaluation

You’ll get far more out of your people if you allow them to evaluate their own performance before their review. They’ll be encouraged to think about their job in the round – what clients/customers say about them, what they’ve achieved versus their job description, and where there are gaps they’d like to fill through personal development. Self-evaluation lets the employee raise the bar on their own performance, rather than being asked to do so by their manager. (Which makes pulling up their socks feel like their own idea. Sweet.) Make sure everyone has a copy of the self-evaluation before the employee review – it will give a brilliant ground for discussion.

4. No surprises

An employee should never hear anything new at an employee review. Any areas for improvement should already have been noticed and discussed – however informally – over the review period. Spring a new gripe on an employee when you’re sitting opposite them over the mints and mineral water, and you risk an emotional response. Everyone should know what’s going to be discussed and have seen any relevant documentation in advance, too.

5. Take a long-term view

Don’t concentrate on what’s just happened in an employee’s performance – a good manager comes to a performance review with specific examples of successes or slips from throughout the entire review period. The more specific the examples, the more clearly the employee understands that all areas of their work get noticed, and that they have a lasting impact.

6. 360 degrees

Before the review, approach (individually) everyone in your team for their thoughts on working alongside the employee. Team members may have a widely differing experience of the same person. Adding their insights to your own can provide a more objective assessment, and may pinpoint particular skills or difficulties that you’ve overlooked.

7. Be honest

If the employee is performing poorly, or simply not pulling their weight, you’ll have to face up to discussing this at their review. Firstly, no employee is going to strive to change if they are told everything’s rosy. Secondly, avoid having the ‘difficult chat’ at a formal review and employers may have a hard time justifying their actions at tribunal if they need to fire later.

8. Prepare

Wing it, and it shows. The employee will feel overlooked and under-appreciated. Read all the documentation first so that you are ready to pick out salient points for discussion. You’ll also be better equipped to anticipate what your employee is likely to say. Be prepared and you’ll both get time to discuss what’s most important to both of you.

9. Don’t rant

It’s a conversation, not a monologue. Look up from the forms rather than reading from them. Allow time for interjection. Make eye contact and listen. Encourage the employee for input with open-ended questions (using all the wh- words). A good performance review should be at least a 50:50 conversation. A great one will give the employee at least 60% of the floor.

10. Keep money out of it

Lastly, and this is the big one. Don’t discuss filthy lucre at an employee review. Do so and you risk an employee writing a skewed self-evaluation that leans towards ‘deserving’ a raise. They’ll also feel reluctant to own up to training needs, or confessing any project fails. On top of all that, let’s be honest, both of you will just be killing time till you ‘get to the money bit’. Result? The performance issues you needed to solve will go largely unnoticed, and if the pay rise isn’t exactly what your guy hoped, they’ll leave de-motivated too.

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