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10 Tips For Perfecting Performance Reviews

Bob Little 

December 30, 2016

According to an SHRM/Globoforce survey, annual performance reviews are waning in popularity. Instead of carrying out performance reviews – otherwise known as performance appraisals – some large U.S. companies are, reportedly, instigating processes to measure employee benchmarks in relation to their goals. Others, including General Electric, are said to be substituting annual performance reviews with more frequent feedback via an app.

This trend represents a change in corporate HR strategy because performance reviews have been a key part of the performance management (PM) process for the last three decades or so.

According to Nate Regier, CEO of global leadership communication advisory and training firm Next Element Consulting, based in Newton, KS, writing in The Wichita Eagle, a recent SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey found that less than 30 percent of employees surveyed were satisfied with their organization’s recognition efforts [related to the PM process] and, among organizations that had a formal recognition program, less than 50 percent were satisfied.

Nonetheless, performance reviews are still generally recognized as a mechanism for discussing people’s performance and development, and for exploring the support that they need in their roles. Reviews are used to assess people’s recent performance, and to focus on future objectives, opportunities and resources needed.

The CIPD, an independent, not-for-profit, UK-based professional body for HR and people development, which has more than 140,000 members worldwide and holds a Royal Charter, says, While performance appraisal is an important part of PM, in itself its not PM. Rather, it’s one of a range of tools that can be used to manage performance.

So PM brings together activities that, collectively, contribute to effective people development and organizational performance. The process is strategic, in that it’s about broader issues and long-term goals.

According to Richard Lowe, the director of training and digital learning solutions at Hewlett Rand, PM should always feel like a positive experience, with no surprises. Ideally, it’s characterized by an honest and open discussion between manager and worker, reviewer and interviewee, developing balanced perceptions of performance, improvement and development needs.

PM’s a two-way process, in that a manager can learn during it too. Since everyone can improve their performance, the key to truly powerful PM is effective management training in how to do it well.

PM isn’t just a one-off annual appraisal. Managers should be constantly looking at their team, staff strengths and development opportunities. So, they should provide feedback regularly coaching, both formally and informally to deliver great performance.

Reviews are simply a formal part of the process where longer term objectives and development plans are set out and, importantly, provide the chance for staff to contribute to organizational goals and team objectives, and meet their own career aspirations too.”

Hugh Heij, leadership speaker at Fluid Business Coaching, says, “I agree with Richard. Too often, PM is seen as a one-off event whereas it’s really a process. Besides, why wait several months to praise or correct someone? By then, the value of the feedback will be lost.

“But, for me, coachings about asking questions – not giving feedback. Feedback deals in facts, while coachings about how you feel about what’s happened, what you’ve learned, and how that’s going to help to you improve.”

One firm that takes PM seriously – especially when it comes to reviews – is Strutt & Parker, the UK’s largest independent property partnership. With 60 offices throughout England and Scotland, Strutt & Parker commissioned leadership communications specialist CloudQast to make a video-based e-learning program on the performance review process – to promote good practice throughout the 131-year-old organization.

Explains CloudQast director Damian Gaskin, “The 20-minute program we made for Strutt & Parker explored how you can nurture and ‘open up’ your interviewees, rather than shut them down.”

Among the program’s messages – 10 tips for productive performance reviews – are that the reviewer must:

  • Be a leader, creating the right atmosphere to encourage two-way communication to get the best out of the interviewee, both for themselves and for the business. Hugo Heij believes, “It’s important to create an atmosphere where both the reviewer and interviewee dare to be vulnerable. If anyone wants to become better at what they do – including leadership – they should be keen to receive feedback. Engaging in 360º feedback with bosses, peers and customers helps to validate that feedback.”
  • Have regular conversations with the intervieweeto ensure that, as Richard Lowe and Hugo Heij advocate, no surprises emerge from the appraisal.
  • Make enough time for the interview. Otherwise, you’re giving interviewees the message that they’re of no significance – to you or the business.
  • Prepare thoroughly – especially making sure that you know all the facts.
  • Use open questions questions using the words how, when, why, where, what, which and even who get to the heart of what’s really going on in the interviewee’s mind.
  • Allow silence to happen. Don’t feel that you must “fill the void.”
  • Listen, carefully and attentively – to glean all the valuable information you can.
  • Stay calm and “non-defensive” in the face of any provocative and “deflective” behavior.
  • Keep control and, if necessary…
  • Have a “courageous conversation” with the interviewee.

“As the reviewer, be honest with yourself in answering such questions as, ‘What conversations am I hoping will go away by themselves?’ and, ‘Which are the courageous conversations I’m not having?'” says Damian.

Strutt & Parker believe that avoiding courageous conversations is unprofessional and a business disaster waiting to happen. If you don’t call to account behaviors that are out of character with corporate values then, at best, you’re not acting with integrity and, at worst, you can lose clients, employees, and your business’ reputation.

In addition, Strutt & Parker argues that, as a reviewer, you need to prepare for a performance review – or for any other part of the PM process – as professionally as you would do when meeting clients. Moreover, a key question for every reviewer to consider is, ‘Does my conduct as a reviewer create greater trust between my team and me?'”

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