10 Tips for Conducting Performance Reviews

Even for an excellent employee, an annual performance review can be stressful. They're tough on managers, too. Follow these 10 tips to make your reviews go as smoothly as possible for you as well as your most delightful and most difficult employees.

  1. Be direct: A performance review isn't the place for mincing words or trying to make things sound better than they are. Be clear, direct and specific, so that each employee has the information he or she needs to improve his/her performance, and knows what they are doing well.
  2. Be a good listener: Being a great listener means giving the other person time to speak without interruption, and listening to more than just what the other person is saying. Remember that people often have trouble communicating when they are stressed or scared, and give your employees the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Be collaborative: Instead of giving a long-winded critique, approach reviews as a collaborative conversation, with the intention of helping each employee to take an honest inventory and find creative ways to solve problems in order to make personal and professional progress. This will make your charges more open to the process--and less likely to go on the defensive when difficult subjects arise.
  4. Be a champion: The best managers understand that great employees are their most important asset. To help yours achieve maximum growth, give them authentic, specific praise. Show that you care and support them, be fair-minded and trustworthy, and make sure they know you believe in their potential.
  5. Be focused: Steer clear of gossip, personal conversations, or other subjects that might derail or even blow up the conversation. Don't discuss other employees' performance or behavior, and don't allow a disgruntled employee to push your buttons.
  6. Be efficient: A performance review should follow a standard format so that both parties know what to expect and so that the conversation stays on track. Sticking to a script will keep reviews professional and help you to avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant or too-personal topics.
  7. Find common ground: If things get heated, guide the conversation back to your common purpose: to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship that supports each employee in living up to their professional potential. Remind the employee that you want what's best for both parties, and look for things to agree on.
  8. Be empathetic: It's tough to hear difficult feedback, and not many people are skilled at accepting it gracefully. So how would you like to hear somebody give you criticism? What would make you most likely to listen? Plan ahead, and try to say things in a way that will be most likely to be "heard" by the other party.
  9. Be open: It's likely that at some point you will be on the other end of some feedback you hadn't planned on hearing, either. Being willing to admit areas of weakness and places management can improve, too, will go a long way in earning employees' trust and respect.
  10. Be prepared: If it's necessary to bring up something unsatisfactory about an employee's performance, don't go into the review without evidence and documentation. Be sure your information is reliable, and stick to the facts.

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