Performance Reviews

Here it is, not quite October yet, but we all know annual performance reviews are just around the corner, right? This is the time of year where workers and managers start to get a little anxious about how the review is going to go. Yes, managers do get anxious and many don’t enjoy doing performance reviews at all.

So, employees start thinking about everything they’ve done wrong over the previous nine months along with any criticisms received and try to walk a tight rope until the review finally arrives. Meanwhile, the managers (between tasks and multiple interruptions) start to think about each of their employees’ performance up until this point. They may start taking notes here and there, but push it off for a couple more months because there is still time left in the year.

Typically what the managers remember is very subjective to their overall mood. If an employee makes a mistake during this time of year, it may very well trigger all the negative memories which can result in a negative performance review. However, good performances in September and October could very well bring all of the positive thoughts and create a positive performance review. Ultimately, both reviews are flawed and incomplete.

This tends to be the typical annual performance review and, in my opinion, this review is near pointless. There are many types of performance reviews that are purposeful, informative, and productive and can leave both the manager and employee happier for having one. What’s described in the previous paragraph is not that review.

The performance review practice that I prefer is based on the method I learned in the army mixed with what I’ve learned and observed in the civilian world. Here is how it works:

In the army I received a monthly counseling session, which is what my unit called a “performance review”. In that monthly counseling we discussed my performance for that month from quality of the uniform I wore, to PT performance, to job application and leadership in the squad. At the end of the year, all of these performance reviews would be reviewed again to see if performance improved, decreased, or remained the same. I believe this method to be valuable in the civilian world because:

  1. It doesn’t take much time to do a monthly review
  2. You can make corrections on a month-to-month basis
  3. You have hard data to use at the end of the year, rather than what you can remember on any given day
  4. You can track and trend performance
Military trainer giving training to military soldier at boot camp

In the civilian world a manager doesn’t spend as much time with their employee as a squad leader in an infantry unit, and therefore additional information is needed to provide an accurate review. So, as part of the annual review process it is important for the manager to speak with the employee’s peers and anyone he is supporting (internal customers).  The manager needs to interview these other employees with specific questions and factor that into his annual review as well.

There are also certain components of an annual review that need to be included in order to make them effective. One of the key pieces of information is how did their performance this year line up with the goals they set last year? Ultimately, the idea of an annual review is to check performance against the goals established. If you don’t have an annual goals program as part of the review process, then you are missing an essential component. I also recommend the “sandwich method” of sharing information: talk about the good, discuss the areas for improvement, and finish with the positives. However, honesty is critical to employee development and satisfaction, so don’t sweep things under the rug.

At the end of the employee review, the employee and manager should discuss and document the goals for the next 12 months. Goals need to have steps, methods, and deadlines attached. Not all goals have to be done by the end of the year, some goals might need to be completed in the first quarter. Some goals may need smaller goals attached to keep the employee on track.

Ultimately, I hope your annual performance reviews aren’t simply based on what you can remember over the last 12 months, but are formal, thoughtful and valuable information for the employee and the company. Most employees suffer an immense amount of anxiety this time of year and it would be a shame to make them suffer without providing them fair, honest and useful feedback of their work performance.

*previously published on LinkedIn

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