What Are Employee Reviews?

Employee reviews are an evaluation of an employee’s performance, usually conducted by the employee’s manager. Employee reviews are an uncomfortable yet necessary part of a company’s hiring and employee retention process. For many, these meetings seem arbitrary, a corporate requirement with no real intent or value. However, when used properly and performed well, employee reviews can help mold long-term employees into members of the team.

Employee Reviews

A common joke made among people in the human resources industry is that employee reviews are like fruitcakes because they come once a year whether you want them to or not. Just like a fruitcake, reviews are most common during the holidays—the time when the work has been piling up, employees are most focused on their bonuses, and their last vacation seems so far away.

Much of the stress of reviews could be avoided if, as experts in the field suggest, employees were reviewed earlier in the year, and more frequently overall. This would result in positive changes not just for the individual, but for the company as a whole. It is generally recommended that reviews take place at least twice per year—once at the midway point, and then as an end-of-year review which would cover possible raises or bonuses.

Performance reviews are critical for employers. They provide an opportunity for the employer to give constructive feedback to make sure their business is operating at peak efficiency. The process also allows employers to praise employees for a job well done, give them guidance for what they might be doing wrong, and let’s both parties engage in an open discussion about the future of the company as well as what potential exists for employee growth. Performance reviews are rarely a fun experience, but they can be an effective way to create more loyalty among employees when done well.

Tips for Creating Effective and Successful Employee Performance Reviews

Performance review methods might differ from company to company, but there are universal principles about how to discuss work performance with an employee. Whether you’re conducting a performance review, implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP), or negotiating a salary adjustment, there are core strategies you can employ in any situation.

The following are a few tips for ensuring that your performance review process is as effective as possible. Keep in mind that these tips can enhance your relationship with your employees/co-workers, improve the overall performance of your organization, and enhance the company’s employee-manager communication significantly (which is a huge win for customers and work relationships). You should also find many applicable in everyday conversations with employees. Follow these tips, and you’ll find more efficiency in your reviews, and have more productive employees after a successful meeting.

Separate Reviews for Pay Increases from Conversations About Professional Development

A major reason why you will want to arrange a midyear meeting with every employee is, so you can separate the session when you discuss an employee's performance from one where compensation is determined. According to the chairman of management consulting firm TruePoint, Michael Beer, it is extremely difficult to have anyone focus on feedback about their performance if they know that salary or bonuses will be discussed during the meeting.

Be Honest

Everyone says that “honesty is the best policy,” but in this case, it is actually true. Paul Falcone, an HR export, has stated that many employers try to avoid confrontations with their employees by overinflating their positive feedback. While this tactic prevents argument, it won’t help employees grow, and will make the termination process more difficult in the long run. Remain open-ended in the conversation, allowing the employee time to respond to feedback in the room. Make the conversation about the issues, not the person.

Put Down the Forms

Some managers give a performance review by just running down the company's required employee feedback form point by point, simply spitting out grades or remarks for each. This process is actually the worst way possible to conduct such an evaluation, because it leaves no room for discussion. These meetings can be far more productive once the form has been set aside, or at the very least waiting until after the meeting to fill it out.

A better strategy than using the form at all would be just to have a conversation about the employee’s performance since the last review, including any problems that have come up and how they were resolved. Once everything has been discussed, you are better equipped to formulate strategies for improvement, and set up an even more productive process when the time comes for the next review meeting.

Shift the Review to the Employee

One of the best strategies for a successful, open discussion or review is to switch around the roles in the conversation and have the employee do the reviewing. Managers are better positioned to motivate employees when they let the employee assess his or her own work. You can open up the session to productive discussion by asking the employee to review their supervisor's performance in addition to their own. Try asking an employee four core questions during the review:

  • How do you feel you’ve performed this year?
  • What can I do as your supervisor to build your skills?
  • What are your goals for the next year?
  • What are some measurable outcomes of those goals?

Roughly 70 percent of your employees will be successful with this assignment, while 10 percent might not even respond. However, 20 percent of your employees will take these questions to heart and walk away highly motivated. In general, these are the people who become the company's top performers.

Come Prepared

To create an effective employee review, it is crucial to gather as many specific examples of good and bad behavior as you possibly can. You should also gather objective information on the employee’s performance. This should not wait until just before a performance review; rather, achievements and mistakes must be tracked throughout the year. On the day of the review, create an outline of all desired discussion topics and set forth ground rules for a productive conversation.

Do the work ahead of time to prep for the discussion with an employee. Never go into a performance review without being fully prepared. You could miss key opportunities for feedback or improvement. Further, the employee won’t feel any encouragement about their successes. The records you keep during a performance review period serves to prepare you for an employee's performance review.

Practice various approaches with human resources staff, your colleagues, or a manager as needed. Write down notes with your primary points of feedback. Make sure to include some bullet points to illustrate the points you plan to make to that employee. The more often you can identify patterns and provide clear examples, the better the employee will be able to understand and act upon your feedback. After a meeting, do not forget to follow up and summarize the discussion. Begin observations for that employee’s next review immediately.

Reviews Shouldn’t Be the First Time You Provide Feedback

The employee should not hear about positive performance or performance in need of improvement for the first time at your formal performance meeting unless you have new data or insight. An effective manager discusses positive performance alongside areas that can regularly be improved, not just twice a year. Managers should work hard to make a performance review discussion more of a re-emphasis of vital points.

When a manager understands the value of regular, consistent feedback, performance reviews stop being an annual occurrence. Many successful employers prefer quarterly meetings for monitoring performance reviews. The semiannual meetings are specifically for long-term planning and evaluation. In this system, you are discussing an employee’s career and evaluating performance at least four times each year.

Set Goals

Regardless of the specific components of a given performance review process, the first step will always be goal setting. The key to this process is that the employee understands exactly what is expected of their performance. Your periodic talks about performance should be focused on these major aspects of the employee’s job. If you don’t have a written agreement and shared vision of the employee’s career goals, it will be difficult for them to succeed.

Make the Employee Evaluation Performance Clear

During the goal setting and preparation phase, you should clarify how you will evaluate the employee’s performance. Take the time to describe specifically what you are looking for from them and exactly how you will assess their performance. Discuss the employee’s role in their own evaluation process.

Your organization’s performance review process may include an employee self-evaluation. If so, share the form with the employee and discuss what a self-evaluation entails. Share the performance review format with the employee in detail so they won’t be surprised at their next review. One of the most important parts of this evaluation discussion is sharing with employees how your organization will assess their performance.

Any employee should understand that if they do what is expected of them, they will be considered a well-performing employee. On a five-point scale, you should consider an average employee to be a three. An employee should do more than just perform their regular tasks to be considered as an outstanding employee.

Do Not Only Focus on Recent Events

Rather than judging the employee’s ranking performance based on recent events, you should be responsible for making note of positive occurrences like completed projects alongside any negative occurrences like a missed deadline, over a full-time period that the performance review covers. Many organizations call the documenting of an employee's positive and negative occurrences a “critical incident report.” Be sure to ask your employee to also keep meticulous records so together you can develop a complete look at their overall performance during that time.

Solicit Feedback

Ask for feedback from colleagues who have worked closely with any employee with whom you’re about to meet. Soliciting feedback from colleagues who work closely with them is referred to as 360-degree feedback. This is because you are collecting feedback from everyone surrounding that employee: their boss, co-workers, and all reporting staff. Then, you will use that feedback to broaden the performance information provided in the review. Begin the process with informal discussions to better obtain feedback information. Think about developing a consistent, simple format, so the feedback is easier to digest and share with the employee’s manager.

If your company is going to use a form that must be filled out in advance, give the full performance review to the employee ahead of the meeting. Giving them their performance review in advance allows them to digest its contents before the discussion. Further, giving the performance review to an employee early may remove some emotion or outbursts from the actual meeting.

Spend Plenty of Time on the Positive Aspects

When you meet with an employee, take care to spend time on several positive aspects of their performance. This discussion about positive components should be longer than the conversation about any negative issues.

Giving positive feedback and discussing how the employee might be able to grow their performance should be the majority of your discussion. This makes the review a more motivating and rewarding experience. You shouldn’t have any employees with only negative performance. If you do, the problem is with your training and termination process, rather than the review process. That said, you should not neglect any areas which need improvement. If an employee is underperforming, be direct and address the issues. Make the importance clear, and take the time to ensure that they understand your feedback.

Performance reviews are often a manager’s least favorite part of their job. Without proper training and preparation, the process is uncomfortable and often counterproductive. Fortunately, implementing these simple strategies will allow managers to look forward to their reviews as simply a part of the process of growing the company’s success.

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