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How to Improve Performance Reviews

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Stephanie Davis

Two women wearing professional attire sitting at a table talking.

Raise your hand if you love doing performance reviews. Chances are that you didn’t jump for joy at this, and maybe you even felt a little uneasy. Performance reviews have the reputation of being extremely high pressure and stressful, for both those conducting the review and the employees being evaluated. As a small business owner, you likely need a way to evaluate what is working with your employees and what is not, so performance reviews are necessary. If performance reviews leave you feeling stressed, keep reading for some tips on how to make the process smoother for all parties involved.

Stick to a Schedule

There are many different performance review schedules that you can follow. As an employee, nothing is more terrifying than your boss coming up to you and saying “we need to talk about your performance”. Keeping a review schedule will help both sides prepare and feel less anxious about the review itself. While an annual review has had the most focus, it’s becoming more common for employers to conduct reviews more frequently and opting for bi-annual or quarterly reviews. When choosing a schedule to follow, make sure that you’re consistent and following through on the deadlines to ensure that everyone is staying on the same page, and your employees know what to expect and can plan for their review.

Ask the Right Questions

During a performance review, there are some standard questions that employers tend to ask, such as “tell me about your biggest accomplishment this year”. However, not all questions set you up for a productive conversation. We have previously discussed questions you should be asking in a performance review designed to be more thoughtful and produce actual conversations between you and your employees. You want questions that are going to give employees a chance to shine and tell you about everything that they’ve been working on, and also give them a chance to provide you with feedback that you can use to become a better manager.

Choose a Calm Environment

Because performance reviews can be anxiety-inducing, try to find ways to make the process a little more laid back. You still want to remain professional, but some layouts can help take the pressure off. If you have an open floorplan, finding a quiet spot may be challenging. See if you could go to a coffee shop, use a room at a local library or find a co-working office. You want a spot where you can have some privacy but also not feel intimidating or imposing. If you’re lucky enough to be conducting performance reviews in a warm environment, find a table outside or go for a walk. It can help take some of the pressure off and give everyone some good vibes from the sunshine.

Practice Delivering Feedback

While giving positive feedback is easy, delivering negative feedback that can be a challenge for a lot of people. Negative conversations are hard, and delivering not so great news to an employee can be stressful. One common method of delivering feedback is using a “sandwich” method, where the negative feedback is buried in between positive feedback so the negative isn’t such a blow to your employees. However, an article from Forbes explains this is a method that needs to be retired because it gives employees a false sense of progress. When delivering negative feedback, it’s important that you stay constructive. It does no good to sit your employees down and just bash them by reciting everything they have done wrong – it’ll wreck their confidence and may cause them to harbor negative feelings towards you. You want to offer feedback that helps them grow and provide suggestions to help them get there. Perhaps it’s a tool or calendar to help them improve time management skills, or it’s a course on how to deliver better customer service. Offering action items is helpful and appreciated when delivering less than positive feedback.  

Be Prepared

The best thing you can do for any performance review is to be prepared. You want this to be a constructive conversation with your employees, so going in without a game plan and just winging it isn’t the best approach. Your employees should be putting in the effort to go over their highlight reel of work, and as their leader, you should be putting in the same effort to recognize all that they do for your business.

Bottom Line

Performance reviews don’t have to be stressful and lead to major anxiety. By implementing the tips above you can set yourself up for a smooth review process that you can stick with for years.

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