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The 5 Pillars of a Top-Notch Performance Review

Employee success starts and ends with you

A coffee mug that says "world's best boss"
Photo courtesy of Pablo Varela

‘Tis the season for performance reviews. While the process often causes stress for managers and employees alike, there are some tried and true ways of making sure the conversation is productive and effective for all involved. There are things you can do before, during, and after a review to ensure success. 

1. Set the tone—way ahead of time

It’s important to frame performance reviews as a meeting to recap the year. These meetings are not a time to bring up new feedback or share anything that might come as a surprise. Effective performance reviews are a product of effective conversations throughout the year where feedback is given promptly and discussed professionally with regular follow-up and discussion of progress. Without regular conversations, we risk the performance review only covering what people can remember from the recent past, rather than the full year. 

One effective way to ensure that the first 11 months of the year set you up for a productive performance review is to keep track of your accomplishments and those of your team. You may do this by creating an email folder where you save reports, KPI’s, or thank-you notes from happy customers to remind yourself of milestones over the past year. You could also use a journal for accomplishments, lessons learned, milestones, work that you have enjoyed, or times when you’ve seen your team members shine. These easy habits will allow you to reflect on the year as a whole as you write reviews for yourself or others.

Read more: How to Have an Effective 1:1

2. Provide specific feedback year-round

Throughout the year, provide prompt, specific and first-hand feedback wherever possible to allow for immediate course correction rather than sharing new information during a performance review. When there is a great deal of time between an event and the feedback surrounding the event, it may be hard for the person to remember what went well or not-so-well, so share as soon as you can so the situation is fresh for you both. 

Specificity is important so the person can pinpoint the behavior that had an impact. For example, if someone is told that a report is excellent, or terrible, they will not know what to change or repeat. Consider sharing detailed information instead, such as:

“The language you used in the introduction to the report was clear and easy for an inexperienced reader to understand.”

Or, alternatively:

“The report contained a number of acronyms that the average reader would not know.” 

Limit your feedback to things that you have witnessed directly wherever possible. Sharing information that you have not seen yourself leaves room for you to be influenced by the person who is bringing a concern to your attention. Whenever possible, if someone shares feedback with you about someone else, encourage them to give the information themselves to facilitate a culture of feedback among team members. Regular dialogue about continuous improvement leads to much easier conversations when performance reviews come along.

3. Know yourself and check your biases

Consider your own self-awareness and preferences at review time. What do you know to be true about the ways that you behave and your own tendencies? For example, if you are a stickler for details and tune in to minutia, you may be frustrated by those who do not share that strength. That does not, however, mean that a person with less honed attention to detail cannot be a strong performer. They may excel in different ways, and it is important to recognize these types of preferences as you approach performance reviews. 

Our work experience, upbringing, and social circles instill and reinforce unconscious biases, and it is up to us to recognize and take action to ensure that they do not impact the way we treat others. Start to notice who you are drawn to, who you steer clear of, and where judgement sneaks into your interactions. When you are tempted to give feedback, ask yourself if the root of your feedback is asking someone to behave more like you or the most represented culture in your organization. This reflection is important both for managers providing feedback down and employees who may view the legitimacy of feedback through a lens of bias. 

Read more: 4 Implicit Association Tests That Will Change the Way You Think in the Workplace

4. Explore strengths before goals

During your performance review, keep an open mind and approach the conversation with curiosity. This is a dialogue where you can discuss the year’s learning, wins, and opportunities moving forward. When it comes to objectives and career planning, it can be very easy to focus on specific job titles or roles, but I recommend starting with a broader view of strengths before getting into the detail of an established position. This will allow managers and employees to think outside the box (or org chart) to notice possibilities in responsibilities and roles that play to one’s strengths and allows them to shine and do their best work for an organization without relating goals to a specific opportunity right away. 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Discover My Hidden Talents?

5. Create achievable milestones

As you wrap up a performance review meeting, agree on specific next steps and milestones. If a raise or promotion was not in the cards this year, set clear expectations and milestones to create a plan to work toward those rewards next year.  

Considering these tips can ensure that your next review is a collaborative and productive chat that sets you up for a successful year ahead. 

Read more: How to Give Constructive Criticism to Anyone in the Office

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