6 Tips Towards a Smart Performance Review (With as Few Tears as Possible)

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Aug 6, 2013

In my business, we move at hyper-speed on all fronts: taking care of customers, developing new software, and figuring out how to sell it.

Things can change from one minute to the next. I have to make quick decisions, and most days I don’t sit down. I need my employees right alongside me. That’s why I conduct frequent performance reviews — every six months. Yes, every six months.

Now, I can think of a hundred other things I need to do. In addition to the software business, I have a family and four other companies that need my attention. It might be several weeks before I have time to meet with each of my direct reports.

Why I do them so frequently

So why do I bother? Because it’s worth it. My performance review process forces me to stop whatever I’m doing and take time to evaluate my employees, because they are vital to the success of my company.

I’m sure a few employees groan when the next round of reviews is announced. But many are familiar with the routine and welcome the chance to toot their horns (and hear about a raise.) And generally, my performance reviews don’t result in too many tears.

If you’re running out of tissues when you conduct your employee performance reviews, try incorporating these tips:

1. Have employees rate their own performance first

Weeks ahead of our face-to-face meeting, employees rate themselves from 1-6 in these areas: time management, cooperation and attitude, reliability and effort, job skills and technical knowledge, and results. They also rate their enjoyment and discuss tools they might need, aspects of the job they like best, and what is a drag on their performance.

This activity forces employees to honestly assess their own performance and feelings about the job. After they turn in their forms, I mull over their answers at home, and then rate them in the same areas.

I use the results as a guide for possible pay increases. Their answers also set the stage for our face-to-face meeting.

2. Supply a box of tissue — just in case

By the time of the meeting, my employees have had time to reflect, and may already know what I will say (they know me so well.) There generally aren’t too many surprises. And most of the time, tissues aren’t necessary.

However, I do have one or two employees who are nervous and teary-eyed with worry before the review even starts. And, sometimes I have to deliver bad news, which I don’t enjoy.

But when an employee cries, it tells me that they care. So the box of tissues joins us if they need it. I don’t think any worse of them (unless they lock themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out, which is a story for another time.)

3. Make it a two-way conversation — and listen

The evaluation form that employees complete in advance lets them share in writing what might be hard to say in person. But in the face-to-face meeting, they can say what they need to say.

I turn off my phone and give them my undivided attention. Sometimes I discover a personal issue affecting the quality of their work or a co-worker driving them up a wall. I need to know when all’s not well, and the performance review process helps me retain my talent.

4. Tell it like it is

I am dealing with adults, and I am running a business. That means telling the truth when an employee isn’t achieving results I need to see, or redirecting an employee who has been working diligently, but in the wrong direction.

I’m not doing anyone any favors if I gloss over problems or minimize major issues. A poor review gives employees good reason to start making changes right away.

But because I tell the truth, my employees know that my compliments are genuine. Many times, I get to recap the employee’s achievements from the last six months and discuss the direction for the next six. And of course, I get to tell them if they’re getting a raise, which is always welcome news.

5. Acknowledge your shortcomings

In the process, I may uncover a communication breakdown — and I’m part of it. If an employee’s self-rating doesn’t match my assessment, it reveals that something may be “off” in our day-to-day communication.

Once an employee rated herself much higher than I did in comparison, and we were equally surprised by the disconnect. Now she sends me a weekly recap of accomplishments and goals, which helps her prioritize and keeps me informed.

6. Say “thank you” at the conclusion

I say it every day, but I make sure to say it at the end of the review. I hire bright, hard-working employees who have a great deal of talent and potential for success. Each one has a specific role and purpose in my companies, and I appreciate each employee. I want to make sure they know it.

Saying “thank you” also ends the meeting on a high note, and sets the tone for their next six months — until we meet again.