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11 tips for an employee performance review

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Alexandre Diard
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When you think of the traditional employee performance review, it evokes visualizations of a rigid discussion in which neither the boss nor the employee really want to be there. The boss is rattling off scores from a form, and the employee is only wondering whether he or she will receive a raise. This is a stereotypical performance review. But what if you could turn the performance review into a more productive system that keeps workers happy, informed and motivated? 

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Here are six tips for maximizing your employee performance review in order to ensure it goes well and both you and the employee come out of it feeling satisfied with the outcome.

Optimize your performance review by preparing in advance

Too often managers enter a performance review unprepared. It's understandable — they're busy, and it's easy to assume the conversation will flow freely. We also just told you to loosen the process up a bit. But you need to find the right middle ground between a conversation and a performance review meeting. You want to connect with the employees, but you also want to coach them. The best way to ensure a productive performance review is to prepare beforehand so there's no time wasted between talking points.

Preparing beforehand is the key for any review, meeting or negotiation as it means you know something about the person, product or company even before you walk into the room and won't be taken by surprise at things that come up. When it comes to a performance review, as an employer you cannot be expected to remember every task your employees have performed over the course of the past year so doing some homework prior to the performance review and making some notes on various tasks accomplished by each member of staff will be a real asset when it comes to carrying out performance reviews.

If your employees prepare beforehand, they could fill in a self-appraisal form (providing your company uses them) in advance of the performance review and send it to you so you have an idea of what they have done this past year, how they feel about it and points they feel that they or you need to improve.

Your calendar and e-mail history involving the person you are going to have a performance review with can help you to prepare for the performance review beforehand as you might have forgotten some important projects or tasks worked over the course of the past year, particularly at the beginning of the year. 

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Discuss goals during the performance review

One of the main objectives of a performance review is to check if the past year's goals have been achieved and set new goals for the year to come. It is imperative that an employee knows what is expected of him in the year to come so he knows what he is aiming for and working towards. 

Discussing goals during a performance review that have been reached in the past year, six months, quarter and so on is also helpful for deciding whether an employee will receive a pay rise or some sort of compensation (monetary or other).

Improve your performance review by having more than one per year

Many employers hold performance reviews once a year, at the end of the year. This is extremely ineffective because not only are you spending an entire calendar year without measuring and reviewing an employee's efforts, but you're also catching the employee in the midst of holiday madness. Consider optimizing your performance review process by holding a midyear review in addition to the end-of-year session. This way, you can touch base with employees at different periods to see how they are getting on at work and discuss any issues they may have.

This way, they won't store up a year's worth of problems for you to deal with all in one go and each meeting won't last an eternity as you discuss a year's worth of work. This is a positive point if you have many performance reviews to get through. Holding one per year means that they are rather lengthy and hard work as there is so much to discuss. Holding two smaller performance reviews per year will lighten the load time-wise.

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Accept constructive criticism 

You may have points you need to bring up with your employees during performance reviews and some of them may well be negative if you are not happy with something they have (or haven't) done. However, your employees might well have things to say to you, too. They may well have a criticism of something you have done/ said/ a certain behavior or a criticism of the company and the way it is run and if this is the case, do not take it badly but rather, listen to what they have to say and take it on board. Constructive criticism during a performance review can be really helpful and a way for you to improve yourself as an employer.

Hold an impromptu performance review

A performance review doesn't always need to be a big looming date on the calendar. Make a conscious effort to call all employees in for a quick, casual chat about their performance and goals every now and then. Doing so will streamline your performance review process, strengthen your lines of communication, and help to keep employees engaged in their work.

One big performance review can stress employees out, especially if they have grievances that they want to air or know that you do. Make your employees more accustomed to having smaller performance reviews and meetings with you might make them less worried than if they have one major performance review looming on the horizon.

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Separate raises and performance reviews

The performance review is eternally synonymous with a "raise or no raise; bonus or no bonus" judgment day, especially if you only hold one performance review per year per employee. It means that employees might wait a whole year to ask for a raise, which can be stressful anyway for fear of it being rejected. It shouldn't be that way, though, and here's why:

You can't get someone to really be listening and trying to learn about what they can do to change or problem-solve when the raise review and performance review are joint.  "They're going to be very defensive and closed. When they know the review is about what their bonus is," Michael Beer, chairman of TrueP

The other problem with talking about salary during a performance review is that it can take a long time to discuss, thus making the performance review almost totally about money and not about how the person has performed since you will run out of time to talk about performance. Instead, you should separate the two. Performance reviews are reviews, and discussions about raises or bonuses call for a separate review. That way, the performance review will be strictly about performance and how well (or not) an employee has performed during the year. 

Ask for feedback from other employees

Before having a performance review with each employee, solicit feedback from his or her manager and other employees who have worked closely with him or her. You can use the feedback received to broaden the performance information that you provide for the employee. The conversations with other employees can take the form of an informal discussion to obtain this feedback. It can be interesting to find out how the employee is perceived by others and what they consider his or her strengths and weaknesses.

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Make your performance review personal

There's nothing less inspiring than walking through a 10-point performance checklist with standardized feedback. Compile your own notes and refer to them sparingly, placing more of an emphasis on collaborative strategy and problem-solving. You do not want the employee to become bored and fed up. After all, the point of the performance review is to establish what the employee is doing right and what he can work on and improve.

Make performance reviews dynamic and lively, a two-way discussion where you and you employees share your thoughts and ideas and where you show that you know the employee in front of you and the work that he or she has completed since the last performance review.

Listen during the performance review

A performance review is the employees' chance to get better. In many ways, this will require them to listen to your feedback. But throughout the review, be sure to give them opportunities to offer their thoughts and ideas as well. You don't want the performance review to become a lecture and the employee in front of you to become fed up and just want it to be over as soon as possible. 

Pay attention to what the employee is saying during the performance review so they feel as though it is a worthwhile process and not just a mandatory meeting that is a waste of their time. Communication is a two-way street and essential for both parties to improve their way of working, working conditions, productivity etc. 

Aim for a performance review where the employee talks for more than half the time. You can do this by asking him or her questions such as:

- what is the most challenging aspect of your goals for the coming year?
- How can I be a better manager?
- What do you hope to achieve in the company this year?

These sorts of questions will give them the opportunity to talk and give their opinions on a variety of matters.

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Find out your employees' career plans

Your employees may well add their career plans to their appraisal form or at least bring them up, but if they don't, make a point of asking questions about where they see themselves in the future and what they'd like to do. You want to make sure that they have no plans to leave any time soon and if they do, find out why i.e. the lack of professional growth in your company.

They might want to take on more responsibility in the coming year, receive vocational training on something in particular so as to increase their skillset, or leave if their career has stalled. A crucial element of employee engagement and loyalty is listening to employees during the performance review, hearing what they have to say, and accommodating their wishes where possible. After all, a bored employee is not one who is likely to stick around in your company until retirement. Do your maximum to give employees what they want (within limits) career-wise: add extra tasks, extra files, have them shadow someone who doing something they themselves would like to get into, and so on.

Make your performance review process an enjoyable experience

If an employee feels as though he is not being listened to during his performance review and it seems more like a list of complaints and criticisms than a constructive meeting, he will hardly be able to muster up the motivation to reach the goals fixed for him. Ensure that your performance review process is a lively exchange of information and ideas that inspire the employee to work even harder in the year to come. 

Don't forget that the point of a performance review is to listen to and help your employees, 

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