Effective Performance Reviews: Four Rules to Live By

A surprising number of leaders struggle with giving direct, honest, productive feedback to their team. Be it the hesitation to critique our “best” team member for fear of damaging their morale, or to finally sit down one-on-one to hash things out with the most “troublesome” employee, the yearly performance review can be a time of increased stress for many. Yet leaders must remember: how can we expect the best from our employees or build a strong team if we are not providing them with honest, consistent feedback? Following these four rules will ensure your performance reviews are as effective as they can be.

Don’t miss review deadlines

Generally, performance reviews need to be delivered once or twice a year by a certain deadline. No matter who is up for review, it is your job to respect the process – and the individual – by delivering it in a timely manner. Putting off a review erodes the feeling of mutual respect between you and the employee, and can easily cause necessary criticism to fall on deaf ears and praise to be taken as hollow.

There should be no surprises

A performance review is not the time to unload all the negative feedback you’ve been saving up all year. Remember, most of the time, the yearly review is simply a formality, usually associated with a pay raise. The feedback an employee is receiving should be consistent with what they’ve been hearing from you on a consistent basis.

Keep it brief and use examples

Come prepared with specific examples of both positive and negative actions and behaviors to cite. Get to the point, and use concrete facts and incidents. When you are vague, long-winded, or beat around the bush too much, you are leaving yourself open for confusion and even possible arguments at a time when mutual understanding needs to be the priority. A leader also needs to be able to exude confidence in each statement made. Employees need to be assured that no matter what feedback they are receiving, you have taken the time to carefully consider what you are presenting from all angles. This will help you cut to the heart of the matter and anticipate objections, at least enough to keep the conversation productive and moving forward.

Balance praise and constructive criticism thoughtfully 

This may seem obvious, but sometimes our overall view of an employee can become very one-sided over time. In reality, not even your most dependable workhorse has no areas of opportunity. If we truly value them and their hard work, we will be eager to help them get to the next level, and they will be appreciative that you took the time and effort to focus on them in this way. Indeed, sugar-coating feedback would be doing them a greater disservice in the long run. Similarly, even those we feel need the most guidance are doing something worthy of approval. They likely wouldn’t still be employed if they weren’t. Make sure that no matter how much room for improvement one has, they are still getting the praise they deserve – it will motivate them to focus harder on their performance and make them more receptive to what you have to say.

Performance reviews don’t need to be the cause of undue anxiety for leaders. Holding yourself to these rules will ensure they are a great tool for getting the best out of your team, while giving you the opportunity to show them you are invested in their success.