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How can I conduct effective performance reviews?

How can I conduct effective performance reviews?
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All employees have their individual actions and goals, and it's your job to make sure they are on their way to achieving them.

Even the best managers find it hard to break from their routines to review the effectiveness of their staff in meeting goals and priorities. The review process, however, is a powerful tool that can be tied directly to the company's overall productivity and success, serving to align staff with overall priorities and expectations.

Structuring and scheduling
Performance reviews are designed to both evaluate general performance and measure progress around specific goals. When well-structured, performance reviews offer an opportunity to acknowledge the work of staff, address areas in need of improvement, and identify professional development and training that will further support the staff members' career growth.

Effective managers address staff performance throughout the year, providing positive acknowledgment and necessary coaching and feedback to address problematic areas or issues. The formal performance review, then, should contain few surprises.

The review should serve as a point of reference to both look back in evaluation and ahead in anticipation. Performance discussions hold great importance for employees and are often tied to discussions around salary increases. Managers can maximize the effectiveness of their reviews by establishing a setting that encourages open communication:

  • Schedule the meeting in well advance. If you're setting up numerous meetings try and block out a few days in a row where you can get all your reviews completed consecutively without interruptions.
  • Choose a private setting, free from phones, computers and colleagues. You may wish to choose somewhere outside the working environments such as a hired meeting room or even a restaurant.
  • Set aside an adequate amount of time for an unhurried discussion. The morning is generally better as there is less chance for other tasks to overrun.
  • Prepare ahead for the meeting, review the staff member's goals that were agreed at the last review and record significant points to be discussed.
  • Ask the employee to come prepared to discuss their assessment of key accomplishments as well as areas in need of support or improvement.

Digging deeper
Once you've done the background work, focus on the following guidelines to ensure a comprehensive review that allows for two-way communication:

  • Begin with an evaluation of primary responsibilities. To what extent were these areas of responsibility performed well? In what areas has performance fallen short of expectations? Whenever possible, cite examples and note key demonstrations of both competencies and areas in need of improvement, or developmental areas.
  • Review each goal set for the performance period. To what degree were the expected results achieved? What contributed to the staff member's ability to achieve the goal and produce the desired outcomes? What hindered the goal from being met? What steps can be taken to remove any barriers that interfered with success?
  • Approach the review with an open mind. Be prepared to adjust or revise the focus of the discussion based on the conversation. Use the discussion points you have prepared as guidelines, allowing the employee to voice his opinion, in agreement or disagreement.
  • Keep feedback about developmental areas constructive. Be specific and objective. Use facts to support your feedback, rather than generalisations about the staff member's character or attitude. When possible, offer support and training to correct any problem areas.
  • Focus on professional development. Performance reviews are an excellent time to discuss opportunities for your staff member's growth in his current position and opportunities to move up the ladder.
  • Look ahead, developing goals for the next performance period. Make these goals measurable, attainable and designate timelines for each. It's important that you encourage the employee to come up with their own goals as well providing some of your own suggestions. They will be much more likely to achieve them if they are actions they have identified themselves.

Always summarize your review and write down new goals for the year ahead that the discussion has generated. Once this has been written up, get a signature on the document from both yourself and the employee. This document then serves as a reference for the next review cycle.