How to make performance reviews work for you (and your employees)
Performance reviews should offer constructive feedback on performance and set future goals, but managers often can’t get the balance right. Here’s how you can perfect the appraisal period.

The end of financial year means one important and time-consuming thing: annual performance reviews. Managers lament them and employees often dread them, but they are an essential tool to document employee performance, a valuable opportunity to provide feedback and a springboard to establish goals and performance measures for the coming year.

As Kelly McNamara, Director, Performance and Reward at PWC Australia points out, "genuine feedback lets people hear about what they do well or what they could improve, but most importantly it allows people to share ideas or explore alternatives that they can act on.”

No shock surprises

While it is standard practice to provide official feedback at the yearly review, managers should document employee performance through regular 1:1 and at key touchpoints throughout the year, holding discussions around performance, behaviour as well as offering feedback from colleagues.  

Organising regular sessions with your staff will help you to earmark where the gaps and opportunities lie in your team but more importantly they will keep employees on task and eradicate any shock surprises at review time. 

“Don't wait until the end of the year. Have the discussion at the time - at the end of a project or job or at a significant milestone,” McNamara suggests.

PWC fosters this approach via their ‘Snapshot Tool’ where staff can request feedback from colleagues across the firm whom they have worked with on a project, via client work or through other interactions.  

The three Ps (prepare, provide, plan)

As a general rule of thumb, it is important to always be respectful, open and honest during review time. “Feedback should not be ambiguous or leave the individual confused,” McNamara implores.

Being prepared is key, which means you should be able to provide measurable performance documentation and explicit examples. 

“Managers should focus on the behaviour not the person, reinforce the great things and explore alternatives or opportunities rather than provide the solution,” she adds.

McNamara reiterates the importance of an appraisal being a two-way street. 

"If someone asks for your feedback, make sure you take the time to give considered insights. This is a moment that matters.”

To this end, it is important that you build in time for your staff to raise issues and ask questions. A productive performance review will end with both the appraiser and the appraisee leaving with a few key takeaways and an actionable plan and goals for the following year.  

Remember, staff who have met or exceeded goals should be duly rewarded with an appropriate incentive offered by your organisation. This will boost morale, maintain motivation and keep the talent where they should be: in your team.

Tools of the trade

Many organisations have their own internal performance review frameworks and there is also a plethora of online resources, but a tried and tested method is the ‘Situation-Behaviour-Impact feedback tool’. Developed by the Centre for Creative Leadership, it basically sets out a simple structure that you can employ to optimise the appraisal period:

  1. Explain the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of the situation.
  2. Address the specific behaviours by using measurable information. 
  3. Use ‘I’ statements to discuss the impact of the behaviour.

These steps can help your employees to understand what you are commenting on and why, and by highlighting the impact their behaviour has on others you are affording them an opportunity to reflect on their actions and the changes they may need to make.  

In essence, a formal and structured annual review will help to steer your metaphoric ship in the right direction, keep the storms at bay and keep your crew motivated to succeed.