The Not-So-Dirty Secrets to Making Performance Reviews Tolerable

3 min read
Jun 9, 2015

Optimized-iStock_000056434944_SmallThere are probably as many reasons why employees fear performance reviews as there are people who receive them. While about 80% of workers are not happy with this uncomfortable process, psychologists say that about 30% of performance appraisals actually cause future performance decreases.

Frankly, there is no single dirty secret to making reviews enjoyable experiences. But if you get your hands a little dirty year round by keeping employees informed about their progress and your expectations, the actual evaluation experience can enhance future performance rather than destroy it. Here are five ways to add value to reviews:

1. Prepare employees for praise and criticism with on-the-job feedback

A good manager provides employees with feedback regularly throughout the year. Clearly, correcting errors early helps ensure that workers produce better products and services. Managers should also be generous with positive feedback, which tells employees that they're on the right track while encouraging them to do more great work.

Just as important, well-informed employees are not blindsided during their reviews. Perhaps they have received nothing but positive feedback throughout the year. Maybe they received corrections that they worked hard to fix. Either way, they can approach their reviews with confidence, prepared to engage in meaningful two-way discussions.

2. Maintain an open-door policy throughout the year to reduce employee concerns

Employees need an opportunity to initiate feedback too. They may believe they could produce more or better output with a change in procedures. Or they may feel like they're failing due to a lack of training. They need to know that you welcome their input and are willing to work with them to develop solutions that can help them achieve a maximum level of success.

In many cases, employees are their own worst critics, so they are often filled with trepidation when they come in for their annual reviews. Give them a safe place to express and discuss their concerns as they arise, and their expectations will be more accurate at review time.

3. Provide a list of goals to focus workers on the future

Do your employees know what you expect them to do to succeed at their jobs — and to earn the top pay increase or even move up the ladder? There is no rule that says a performance appraisals needs to pertain only to the past. You can effectively transition from the past to excitement for the future by working together to develop a list of basic expectations for the next year, along with extra-credit goals that can help them move ahead.

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4. Ensure employees know what to expect before they walk in the door

Accurate expectations are the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises, and there are things that you can do to educate employees about the process. Naturally, employees need to know who will be conducting the review and how long it will take. Also, they absolutely need a clear understanding of the meanings of each point in the ranking system — and whether that elusive top rating can apply to good workers or only to superheroes.

If your company engages in a peer-review system, then managing employee expectations is extremely vital. Peer reviews are seldom fair, ranging from gushing praise to vindictive criticism. If you cannot avoid this practice, your employees need to know precisely how much consideration you give to peer reviews — preferably at the time you ask them to write reviews for others.

5. Make the performance review a one-on-one experience

If you want to instantly elevate employee stress levels, put them on one side of the table with a critique committee on the other side — because having more than one reviewer amounts to an ambush. Even if the group reviews turn out to be positive, the queasy feeling remains in the pit of the employee's stomach. Positive or negative, the worker needs to feel comfortable enough to respond to comments, and there is no good defense to an ambush.

Reviews and Motivation Can Go Hand in Hand

All too often, the atmosphere in the review room instantly brings layoffs and firings to mind, but it doesn't have to be like that. Your leadership and communication skills year round can combine with the review process to make sure that employees know what to expect — and are excited to work harder to thrive in their roles within the company.



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