November 26, 2012
5 Ways To Upgrade Your Performance Reviews

December brings its share of annual rituals that we do again and again, whether we like them or not: the company holiday party, Secret Santa gift exchanges and, most likely, annual performance reviews.

Some leaders view reviews as a chore — a distraction from real work — but done right they’re a great way to create a performance-oriented culture. People crave feedback. Most people want to get better at their jobs. Ideally, such coaching is taking place all the time. But if your organization has a formal review process, here’s how to get more out of these meetings.

1. Prepare. Sure, you prepare if you’re about to fire someone. But your most motivated employees deserve just as much attention. “You’re doing a good job” is meaningless as feedback. It leads to people probing for criticism, seizing on asides, and deciding they need to devote outsized attention to improving on these areas that probably don’t matter. In reality, you may want such an employee to capitalize on existing strengths. Come up with specific examples of things you think were done well, and be prepared to brainstorm, with the employee, ways they could be done even better, or ways to leverage those good results.

2. Look ahead. One of the best ways to show an employee, in 2012, how you’d like her career to progress is to write the performance review you’d like to give her in 2013. Not only does this give employees something to aim for, it forces you to think through how you’d like to develop your most valuable resources in the coming year. Because you are thinking about this…right?

3. Ask employees to look ahead. Each person you’re reviewing can write the performance review he or she would like to receive in 2013 as well. This exercise provides a practical way to discover new projects an employee might be interested in pursuing, and internal skills you may not have even known existed. You can also look at any differences between your prospective review and the employee’s, and use those as a platform to discuss expectations. Hash out a 2013 review you can both agree on.

4. Practice. You wouldn’t wing a presentation to a prospective customer, so why wing important conversations with the people who will be responsible for serving that customer? Sit down with a trusted deputy and practice delivering feedback before you start reviews. Particularly if you’ll be giving constructive criticism, practice answering objections while still steering the conversation in the direction you wish it to go.

5. Repeat often. If you and your team members all know what you’re aiming for at the end of 2013, there’s no point in waiting until December to unearth this prospective performance review and study it like an archeological object from a lost civilization. Aim to check in at least quarterly to see whether you’re all making progress toward those 2013 goals, and if they should be adjusted based on new developments.

How do you give performance reviews? Have you retooled your reviews to make them more effective?

Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2012) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She writes the 168 Hours blog for CBS MoneyWatch, is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors, and speaks frequently about time management and leadership topics. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Other Articles by Laura Vanderkam:

How To Give Regular Feedback And Still Get Work Done

Why And How Managers Should Help Workers Set Boundaries

Work-Life Balance Is Dead—Why That Might Be A Good Thing

It’s Time To Stop Asking CEOs How They 'Balance'

How To Figure Out Your Optimal Workload

7 Common Mistakes New Managers Make

The Right Way To Use Company Perks

How To Figure Out Your Most Productive Time Of Day

Why You Should Rethink That Morning Meeting

5 Ways To Keep Your Best Employees From Quitting