Writing performance reviews of your employees can be a bit daunting. As managers, we are constantly striving to set our teams up for success and formal reviews are a great way to keep our employees on the right track. Performance appraisals are actually one of the most important elements of managing a team because they help us continually shape the growth and improvement of individual employees, and therefore, our entire team. So, let’s get into the weeds of the performance management cycle and how to write a performance review so that it’s a constructive experience for both you and your employee alike!
Performance management is an organization’s process for making sure that employees are effectively and efficiently performing and coordinating their tasks to further propel the company towards its goals. While the term performance management is quite broad and can apply to an organization as a whole, individual departments, or processes, we’ll be focusing on how to conduct performance reviews for individual employees.
That being said, what is a performance review? A performance review is a formal assessment or check-in between an employee and their supervisor or manager. Its intent is to evaluate the performance of an employee, gain an understanding of the current state of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses, give them feedback or highlight opportunities for improvement, and set goals for the future.
Further, they can help set the tone and direction for the next 6-12 months as everyone gets aligned on goals and future directions. In some organizations, they also set the baseline for determining promotion and compensation changes.
While regular check-ins are encouraged, performance reviews are typically formal, structured and written or otherwise documented. Many organizations are also being intentional about reviewing employees in more holistic and well-rounded ways – which can help act as a buffer for some of the bias that can impact a traditional 1-on-1 review process where an employee’s manager is the sole decision-maker and dictates unilaterally how they’re performing.
There are some best practices to keep in mind when conducting performance reviews. It’s important to frame the event as a conversation. Managers should talk through their observations and constructive feedback, and elicit input from the employee’s themselves. Performance reviews offer a great opportunity to let employees ask questions. Encourage them to share their own feedback and perform an evaluation of themselves – and then see how aligned they are with their manager’s feedback.
Essentially, the core purpose of performance management is to ensure that your team’s goals are organized and aligned. Individual reviews help management get a more granular picture of each team member’s role in the company’s vision. On the other hand, these reviews help employees stay on track and make adjustments where needed within their own work! In some organizations, they also set the baseline for determining promotion and compensation changes.
Self-assessments: This involves allowing the employee an opportunity to reflect on their own performance, strengths and weaknesses and then discussing their reflection with their manager, in addition to hearing their manager’s observations.
Team assessments: This involves assessing and evaluating not only the individual, but the team as a whole, and identifying opportunities to improve their effectiveness and the way that they work together.
Graphic rating skill: This is one of the most traditional methods. It often involves identifying variables / areas such as innovation, creativity, punctuality (or longer, more specific competencies) and then rating them. Ratings can be numeric (e.g. 0-5) or they can be brief descriptors such as “Exceeds expectations“ or “Needs improvement.”
360-degree ratings: This involves gathering feedback from everyone that the employee works with – including managers, other team members and perhaps even client/customers depending on the role, for a more well-rounded and holistic understanding of their performance.
Skill evaluation: This involves an assessment of the employee’s skills, knowledge and attitude. Both the employee and their manager assess the technical and behavioral skills or competencies that the employee demonstrates and identify the developmental level of that skill (e.g. Highly advanced vs. Not yet observed)
Goals and results: This approach tends to be more quantitative and simply measures whether or not previously identified goals or targets were met. For example, it could include assessing absentee rate, customer satisfaction or sales conversions.
Determining what criteria will yield you the most valuable information from a performance review can be tricky. Here are some structural elements to consider that are sure to make your review experience a positive one!
Go over the employee’s last review and refer to action items and goals that were assigned. If this is their first review (e.g., a new employee or someone in a new role), refer to their job description and any metrics related to their job.
Discuss whether previous goals are being met or are in progress. If the employee is not meeting certain metrics, look at potential factors that might be affecting their performance. For example, have projects and priorities changed since the last review?
The supervisor should provide specific goals and recommendations to help the employee keep moving forward. A great frame in which to build goals for your employees is that of SMART goals, meaning the objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound!
As we previously stated, no review is one-sided. Ask the employee for a self-evaluation on their role, management, the organization, and anything else that may affect their ongoing performance.
Now that you have your structure laid out, let’s take a look at some more specific questions you can ask that pertain to your team member’s experience and should get you the information you need to adequately assess your employee.
Great! You’ve asked some meaningful questions and written the report! Make sure you build some sort of rubric to rank your employees’ responses, especially if performance reviews are tied to compensation and/or promotions in your company.
Reviews with no action plan or follow-up are pointless. It’s important to turn observations into action steps to encourage growth and improvement, which will be evaluated during the next review. Once the review is over, work with supervisors to create a plan based on the results. Document the plan and share it with the employee to set the right expectations.
Supervisors should also plan to follow up with employees on their action items outside of a formal review process. Discuss how often you will meet with them to check in on things. Also, consider sending an email summary of the key points of your discussion. This way, the employee will have a copy of what you talked about that they can refer back to. In some cases, managers may find it appropriate to create a performance improvement plan for an employee.
Performance reviews should be held at least once a year, but there are definite benefits to holding them biannually. You might be cringing right now, thinking, “But if we all hate annual performance reviews, why would we hold them more often?” However, these conversations become more comfortable when you have them more frequently. Plus, you’re able to investigate the details without racking your brain to remember what on earth the employee has been doing. That way, you’re incorporating performance management, by not focusing just on an end goal – you’re adjusting the process of getting there, and coaching the employee along.
Performance reviews don’t have to carry the “doomsday” connotation that they commonly seem to. If you and your employees think about them as a pitstop to make sure all of your organization’s parts are working correctly before completing the next lap in the race, you’ll definitely get more out of the experience! The key is to assure your employees that performance management is not synonymous with punishment. Navigate the process fairly and justly, and you’ll be well on your way! Furthermore, take a tour of GoCo to learn how an HRIS can aid you in this process.