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Effective Performance Reviews

At most companies there’s an annual event that managers and employees go through – performance reviews. Oftentimes the mere thought of a review (for both manager and employee) creates a feeling of dread. Why is that? The purpose of reviews is to assess past performance and plan for the upcoming year, which sounds relatively simple. However it can be nerve-wracking to both be evaluated and to give the evaluation. Here are some tips to alleviate feelings of dread and make the performance review experience more productive.
-Be Prepared: As the manager, make sure you’ve done your homework by considering all aspects of your employee’s performance throughout the past year. Consider projects as well as the day-to-day activities for which the employee was responsible. Take into account factors such as quality, timeliness of work and teamwork. It’s also helpful to get input from colleagues, peers and other managers with whom the employee worked. The point is to assess the employee’s performance objectively. As the employee, do the same thing. Think of the things you accomplished and the goals you met. Consider any new skills you developed along the way and how you applied them. Assess the quality and timeliness of your work, and how you collaborated with others. Consider getting feedback from colleagues about your performance.
-Accomplishments and Challenges: Both the manager and employee should think about the biggest accomplishments that happened and the impact on the company. What was the positive difference that the accomplishments made? Likewise, what challenges cropped up during the year? How did the employee respond to them? How might the manager help mitigate challenges in the future or support the employee in navigating through them?
-Genuine Praise: A healthy dose of praise should be included in every performance appraisal – both in writing and verbally. Capturing positive feedback in the written review demonstrates that the manager recognizes the employee’s contributions and good performance. Saying it verbally only reinforces that. Likewise, it’s helpful for the employee to give genuine praise to their boss. If the boss helped the employee through a tough time, mentored them through a project or supported their skill development then let the boss know that.
-Joint Goal Setting: It’s productive for both the manager and the employee to collaborate on goals for the upcoming year. Joint goals gives both people skin in the game and promotes commitment.
-Attitude Check: Performance reviews can be stressful for both parties. To help alleviate strong emotions creeping up, focus on staying open and being relaxed. Before the appraisal meeting take a short walk or some deep breaths. During the meeting continue to breathe deeply and sit in a relaxed posture. Think of a word that makes you feel calm and silently repeat that to yourself.
-Continuous Communication: Throughout the year have continuous conversations about performance, accomplishments, goals, etc. On-going dialogue fosters trust and alleviates dread associated with the annual performance review.

Heather Backstrom is an executive coach, leadership development consultant and speaker. She has a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. She can be reached at

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