The Annual Performance Review Doesn't Have to be Painful
Some people would prefer a visit to the dentist rather than endure the annual performance review. If you’re one of them, then you might be anxious about your own assessment, about having to give a bad review to one of your employees, or about the marathon pace to complete the process from beginning to end.
Performance reviews require a lot of work. From workers, peers, and managers to HR and senior management, a considerable amount of time is invested in documenting each employee’s performance in accordance with their personal objectives as well as those set by the department and company.
It’s human nature to want feedback. Hopefully managers are having conversations with their employees frequently throughout the year to give timely praise or constructive criticism. Neither side should be surprised by the time you get to the performance review meeting. If you are, then that’s a flag that there’s not enough communication or that the message isn’t getting through.
If your manager doesn’t provide you with feedback, ask. Don’t assume that no news is good news. Some managers will squirrel away their feedback and unleash it all at once at review time. How is that supposed to help? Keep your employees motivated, engaged, and on track. If they’re off track, don’t wait 11 months to say “If you had done this differently way back when, then we’d be having a better conversation about it now.” That rearview mirror mentality is short-sighted and petty.
5 Points of Praise and Criticism for the Annual Performance Review
Here are 5 observations in both favor and criticism of the annual performance review:
1. (+) Document your accomplishments. The annual performance review process forces you to document what you do and what you hope to accomplish. This can be an enlightening process for the employee and the company. It can highlight where you’re contributing above and beyond what is expected of you. It can also help to identify gaps or overlaps in the workflow that can be addressed by adjusting duties or adding personnel. In essence, if you’ve been busting your butt, this is your chance to document it and get recognition and credit for it as well as help.
2. (-) Time consuming. The amount of time and effort that goes into documenting reviews and then going through the process can essentially become a second job for busy managers. Yet many companies fail to allow sufficient time for this work amidst the normal work flow. This can be discouraging and counterproductive if, for example, the manager has many direct reports to assess. In order to be thorough, they need to work extra hours and become discouraged. Or in an effort not to be overworked, they don’t apply themselves to the reviews and miss opportunities to praise or correct their employees, which results in no change.
Tip: Whether for a subordinate or your own self-assessment, make notes throughout the year to help facilitate your documentation when the time comes.
3. (+) Talent management and planning. Formal performance reviews enable managers and HR to inventory their talent and plan for the year ahead. Employees who are struggling to perform can be put on notice and given a chance to shape up. Those who are already shining and ripe for bigger and better things can be slotted for new challenges – it’s better to keep these eager employees engaged with you than realize too late that they were bored and chose to leave to explore challenges elsewhere.
4. (-) Forced rankings can send a negative message. Some performance appraisal systems “require” a forced distribution of ranking employees within a group. This is a dangerous tactic that assumes a very black and white environment and equal variables and circumstances within each employee group.
5. (-) Overly complex or complicated systems. Year after year HR departments tinker with the annual performance review process in an attempt to improve the system, timing, or some other aspect of the ritual. Make sure you communicate changes well in advance of the process to ensure that managers and employees understand the implications.
In light of these points, it is critical that we don’t lose sight of the ultimate purpose of the appraisals. Consider the following of your employees (and yourself in your own self-assessment) by taking a very basic approach in preparing your feedback:
- Did you do what you were hired/paid to do?
- Did you meet your objectives?
- Are you working to your potential?
- Have you progressed in your work, or are you at the same place you were last year (Peter Principle, anyone?)?
- Have you learned new skills or developed new talents that will improve your abilities and help you to perform your job at a higher level?
- Are you ready to take on more responsibility?
- Are you a team player and work in the best interests of the whole, or do you look out for only yourself?
- Are you easy to work with, or do others avoid you?