Oh, the dreaded performance review process.
You either hate it, or you hate it. Am I right?
It’s not that you think they’re unnecessary… After all. Even if you don’t give performance reviews now, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know you should.
It’s that they take time out of work, cause unnecessary stress, and don’t seem to be very effective at changing employee behavior. And isn’t changing behavior for the better the whole point?
So, should we just ditch them all together? My answer to that is a resounding “NO!”
When done properly, performance reviews can be a welcome source of feedback for your employees. They can lead to deeper discussions about responsibilities, career goals, and organizational improvements.
So instead of throwing them out, let’s implement 3 simple tips to get them right.
Though there are thousands of ways to run performance reviews (and just as many articles to read on the topic), I’ve found these 3 tips gave me the most bang for my buck. After 5+ years managing employees, these were the 3 things that made the most difference.
Tip #1: Take Your Performance Review Process Out of That Tuxedo (and Give it Some Shorts and Sandals)
Here’s how most performance reviews go:
Every year, gather 12 months of employee data, feedback from peers, and force everyone to do a self-assessment for a month. During that month, we don’t talk about the process, we maybe indicate that performance is tied to compensation, and we schedule a 1-hour meeting labeled “Performance Review.” Stress levels shoot through the roof until the “big meeting” at which point everyone leaves the review wondering why they bothered to take the time in the first place.
Well, instead of making your performance review process a once-a-year event… why not break it up into multiple, smaller events throughout the year?
It may seem like more work, but doing a performance review once a quarter or twice a year can make the entire process far less formal. On top of that, it will reduce stress on the employee, and create less stress for the business owner who doesn’t have to compile a full years worth of performance info (a daunting task).
Why wait to give an employee 365 days of feedback in one fell swoop? Isn’t feedback far more effective when given more often (the answer is yes, and if you don’t believe me, check out this article on Effective Feedback Made Simple >>)?
Stop giving performance reviews once a year. Move to a quarterly or bi-yearly performance review process, and you’ll find them to be far more productive and less stressful.
Tip #2: How Much Time Should the Review Meeting Be? Exactly the Opposite of What You Think…
Most managers spend all their time focusing on low-performers. They give them extensive feedback on what they are doing wrong and what they should do to correct it.
On the flip side, they spend only minutes with their top-performers, telling them “there’s nothing you need to work on,” or, “you’re doing great, keep up the good work.”
Your low performers aren’t pushing your company the way your high performers do. Your low performers are actually causing your high performers (and yourself) more work!
So, if your best and brightest are the ones giving you the best and the most results, why not spend the time with them?
Give them more goals, more responsibilities, more praise. Talk with them to understand what they love (and don’t love) about the job. Figure out how they can contribute more to the organization, and compensate them for it.
Most high performers are eager to take on more responsibility in exchange for bigger opportunities or higher compensation. Low performers, on the other hand, are usually only interested in doing just enough to keep their job.
So spend the time with your A-players. For your B and C-players, keep it short and to the point. Tell them exactly what you need them to do, when you need them to do it, and what they can expect if they meet, or don’t meet their objectives.
Tip #3: Let the Politician in You Shine
Okay, I’m not suggesting you turn performance reviews into some political event.
What I am suggesting is what every politician out there claims to want more of… transparency.
How do performance reviews and transparency overlap? Most of the time, they don’t…
Most of the time, the performance review process is hidden from the employees. The steps along the way are only discussed when an employee needs to do something (turn in a self-review, request peer reviews, etc).
But this just increases the stress of it all.
When your employees don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, they start to imagine. And when your staff’s imaginations run wild, stress levels rise, rumors start, and inappropriate expectations are set that can never be met.
Instead of letting that happen, be as transparent as possible with the process. Tell everyone how the process will work, what you expect along the way, and when every milestone (for you and for the employee) will occur. Tell them why each step of the process is necessary, and who will see each piece of the review process.
Overcommunicate. Overindulge. Let them know anything and everything that’s going on including how the performance reviews will affect their salary, bonuses, or any other compensation.
Then, leave your door open.
When employees come see this process isn’t something to worry about, and that they can talk to you anytime, they’ll feel far less stress and can carry on with their job.
It’s Time For a Change… Now, Not Later
Maybe you don’t have a performance review process but you know you should. Maybe your current review process is stressful, distracting, and feels useless.
That no longer needs to be the case.
Take whatever process you have in place, and implement these 3 simple changes. Break the process up into multiple, smaller events over the course of the year. Focus on your best employees and take less time with the rest. And be transparent. Really transparent.
None of these changes is a wild departure from any performance review process that I know. But implementing them should drastically reduce stress for everyone involved (yourself included).
Furthermore, you’ll start getting exactly what you’d always hoped to get. Results.
So now’s the time to change. Give it a go and tell us what you think. And if you have concerns or questions along the way, a comment below will get answered almost immediately. Just ask!
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About the Author
CO-FOUNDER | TECHNOLOGY, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, AND SALES
Michael Mehlberg helps small businesses owners achieve their goals and live their passion. His approach to technology, corporate strategy, product development, marketing, and sales is both practical and highly effective, and has helped multiple small businesses grow into the company their owners envisioned. Reach out by emailing him at email@example.com or learn more on our About page.