Under the microscope

As the end of the year looms, so does the annual management task of delivering performance reviews. More than 70 million Americans go through this annual ritual, yet most of us dread both giving and receiving them.


“Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams claims that the annual performance review is “one of the most frightening and degrading experiences in every employee’s life.” The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way. Delivering performance reviews effectively boils down to the art of delivering feedback.

What do to
Set the stage for a two-way conversation. Relieve tension and facilitate dialogue by communicating up front your review process agenda. Let employees know they have input.

Start by letting employees assess themselves. What are they most proud of and what do they consider areas for development?

Seize the opportunity to acknowledge what you like and appreciate about how the employee performs.

Identify what success looks like for the coming year, given company objectives, etc. Create an employee development plan with specific goals and tasks.

Focus on the employee. Be truly present. Listen and make a genuine attempt to understand concerns and any feedback (yes, you should ask).

Talk about their strengths and challenge areas. Deliver the negative (avoid sugarcoating) but make sure the employee knows what he or she can do about it.

What not to do
Talk too much.
Reviews should be interactive. Don’t let whatever “form” you use dictate your process; it’s not about the form. If you are doing all the talking, you’ve probably lost them. You’ll know when their eyes glaze over.

Make it personal. Stick to behavior specifics.

Offer challenging feedback using generalizations. Many clients tell me they are told during their reviews that they need to improve areas such as “communication.” Most people have no idea what this means.
Identify how you and the employee will know if he or she meets your expectations for improvement.

Make assumptions about how the employee is receiving the feedback. Emotionally charged situations often foster misunderstanding. Probe for understanding and reactions, including confirmation of critical elements of the review.

Avoid the negatives. We all have room for improvement. Even the most talented individuals want to know how they can reach the next level.
Refusing to identify issues, challenge for improvement or hold the individual accountable does not foster growth. When you avoid giving tough, direct feedback, you aren’t doing them (or you, or the business) any favors.

Hammer on negatives. Don’t shred personal self-esteem by telling them every negative thing you’ve ever noticed. Reinforce that it is behaviors and actions you want changed, and that you have confidence in the person you are challenging.

As a professional coach, I am often brought into situations requiring review and expertise with “challenging” personnel and difficult workplace relationships. Most leaders who find themselves stuck in these situations want options and practical help with how to review and coach frequently outstanding individuals that will support positive behavioral change.

The scenarios that may require special help
Reviewing the individual with great technical skills but who lacks the interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence to do the job effectively.
The first challenge is how to acknowledge the value of the employee’s contribution while increasing his or her self- awareness of emotional and interpersonal patterns and their impact. The next challenge is coaching and/or training the employee to develop new behaviors.

Leaders from organizations in the midst of major “cultural” change often struggle with how to set and manage expectations around the change. The challenge here is developing expected performance standards with a highly defined process for regular feedback and measurement.

An organization’s most valuable resource is its people. The best leaders understand that personnel require both acknowledgment and challenge–and that skillfully developed and delivered performance reviews can be a highly effective management tool in today’s workplace.

Author: Maureen Moriarty