10 Ways to Make Your Performance Reviews Not Suck


April 4, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

Performance reviews are dreaded beasts of burden for managers and direct reports alike. They make people feel small. They reduce people to banal check boxes and categories. But they don’t have to be like this. If you are still marking people as ‘fair’ or ‘exceeding expectations’ in your annual form, you should really rethink your system. While this article is not about re-hauling your system, it is about helping you cope with whatever system you currently have in place. This article is about the universal principles you can deploy for better delivery, greater impact and ultimately stronger performance. Adopt these and you will exponentially improve the experience of giving and receiving your performance reviews on both sides of the table. Neglect them, and well, the experience will suck.

1.    It starts with intentions. You need to check your intention going into the meeting. You need to ask yourself if you are sincerely interested in learning and understanding what drives your employee or just being right. Do a serious check in with yourself and then really try to see the person for who they are. Leave your agenda at the door.  Remember, it’s about behaviors not personalities.

2.    Fail to plan, plan to fail. This is the worst time to wing it dude. You have to be ready if you get hit with information you were not expecting and is important to consider. You have to be ready to be flexible to create a mutually beneficial strategy if problems are surfaced you were not expecting. If you think you’re heading into a one-way conversation, you’ve already lost. If you can’t meet their expectations, be ready to acknowledge the importance of what they are saying, and then explain what you need to do and why. Be prepared for salary increase requests and revelations you may have not been aware of before. Don’t act surprised. Act curious.

3.    It’s about facts, not fiction. This is not the time for your opinions. Don’t let it become a case of he said, she said. If you share your opinion, you are opening the door for a counter opinion. Instead, be prepared with facts and evidence to support your case. As a best practice, keep a log of performance pluses and deltas throughout the year. Keep copies of related work you want to use as examples. Anticipate and be prepared for counter arguments but always present the facts.

4.    Emotions will get you in trouble. If you feel emotional or emotions begin to creep in, reschedule. This is not the time or place to emote. Emotions have no place in a performance reviews so you would do well to manage them accordingly. Being able to do this means the difference between responding or reacting, which can make the difference in a calm or chaotic performance review experience.

5.    Strengths and weaknesses are so yesterday. Can we not do better than this people? Seriously? Yes we can. Most performance reviews focus on strengths and weaknesses. Instead of strengths and weaknesses, focus on values and opportunities. It’s a better framework that invites a deeper understanding of what motivates the people you work with and it will help you coach and lead them to better performance outcomes. You’re welcome.

6.    Zip that lip. I’m always surprised by how little people listen. Listening is the most underrated element of communication. You can glean so much about what’s going on in the mind of your direct reports by listening and asking a few strategic and well placed questions. Trust me. The intel you gather through listening is indispensable and far more valuable than whatever you have to say. So zip it and learn.

7.    Values eat everything else for lunch. Values are in your DNA. Your values are probably your parents’ values. Values drive engagement, decisions, behavior, and well, you name it. A person’s emotional reaction is the easiest way to pinpoint a value. Negative emotions signal violated values. If the person becomes more emotional and animated in speaking about a topic, that’s because it’s important to them. There is a value hiding in there. Listen for repeated themes. Mine them for gold.

8.    Change the frame. People are locked into their own frame of reference. Change their frame, that is to say, change their perspective, and you’ll change their mind. Try asking powerful coaching questions: What if we could see this situation differently? What would a more positive perspective on this situation look like? Some people’s perspective is so intractable you may find yourself beating your head against the wall. Some people just aren’t willing to explore perspectives that are outside the realm of their own experience. It happens.  But at least you have made the effort if you try to get them to a new perspective. Recognize when the conversation should be terminated in order to maintain a respectful relationship and move on rather than trying to force your own viewpoint on the situation.

9.    At the end of the day, we work for the same place. Getting to agreement is not that hard. It’s just a process that’s well managed. Put everything on the table on both side and then look for the common ground. You don’t have to agree on everything but you both have mutual goals that intersect at some level. That intersection is what’s best for the enterprise and it’s where you should start looking for common ground. Sometimes you will need to reach to a higher level to do this so don’t try to get there too early. Make sure that the person feels sufficiently heard first. That’s your threshold for readiness. Once you cross that threshold, most people are congenial.

10.            Lock in the accountability.  To make sure everyone is walking away with a common understanding, solidify some action steps with clear timelines for who, when, how and how much of the behavior change you expect (did I say it’s about behavior?) Create opportunities to check in regularly during the year on the accountability action plan and support your direct report in maintaining their momentum to success. Provide more coaching support as needed.

A final word…

Performance reviews are generally not done well. People wait all year to provide critical feedback. This is a mistake. Nothing should be said at this stage that is a surprise to the employee because they should be working in a feedback rich environment that is constantly nurturing their growth. But we all know that’s not reality. So many workplaces suffer from so many dysfunctions. If you are lucky enough to work in a place where the culture supports a more progressive approach to performance reviews, then much of the above is already baked in to your day-to-day operations. If you are not, arm yourself with these tips and at least create a better experience for you and your direct report.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

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©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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