manage employees

How to make employee reviews more effective (and fun)

“We need to talk … about your employee performance.”

Managers and employees alike often dread annual performance reviews. The idea of having to do any kind of performance evaluation on another person is awkward for most (regardless of how great or horrible the employee is).

But when employee reviews are done well, they can help your business, your team, and even you as a manager or owner.

So is there really a way to have employee reviews go smoothly, or are they doomed to be a trip to awkward town? As luck would have it, they can be effective and fun as long as you prepare for them properly.

So let’s take a look at how employee reviews help and how you can make the most of them.

The benefits of employee reviews

Employees, supervisors, and companies all benefit from performance appraisals. Employees generally want to understand their employer’s expectations and to have a manager who speaks with them about their progress, encourages their development, and provides opportunities for them to grow.

Research shows that those conditions increase employees’ productivity and job satisfaction. (And who doesn’t like being around happier employees?)

Beyond increasing employee happiness, the review process can also result in employees who are better at their job. This helps them but also helps you and your company perform better.

If you have customers who you regularly interact with, they’ll have a better experience as well, thanks to your properly reviewed team members. Not to mention, your employees will feel more engaged and be more likely to stay with your company.

Supervisors can also use performance reviews to develop their management skills, identify training needs, and build a rapport with employees. The business owner or manager can gather objective information to make decisions about raises, promotions, training, and other personnel actions.

13 tips for effective employee reviews

To be effective, performance appraisals shouldn’t be a standalone annual event, but an ongoing discussion and process. Even during job interviews, employers should talk about the standards and goals for a position. They should share their performance review form with employees during orientation and discuss in detail what they expect.

To make the whole process practical and painless, follow these guidelines:

1. Develop the habit of delivering feedback frequently

Don’t wait for formal reviews to praise or critique performance. Walk around and talk with employees about their work, or set regular times to briefly discuss progress, such as weekly check-ins.

Having regular chats about performance will help you get ahead of shortcomings in employees before they develop into serious performance problems. It will also make your employees more comfortable with the idea of being reviewed, and encourage them to talk to you about areas they’d like to improve in as well.

The only annual aspect of your performance-review system might be filling out a specific form on a work anniversary or implementing raises.

2. Document performance

As you talk with employees about performance, jot down notes for yourself. At review time, you’ll have a full view of the employee’s work, untainted by recent events or selective memory, and you will be able to support your rating of the employee.

You should also be using a form for employee evaluation to ensure things are uniform for all employees. If you develop your own set of criteria for employee performance reviews, make sure there’s nothing on the form that employees would be surprised by. It’s only fair that they know what they’re being evaluated on.

3. Cover the ABCs on your review form

An up-to-date job description will help you decide what to include in the appraisal. A performance review should be accurate, complete, and consistent, providing a fair and objective assessment based on the employee’s job and goals.

4. Hold a discussion

Don’t hand the employee a completed form to read when you aren’t there to put the comments in context. The manager and employee should discuss the appraisal together, and if the employee has completed a self-appraisal, discuss where the two differ. A review should be a two-way conversation.

5. Ask the employee for feedback

Remember that you play a role in the employee’s performance too. During every review, ask your employees what you can do better as a manager or leader.

Meeting your employee’s needs is as important as them meeting yours, and this is a great way to ensure that’s happening. It’s also a good idea to ask for employee feedback on the review process itself.

6. Set goals

Use the review to clarify the employee’s role at the company. Update his or her job description, if necessary, and set employee goals that are meaningful, measurable, and motivating.

When the employee has goals that are aligned with the company’s goals, the employee can feel more motivated, more invested, and more engaged. Most HR professionals agree that employee engagement plays a huge part in how well or poorly employees perform.

7. Allow the employee to comment

Create a section on the review form for the employee’s response and ask the employee to sign the appraisal. The signature documents that the employee received the review, even if he or she didn’t agree with its contents. However, if you’ve held frequent conversations about performance throughout the year, the annual review won’t contain any surprises.

8. Be clear and precise with your language

The worst thing you can do is leave an employee scratching their head after a review. Make sure the intent behind your language is clear and you’re upfront with expectations.

This will help the employee perform better, which again, helps you and the company succeed as well. It also prevents any tension over miscommunication, which is something nobody enjoys.

9. Don’t downplay victories during reviews

Yes, reviews are the time to bring up areas to improve upon. That being said, you should use this time to shower employees with praise as well. If some of your employees have had some huge successes since your last review, bring those up and harp on that for a bit.

These meetings aren’t just about growth, but about keeping your employees engaged and motivated as well.

10. Hide nothing about the review process

Nothing on your review sheet should surprise an employee. Holding your employees accountable for something and not letting them in on that is a surefire way to cause tensions to flare.

It’s likely to leave you disappointed in the progress of your employees, as they won’t be meeting standards that you never told them about in the first place. (And that’s not very nice.)

11. Provide a clear growth path for employees

Once you’ve given your employees feedback, make sure they know what the next steps are.

Does a particular employee need to work on time management or their communication skills? Provide them with feedback and a way to solve that problem — for example, you could have them partner up with human resources or a team lead that excels in those skills.

12. Involve people other than yourself

Even if you’re the one giving employee performance reviews, you should involve other members of the team in the process.

Ask other leaders or department heads for input on the review process, the criteria you’re evaluating, and so on. You also want to involve your employees as well, listening to them and taking to heart their constructive feedback on the process itself.

13. Embrace technology in the review process

The days of the pen haven’t totally gone by the wayside, but there is also performance review software that can help you take employee reviews to new heights.

Shop around and see if there’s any employee review software that sticks out to you, as they can help you consistently track progress, give your employees a way to view their current progress, and more. (Don’t worry, you can still bring a notepad and pen to the review to feel more official.)

You can also incorporate software in the interviewing and hiring process to better-track candidates. If that’s out of the budget right now, make a checklist for evaluating job candidates and keep it handy.

Growing as a team with employee reviews

Employee reviews don’t have to be the awkward, dreaded event they sometimes are. They also don’t have to benefit only you as the business owner. When done properly, employee reviews are a great way to keep everyone rowing in the same direction, only stronger and faster than before.

Strip away your owner title and become one with your team during the review process. As long as you keep the lines of communication open and remind your employees that you’re there for them, just as they’re there for you, you and your team will only become stronger for it.

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