Performance Reviews That Actually Improve Performance

Employee performance reviews are one of the most dreaded tasks by most managers. It is hard to win here ? you can never say enough good things, and one word of criticism is generally the only thing they will remember.

Taking the easy way out and just documenting the positive will cause you a lot of trouble if you ever need to fire the employee.

The only way this ever gets better is with a lot of practice, and a pretty thick skin. Think about it this way: a bit of feedback that no one else has the guts to give a poor performer might turn around their whole career. Deliver the negative ? you have to ? but make sure the employee knows there are things they can do about it. For more effective performance reviews, prepare at the time of hire by giving all employees copies of the review forms you use in their orientation packet. An employee who knows how she will be reviewed will direct his behavior accordingly from the beginning of his employment and will probably do all she can to be sure he has good reviews.

In fact, an employee should have copies of all survey and review material that he will encounter over the course of his employment. The perception is what you measure is what you care about. Give a description of how often you use each evaluation tool and how. This is particularly important if your company does 360 degree performance reviews. The purpose of reviews is not to trap employees, but to give them the tools to do their best for the company. Accordingly, your review forms should be created very carefully and should cover actions specific to his skills and responsibilities as well as his people skills with peers and subordinates.

I always do reviews in two parts. The first part is for the employee to fill out two weeks ahead of the actual review meeting. It asks questions like these:

  • What could I do to make your work more productive?

  • What equipment or training do you need to do your best work that you don't have?

  • What could the company change (or add or delete) that would help you do your work better?

  • What skills and abilities do you have that you think are underutilized?

  • Any other comments or opinions you would like to express?

I have always found that getting an employee to express their feelings first, not only lets them know that you really are interested in their feedback, it also often results in their letting you know what they think their weaknesses are ? meaning you don't have to be the first to bring these things up.

Most employees really want to do good work. And if you think an employee isn't really there to do good work, you shouldn't be reviewing them, you should be letting them go.

About The Author

Jan B. King is the former President & CEO of Merritt Publishing, a top 50 woman-owned and run business in Los Angeles and the author of Business Plans to Game Plans: A Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). She has helped hundreds of businesses with her book and her ebooks, The Do-It-Yourself Business Plan Workbook, and The Do-It-Yourself Game Plan Workbook. See for more information.

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