Performance reviews are an essential tool for ensuring both employee and company goals are met. They not only create space for team members to bring comments and concerns to managers, but they allow managers to address issues of productivity, quality of work and general happiness among the people they're leading. When executed properly, performance reviews are a truly indispensable component of any forward-thinking retention and culture-building strategy.
Unfortunately, these check-ins are often met with dread and anxiety by those whose performances are under review. If your workers – even those who have exceeded sales goals or stepped up to the plate on a difficult project – fear receiving feedback, it may be time to evaluate your performance review process. Begin your overhaul by checking out these three common performance review errors, and helpful ways to avoid them:
"Creating an agenda can increase productivity and accountability."
1. You start the review without sharing an agenda
Hiking through the woods is infinitely harder – and scarier – when you don't have a map to reference. Every snap of a twig and rustle of leaves has you looking over your shoulder for the bears and wolves that have surely been following you the entire time. The same concept applies to performance reviews: When employees aren't sure what direction the meeting is headed, they're going to prepare for the worst. Those two days last month when they left at 4:30 instead of 5:00, that report they forgot to file until the very last minute and the time they knocked over the coffee pot are all flashing through their minds, creating anxiety-inducing distractions while you try to lead a discussion.
Before you kick off any performance-related meeting, always let the person receiving the review know exactly what you plan to cover, recommended Forbes magazine. When workers have a clear understanding of the purpose and intentions of a check-in, they're more likely to relax and be active participants in the process. Creating a shareable agenda can also increase productivity and accountability from a managerial perspective. You'll be less likely to forget an important talking point, and you'll hold yourself responsible for completing the entire review, even portions that could be awkward or difficult to orchestrate.
2. You're not being clear about expectations and consequences
It can be hard to get into the nitty gritty part of a performance review, especially when you're talking with an employee whom you consider to be a friend, peer, and overall good person. However, providing someone on a downward spiral with only watered-down criticisms won't light the internal fire he or she needs in order to make a serious, tangible day-to-day change. Inevitably, workers who aren't given clear, firm feedback – and an understanding of what could happen if they continue on the same path – feel blindsided, hurt, and angry when they're eventually let go. Strategic management professional Eric Jackson explained in Forbes magazine:
"People aren't usually resentful if they're laid off because the company is suddenly facing a crisis not of their own making (which isn't usually the case). However, what drives people up the wall is when it's clear that the boss has been bothered by some aspect of their performance, but never bothered to mention it to them until the time of their firing."
If what's preventing you from being truly honest in your performance reviews is the fear that your team members may get their feelings hurt, remember that they'll feel far more unhappy and betrayed when they're fired without being given a fair shot at changing their behaviors.
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3. You create a climate of negativity
Performance reviews get a bad rap among workers, as they're often linked to being belittled, yelled at, or even fired. If you sense an air of nervousness – or even straight up terror – among your team members when review time rolls around, you're not doing enough to dispel the myth that performance check-ins = bad news. In fact, you may even be contributing to it. Take some time to reflect on past reviews, and consider how much time was spent on a positive note versus how much time you invested in negative speech.
In a study published by the Journal of Personnel Psychology and analyzed by Business News Daily, researchers discovered that negative-leaning performance meetings were viewed as being universally unfavorable among a wide range of professionals. The study divided its subjects into three genres of workers:
- Learning goal-oriented: No matter how challenging or high-level a task might be, these employees are willing to do the work in the name of education and growth. They don't shy away from a project that interests them simply because they might make mistakes, because their central goals are learning-oriented.
- Performance-avoid goal-oriented: At the end of the day, these workers simply don't want to look bad in front of their colleagues and superiors.
- Performance-prove goal-oriented: The motivation for this group of professionals is the desire to prove that they're capable and competent in their current roles.
"Nobody likes to get negative feedback."
Researchers found that even learning-goal oriented workers – who were more willing to fail, take risks, and seek feedback – didn't respond well to negatively-focused performance reviews.
"Nobody likes to get negative feedback — even those individuals who aren't trying to prove anything to others, but instead are just trying to learn as much as possible," explained Professor Satoris Culbertson, one of the report's lead authors, to Business News Daily.
Start creating a more optimistic review environment by changing how your frame criticisms, recommended Culbertson. When feedback is served cold, with no suggestions for improvement or mentions of positive work an employee has produced, problems are only exacerbated – not solved. Instead of returning to their desks inspired and motivated to make changes, employees leave their reviews feeling downtrodden, sad, and just not good enough. These feelings will only decrease morale and could impact your retention rate.
When preparing for performance reviews, take the time to seriously consider both a worker's strengths and weaknesses so that you can spark an authentic, encouraging discussion that will make team members feel supported instead of scared.