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A new manager’s guide to conducting performance reviews

Brittany Berger 5 min read
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Anyone who’s seen the movie Office Space has likely developed an unconscious distaste for performance reviews. Even researchers who have studied opinions on performance reviews found they’re almost universally disliked.

But as a manager, most of your success is defined by how you help your team succeed. That means learning to love performance reviews, as well as how to conduct them effectively.

Because while giving helpful feedback should be an ongoing activity and conversation, dedicated reviews are still a crucial component of teams that work well together.

As your team and responsibilities grow, it can become more and more difficult to make sure you’re consistently on the same page as each of your reports. Especially without creating a dedicated time and space for that to happen.

Periodic reviews serve as that space, as well as a check-in point and natural milestone for any goals or improvement plans. This all combines to better guide your employees, as well as guide your own feedback for them in between reviews.

So let’s look at how to make sure you’re conducting performance reviews effectively and making your team the best they can be.

Step 1: Set Goals Together

Before you sit down to review with someone for a review, you need to know what you’re reviewing. This is one more reason you and your team should be working together to set objectives like SMART goals for the year or quarter.

If you’ve never set specific goals with your team, do so as soon as you can, instead of waiting until your next review period. But once you’re setting goals and holding reviews on a regular basis, you can combine them into one meeting.

Step 2: Take Notes Between Reviews

The next thing you’ll want to make sure of, is that you’re really reviewing performance more often than you’re holding official reviews. Sitting down once a year or quarter, and trying to remember all of someone’s strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments at once can easily make your brain hurt. Taking that approach with an entire team will only make it harder for all of you to succeed.

Performance Improvement Plans

Instead, try to make a note of things as they occur. When you notice a certain behavior is becoming a habit, put it in the file. When you realize how big a role they played in a recent win, put it in the file.

This way, when it’s time to prepare your notes for the review, you don’t need to worry about remembering details of the past 3 to 12 months. You can simply read over your notes and look for patterns, outliers, and other points of discussion.

Step 3: Offer an Agenda in Advance

Remember that you’re not the only one in the room at this review. Just like how in-the-moment notes will help you prepare for the meeting, giving your team members their materials in advance will help them do the same.

At least a week or two ahead of an employee’s review, show them the game plan. If you’re having them complete a self-evaluation, this gives them time to think about and fill out their answers. Even if not, this gives them time to reflect on their own performance and prepare any questions or conversations they want to have with you.

Letting your team prepare for these reviews as thoroughly as you do helps it become a two-way conversation about improving your team’s performance , instead of you performing a one-way critique of them.

Step 4: Review with Respect

Finally, we’re ready to talk about the actual review meeting. If you follow the above steps to prepare correctly, the meeting is the simplest part. Still, simple can be uncomfortable, if not downright awkward.

Set Agenda in Advance

The best way to ensure the review goes as comfortably as possible is to remember your respect. You don’t need to barrage anyone with a monologue of complaints, nor do you need to sugarcoat any true critiques. And definitely don’t condescend to them using “compliment sandwiches” or any other stilted and impersonal frameworks you might have heard of in the past.

Speak clearly and directly with your employee like you normally would. Rather than hiding any negative feedback, address it outright so the rest of the meeting can be focused on addressing that feedback and improving the situation.

Step 5: End with an Action Plan

A common trap to fall into with doling out inactionable feedback that makes it hard for employees to actually improve between review periods. Think about it: after spending 30 minutes talking about ways your work can improve, wouldn’t you feel overwhelmed?

Instead of just throwing a mountain of feedback at someone in the review, discuss what specific steps your employees can take once the meeting is over. This can include a performance improvement plan, a new set of SMART goals, or a short to-do list of one-time tasks. Choose whichever option will suit the employee best, as the whole point of this is to help them improve.

This way, your employee leaves with a clear answer to “what’s next?” Not to mention that looking to the future can be a more aspirational and motivating way to end the review than discussing past mistakes.

Once you have this routine down, you simply rinse and repeat each time review period comes around.

Brittany Berger is a contributor to the blog and freelance writer for SaaS companies. You can follow her on Twitter at @thatbberg
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