Helene Horn Figman, J.D.

Doing a performance review is not an enviable task. One reason is that the employer and the employee may have very different opinions of the employee’s work. Here are five simple ways to make drafting and presenting performance assessments easier and more effective:

  1. Avoid the blindside — The most frequent complaints come from employees who did not realize their work was not meeting management’s expectations. Often, those same employees have previously received glowing annual reviews and then are called into a superior’s office to be told that there is some aspect of their performance that has not been satisfactory. Most employees understandably complain that they would have appreciated some feedback prior to the performance review. Don’t wait until your traditional yearend review to relay important information to the employee. The feedback becomes stale if you hold a review in December and refer to something the employee did in February, eleven months earlier.
  2. Base reviews on job functions and company policies— A last minute meeting in which you run through some positive things the employee accomplished along with one customer complaint, will have no meaningful effect on the employee’s performance. Nor will it help your company. Employees value feedback that is presented in a constructive manner and is connected to their job description. Employers are often too vague, as in: “Sally’s veterinary tech skills are not good when she is working with larger animals.” How is Sally to know (a) what is “not good” about her skills, and (b) what she can do to improve her performance with regard to working with larger animals?
  3. Prepare before you present the review —You do a disservice to yourself and the employee to copy some information from a prior review or to complete the review with one word responses. It sends a poor message to the employee and undermines any positive impact that the review might have had. Is your idea of a review to present a document that picks your employee’s work apart — or only tells them everything they’re doing wrong? A credible review would naturally contain positive information as well. (If you only have negative information to discuss, why is this person working for you???) Acknowledge performance that is over and above the job description. Often employees are handling additional responsibilities and the extra work is not recognized.
  4. Be honest — If you hide your feelings about how the employee carried out a particular job function or if you are not truthful in assessing their work, it will hurt both the business and the employee in the long run. If you eventually terminate that individual, he or she may argue that it was not due to poor job performance, but that it was wrongful discharge for some illegal reason.
  5. Follow-up in a timely manner — Don’t wait another year to follow up with the employee. Engage in meaningful communication to see if the employee understood the issues you raised in the performance review. Recognize the employee in some way if his/her performance has dramatically improved since the review. Set goals and ask whether the employee has set goals for him/herself.

The assessment of performance is a key human resources tool for effective employee relations and a productive workplace. It helps you to coach (or in some cases, terminate) employees who are not performing well, as well as reward and retain your top people. Be proactive!