In most organizations the completion of an annual performance review includes meeting with the employee to go over the final review document. The annual review is one small part of the year-round performance management cycle of goal setting, planning, coaching, feedback, recognition, teambuilding, professional development, and evaluation. If you’ve done your job as a manager it will be fairly understood by both parties what will be discussed at the meeting because it will be a review of prior conversations, not a first-time conversation. Unfortunately many managers neglect this kind of ongoing dialogue throughout the year. When managers fail to establish and develop lines of communication, trust cannot develop. As a result any attempt to provide feedback, explore performance, or engage in honest dialogue feels awkward for both parties. Is it any wonder so many managers and employees dread, avoid, or fear these sit down conversations?
Challenge and Support
Effective performance management comes from striking a balance between challenge and support. The annual review, and specifically the sit-down conversation about the review, is no exception.
As discussed previously the annual review acts as a bridge between two years: the year that was and the year ahead. It’s an important dialogue in the work-life cycle for the employee. Support comes in the form of acknowledging talents, skills, achievements, and contributions of the individual. As a rule most employees want to work for someone that recognizes, and can articulate, what they bring to the table. When this occurs it can be an invigorating and motivating environment for the employee.
Challenge comes by exploring further growth and professional development for the employee. It’s imperative that both challenge and support are represented at the review meeting. This is only achieved when the manager prepares a well-written evaluation, puts time and energy into continuous dialogue about the employee’s performance, and collaborates with the employee to set goals that pursue professional success and fulfillment.
When the time comes to sit down with the employee be sure to select a suitable location, one that is private and comfortable for both parties. Budget plenty of time to review the evaluation, discuss key points from the content, and allow the dialogue to develop organically. Nothing kills morale like getting booted from the boss’s office because he or she needs to stay on schedule. I strongly recommend setting aside at least 30 minutes per employee, 60 if your schedule allows it. Once you’ve set the meeting be sure to provide a few days notice to the employee. During the meeting turn off your computer, cell phone, and office phone. Limit any potential interruptions to focus your full attention on the employee in the meeting. Lastly, be sure to schedule these meetings at times during your day when you will be fresh and able to fully engage. Avoid doing back-to-back review meetings whenever possible.
Once the meeting is underway review the two-fold purpose (to explore performance from the year that was and look forward to the year ahead) of doing a review. If the employee submitted a self-review be sure to acknowledge this contribution and identify the ways it was (or wasn’t) helpful. Share the formal review document with the employee. It’s appropriate to have two copies prepared, one for you to reference and one for the employee to follow along with. Be prepared to recap the document. You don’t have to go over every word (I haven’t met an employee yet that wants to be read to for 20+ minutes). Identify themes or points of emphasis. Highlight some specifics. Remember to focus on behavior, not personality. Be sure to share any overall final rating and associated merit increase, if applicable.
Be open to discussion along the way. As you move through the document pause and ask “What are your thoughts on this topic/session/issue?” When finishing sections of the document ask “What questions do you have?” Using open-ended questions such as these can lead to more involved dialogue and avoids getting only one word answers from the employee.
Often holding a review meeting means having to deliver constructive feedback about performance that is in need of improvement. Be respectful and professional when sharing concerns. Take ownership of the employee’s performance (you’re their supervisor which means you are ultimately responsible for it) by using “we” language. Be specific and objective about your concerns and always provide examples. Remember to focus on behaviors, which are observable and documentable. Avoid the use of subjective descriptors that are often absent specific behaviors. For example don’t say “You’re negative.” Say “When you shoot down ideas at meetings it stifles discussion.” Avoid the use of broad, sweeping generalizations like always, never, or everyone. Listen and converse and be specific about your expectations going forward.
Many managers get nervous at review time out of fear of the employee’s reaction. If you’ve done your job and addressed issues as they’ve occurred, if nothing in the review is a surprise, if you’ve been up front with the employee all year long, then chances of seeing an angry or emotional response are relatively low. However, if you encounter objections or resistance remain calm and professional. Avoid matching the person across from you. Discuss tangible behaviors only. Don’t make assumptions about their motivations. Avoid defensiveness, justifying, and deal-making. Roll away from resistance and stay future focused. (Ex. If the employee is attempting to explain or justify past bad behavior and you need to move the conversation forward: “I understand that, however the expectation is ________ and I need you to meet that expectation.”).
Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee is invested in and enthusiastic about their work and thus furthers the interests of the organization and team. The annual review meeting is one of several opportunities to touch base with the employee and explore engagement. Take some time to ask the employee about their job role, level of satisfaction, and professional aspirations. Use open-ended conversation starters such as:
- What elements of your job energize you? Why?
- At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Why or why not?
- What are your professional aspirations?
- How can I aid you on your career path?
- How do you think your work impacts the organization as a whole?
- What do you need from me that you are not getting?
The answers to these questions can lead into a rich conversation about future goals. The review meeting is a great time to set a few SMART goals for the year ahead.
There is no “right” way to hold a review meeting. Every manager has their own style and, in time, you will find yours. Also not all review meetings will be the same. There’s a different feel in a review meeting for an employee with performance concerns vs one with a high performer. The same can be said for a meeting with a new hire vs a veteran employee. The point is that every manager is unique, every employee is unique, and every review meeting will be a bit different…and that’s okay.
The annual review meeting is a chance to participate in a dialogue with the employee that demonstrates your commitment to their success. Leaders that do this with an authentic caring for each individual will ultimately find review meetings enjoyable and rewarding.
Now it’s your turn! What else needs to be said about review meetings? Add your thoughts in the comments box below! ~Joe
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