Employee performance reviews can be hard for all of us to participate in. And managers, I recognize that you're trying to do your best and follow the process your organization's HR team has laid out.
But if you really want to help employees improve their performance, there are a few key actions you can take.
This is about you doing more than giving performance feedback come review time. It's about being a better coach.
You need to take time to carefully prepare for the process. And that preparation should be ongoing not something you scramble together last-minute in the days (or dare I say hours?) leading up to the review meeting.
What your employees might say
If you asked your employees... What can I do to be a better manager? And... How can I improve the performance review process for you? ...Here's a sample of some of the responses you might get.
Don't surprise me.
There's nothing quite like being blindsided during my annual performance review with negative feedback I could have, and should have, done something about months ago. If you feel there are problems with my performance, I'd much rather know sooner rather than later.
Don't let me carry on all year long thinking everything is fine, then surprise me with poor ratings, negative feedback or unmet expectations. Please provide me timely feedback about my performance, in the moment preferably!
Talk with me, not to me.
I'd much prefer that this be a two-way conversation. There are a lot of reasons "why" behind everything that I've done - both my successes and challenges. I'd love for you to understand them, and then help me improve.
Don't just tell me what you think, ask me what I think, and use the information I've provided in my self assessment to begin that conversation. Ask me why I did what I did. After all, this is supposed to be about my performance.
Don't expect me to do the impossible.
Often when you assign me goals, you set my targets too high or you give me way too much to do. I know you think it's important to set goals high so that people rise to the occasion, but there is such a thing as setting goals too high.
When you ask me to do the impossible, I get discouraged. It's like I'm being setup for failure rather than simply being challenged. You and I both know when there's no way I could achieve what you've set out.
If you want me to be engaged and support my success, let's agree to realistically achievable targets and a reasonable number of goals that stretch and challenge, but are still doable. I'd also appreciate the opportunity to revisit my goals if priorities change, to make sure I'm still working on the right things.
Don't blame me for things beyond my control.
When I fail to achieve a goal because of external circumstances beyond my control - recognize all that I did to try and achieve the goal. Give me feedback and coaching on how I might be able to remove similar roadblocks in future.
Be honest with me.
If you feel there's a problem with my performance please be honest with me and talk to me. I can't read your mind. I also can't always "read between the lines" of what you say. I understand that you may feel the need to soften the message to spare my feelings or make a difficult conversation easier for you. While I might feel better about our conversation, it actually makes it harder for me to understand what you expect, and therefore harder for me to understand what I need to do to change
Acknowledge that you don't know everything.
You can't see everything that I do every day. You don't know why my performance appeared to be below expectations in some circumstances. And your judgments are colored by your perceptions, experience, expectations, and biases.
Help me improve.
Give me feedback, coach me, let me work with others who can teach me things, let me take time out from my daily work to focus on learning new things that will help me improve my performance (and make sure I have the time to do that ).
Then give me time to improve. Don't expect me to change overnight or never slip up. And when you see improvements, please acknowledge them. It helps to motivate me.
Don't use different standards for different people.
Just because I'm one of your top performers doesn't mean you can and should judge my performance differently than others. I know I've raised the bar for your expectations, but the ratings you give me affect my compensation and my career progression.
Yes you can and should expect more of me. But when it comes time to rate my performance, you need to compare my performance to my peers', not to your higher expectations of me.
Don't alter my performance ratings because of quotas.
I need an honest assessment of my performance. Rating me using a bell curve or some quota system doesn't really tell me about my performance. It tells me about the organization overall.
Don't make this a one-time event.
I'd much prefer discussion about my performance be an ongoing conversation. Waiting a whole year to hear what you think is too long. I want us to have regular discussions about my progress and performance.
I want us to work together to adjust my goals and targets if we find they're unachievable or not challenging enough. I want to know what you think about my performance. I want your help in dealing with challenging situations.
If we're going to do this, let's do it right.
If we're going to go to all the trouble of doing employee performance reviews, let's make sure we both get some value out of the process. Let's make sure they help us both strengthen our working relationship. Let's make sure they help both of us achieve our goals and improve our performance.
Managing performance is a year-round activity
Performance management isn't just about the annual performance review meeting. It's an ongoing, two-way dialog with your employees about expectations, priorities and performance. So make performance management a year-round activity.
To develop your employees, ensure their success and maximize their contributions to the organization, take the above tips to heart. They could be unspoken wishes from your employees.
Your turn: Any advice or unspoken wishes to add to this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Related Reading: Managers, learn more about how you can improve employee performance reviews by checking out our center of excellence Performance Management Training for Managers.