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Giving annual performance reviews can be one of the hardest things that you as a manager will have to do on your list of tasks. It can feel awkward, difficult, and you might feel like you have no idea what to say. 

Yet, performance reviews are a critical part of your team’s growth and as such are important (and inevitable!). All the best managers handle performance reviews with grace and tact, so here are some of the best tips for managers to achieve that. 

What are performance reviews?

Employee performance reviews/evaluations/appraisals are formal assessments of an employee’s performance at work in a certain period of time. They cover overall performance, strengths, goals, things to work on, and more. 

Performance reviews also give employees a chance to voice concerns, ask questions, and share feedback with their managers as well. These reviews are traditionally annual, but can happen as often as the company likes. 

What should performance reviews cover?

Most employee performance reviews, regardless of industry, should cover:

  • Communication
  • Time management – punctuality and reliability
  • Attendance
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Quality and accuracy of work
  • Goal-meeting and deadline adherence
  • Problem-solving 
  • Any company or position-specific competencies
  • Employee accomplishments and contributions to their role or organization

Tips for excellent performance reviews

1. Set expectations early 

Be clear with employees from the get-go about how they will be evaluated. You might even consider holding sessions early on in the work year with those you’re directly responsible for where you can discuss their goals and expectations. 

Listening carefully to those you work with is key; knowing what someone is like and what their aspirations are can allow you to understand why they do what they do, and therefore tweak how you will end up evaluating their performance in the future. 

2. Don’t put employees on the spot

A couple of weeks before your performance review comes around, ask your employees to write down some things they’d like to bring up during the review and begin planning for it. This will refresh their memory, let them feel more prepared and at ease, and know that you’re thinking about the review as well. 

Additionally, managers shouldn’t be floundering when it comes to evaluations. Prepare feedback in advance so that you can show up to the reviews ready. 

3. Set the tone

This isn’t a casual chat, so don’t make it seem like one. The language you choose, both verbal and non-verbal, matters deeply. Employees will notice and follow the tone that you set, so choose wisely and be deliberate. 

Concentrate on what the person has done well and praise them honestly, but don’t shy away from bad news. Be honest without being rude, and deliver the news as gently as you can without sugarcoating it. 

4. Hold your ground when you need to

There will always be some hot topics in these discussions, such as increases in pay and rank. If they really are eligible for these, let them know. But if they’re not, then don’t cave in to their negotiating and or even guilt-tripping (whether it’s intentional or not).  

5. Be understanding and set goals together

After you’ve given them feedback, listen to what they have to say. What are their thoughts, feelings, and goals? What do they feel they are doing that isn’t working and what can they do to change that? What can the company do to aid their success more?

Be constructive in the conversations that you help. Don’t just say things like “you’re innovative” because that’s not helpful. Tell them what it is that they do that’s working, and help them with the issues that they bring up. 

6. Keep remarks clear and concise

Be direct and transparent with employees so that they aren’t misled or confused. Use specific language and give them examples of things that you’re talking about so that they know exactly what you mean. I.e., if you are talking about scoring them low for time management, then talk about times that they missed deadlines. 

7. Openness is vital

Remember that these performance reviews are a conversation. They’re an opportunity for both parties to talk about their thoughts. Give employees the chance and space to speak their mind honestly. Don’t shoot down what they have to say.

And finally, end on a futuristic note. It’s important to shift the focus of the conversation and the review as a whole to the future so that the meeting feels open-ended. This isn’t the be-all and end-all of the employee’s career, it was just one meeting. They should leave feeling optimistic about the future and what can be done better going forward. 

8. An ongoing conversation

Performance reviews are not a one-and-done meeting. They’re a part of an ongoing dialogue between you and the people that you’re directly responsible for. As such, it’s important that when your meeting is done you schedule more of these conversations throughout the year. 

That way both the employees and you can regularly check in with each other and be updated on progress. It also makes the annual performance reviews easier.