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Effective Employee Performance Reviews


A woman of color taking notes while having a conversation with woman facing away from the camera.

Performance reviews often feel like a one-way, top-down process in which you, the boss, are judge and jury. But if reviews are instead a two-way street, employees feel significantly less defensive. How do you create this two-way process? Let's look at some ideas.


First, you might ask the employee to write a self-evaluation prior to the review. How well did the employee meet their goals over the past year? How did they feel about their work? What did they do well? Where do they need more support? Ask them to open the meeting by sharing these thoughts. Letting them speak first helps diminish the sense of judgment by indicating that you are open to dialogue.


An additional step is to ask for employee peer reviews. Gathering additional observations, perspectives and comments about the employee's job performance dilutes the sense that you alone are judging the work.


For the evaluation itself, do not use arbitrary numerical grades, especially without substantiating what they mean. Instead, focus on the job performance. How well did the person meet the goals set last year (or in their job description)? If you are going to use numbers, make sure they assess results (like "increased accuracy by 29%").


"Meeting the goals set last year" (or in the job description) should be the focus of the review. Evaluate not the person but rather how well the person gets the job done. Shift to a results-oriented review rather than a personality-oriented one and set this focus both when you open the meeting and throughout the discussion. What actions (or attitudes) did the employee engage in that showed good work? What were the results those actions/attitudes achieved?


The discussion should be well-documented. Include any feedback you provide along with a record of the goals. Make sure each goal includes a time frame and a method of measuring whether the goal was attained. Both you and the employee can then determine whether they've succeeded in meeting or failed to meet the goal. Encourage the employee to keep a similar written record that they can use the following year in their self-evaluation.


If there's a gap between your view of the employee's work and their own, do not insist on your perspective. Instead, listen and talk through issues to try to determine what's underlying job performance problems. At the end of the discussion, you and the employee should be on the same page.


Do not end the review until you have a plan: What will the employee do in the next year? What will they improve on in the next months? What support do they need to achieve those goals? As above, these plans should be results oriented rather than personality driven. The plan should also outline any training or coaching the employee needs, along with what the employer will do (in terms of money, time or personnel) to support the employee.


And always provide employees with a copy of the completed evaluation form.


Additional details

It's important to separate a performance review from compensation discussions. Instead, conduct a salary review close to the time when raises are announced. If you conduct performance and salary reviews in the same discussion, the employee is likely to pay attention only to the money and miss the benefits of any coaching you offer.


The person who conducts the interview should be the supervisor or manager who has the most contact with the employee. They are in the best position to accurately assess day-to-day results. They should observe the process outlined above.


Provide notice of the performance review and let employees know that it is not a "judgment day." Create a thoughtful schedule and publicize it to the company.


If you design and follow a meaningful system of coaching conversations that employees welcome, find useful and see as valuable, you will motivate employees to thrive in their careers. You get better quality work by correcting problems, supporting quality work and laying the groundwork for advancement in the company.

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