Making Performance Reviews Meaningful

The typical corporate performance review…a fascinating and at times, polarizing topic. Some think there are benefits  and others, not so much. Regardless of where you land on the subject of formal mid-year or end-of-year performance reviews, most agree there is room for improvement.

So, for the past year I have tried new ideas around performance management with my team while still using a traditional performance management approach. I have already documented some of these techniques in a series of blog posts called the Scrum Master Performance Review.

In addition to what I have previously posted, here are a few personal behaviors I have focused on during the first half of this year and during our recent mid-year reviews:

Know the person you are giving the review to. You just cannot give an effective review without spending a serious amount of time with the person before hand. They must trust you fully and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are there focused solely on their success and well-being. This can only happen through relationship and mutual respect.

Teach, coach, and mentor during one-on-one sessions throughout the year. Leverage your scheduled one-on-one time to provide instruction, listen, ask questions, provide feedback, or mentor as necessary. This is the time to bring up areas of improvement and share any feedback you have observed or received.

Make real-time interaction a natural element of everyday life. Throughout the course of the day, provide encouragement and coaching as situations arise. You will also need an established relationship otherwise this will feel like micro-management and will usually be ill-timed. Also, the mantra “Heavy on praise, light on coaching” works best.

During the formal reviews, flood them with encouragement. Unless someone is really struggling in their role, my personal approach is to never mix positive with negative. You could say 20 positive things during a review and 1 negative thing and what do people usually remember?

Allow your people to soak in what they achieved. You will often hear managers say, “You’re doing great but here’s a couple minor things to work on.”  Save the minor things for your one-on-one sessions and when delivering real-time feedback.

Allow your people to know how valued they are right now without thinking about what is next. You will also hear managers say “Well-done but the bar has been raised.” Well-intended but save the future for vision and goal-setting sessions.

Do something unique. This may seem a bit childish but instead of just filling out the required template supplied by human resources, do something creative for each person so they know this wasn’t just something you checked off your “to-do” list. For our recent mid-year review, I pulled quotes from feedback I received from team mates and packaged them up on one page titled “Why It’s Great to Be You.”

It’s not much, but it’s a start! Feel free to share your ideas around performance reviews in the comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

4 thoughts on “Making Performance Reviews Meaningful

  1. I always enjoy reading your posts! Found this one again after following a link trail.

    One big question though: what do you do in the big reviews if an employee has had a serious problem throughout the year, and discussions in one-on-ones has not resulted in enough improvement? It feels like an elephant in the room, but I’m not sure how to approach the topic.

    To clarify, I don’t mean an employee who has done nothing good worth talking about, but someone who has a major problem that is overshadowing their accomplishments and needs to be fixed if they want to stay with the company.

    One the one hand, some effort has been made and I do want to acknowledge that. Furthermore, I agree that if you mention one negative, it can overshadow the positive. On the other…things are still not OK, and I feel like it’s dishonest to ignore that fact.

    Any thoughts?

    • Thanks for reading the blog and for the kind words Alanna! The situation you bring up is a tricky one so I’ll do my best to answer this through the comments. This is my suggestion…
      I’m assuming you are the manager of the person so I would start with asking yourself a question:
      Does the role/position they are in match their passion or purpose?

      If you can’t answer that question, perhaps you can spend some of your conversation time probing with a few powerful questions about what motivates them, what are their hobbies outside of work, or what are their dreams and aspirations. This may take some time but I would continue until you can answer this question.

      If the answer is “no” then it’s best to work with the person to guide them to another role better suited for them. Ideally, based on your previous conversations about their passion or purpose, they have come to this conclusion themselves but ultimately this may need to be an “off-the-record” conversation. Something like, “Hey, based on our conversations I’m getting the sense that this really isn’t the role for you. Am I reading this right?” Hopefully, they will agree and you can work together to figure figure out a time-boxed approach to moving them to another position or team (in or outside your company.)

      If the answer is “yes,” meaning they are passionate about what they are doing then it may come down to the “major problem” you mentioned.

      If the major problem is socially based, meaning there is a consistent pattern of not getting along with other team mates or is rude or disrespectful, etc., then I would follow the steps in the post It Only Take One. This would require some tough conversations so I would get HR involved.

      If the major problem is competency/skill based, first make sure they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them (if you haven’t already). Here is an example of what I have done in the past for Scrum Masters. Once this is clearly spelled out, honesty (with compassion) through frequent and as real-time as possible feedback is expected. This wouldn’t wait for the performance review at the end of the year but daily (if necessary) conversation.  If there isn’t improvement and they are not going to leave the company on their own, you would need to go through the HR process to move him/her out of the organization.

      I empathize with your position and I hope this helps. Feel free to email me directly if you would like to discuss your situation in greater detail.