It’s that time of year again—time to think about the future of your business, set key objectives for the upcoming year, and conduct your annual employee performance evaluations.

For many employees, performance reviews are one of the most nerve-wracking work conversations they’ll have all year. In fact, 22 percent of office workers say performance reviews have made them cry at least once. And they can be equally uncomfortable for managers who are tasked with having to stand in judgment of their direct reports.

But the benefits of performance appraisals outweigh the negatives. For businesses, those include: 

  • Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction
  • Identifying training needs
  • Uncover and resolve workplace issues/employee grievances
  • Improved performance and morale
  • Fair assessments of raises and/or bonuses
  • Identifying candidates for promotions

You see, annual reviews serve several important purposes. First and foremost, they’re an opportunity to build better, stronger relationships with the members of your team.

So here are several strategies to help make your year-end performance reviews less daunting and more productive:

1. Set expectations early.

Every member of your staff should know exactly what to expect walking into their annual review, especially how their performance is going to be evaluated. Have them complete a self-evaluation a few weeks ahead of your meeting or at least instruct them to make note of accomplishments they’re especially proud of from the past year. In addition, send employees a copy of their evaluation form at least an hour before your face-to-face meeting so that they have a chance to review and process your feedback in advance rather than reacting to it on the spot.

2. Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!

Before meeting with staff, take the time to go over any notes you’ve made about their performance over the past year—that time they missed a deadline, stayed late to help with paperwork, took the lead on a project, handled a difficult patient with aplomb, etc. Prepare questions and try to anticipate issues/concerns that could arise. Solicit feedback from colleagues they work closely with. Review their job descriptions to ensure it still accurately reflect their duties. Finally, make sure you set aside adequate and equal time to meet with each employee (at least an hour) and find a private space where you won’t be interrupted.

3. Provide positive feedback first.

It’s not a bad idea to ease anxieties and set a positive tone for the rest of the discussion by going over the employee’s accomplishments and strengths first. Emphasize what you value about him/her as a person—the wonderful traits and talents he/she brings to the table. Your staff can’t play to and hone their strengths if they don’t know what they are. The goal is to show your employees their hard work is noticed and that you’re grateful to have them on your team. Plus, positive affirmation tends to be very effective in motivating good performers.

4. Coach constructively.

Whether positive or negative, consider framing feedback following a “stop, start, continue” approach: What are they doing now that’s not working? What are they not doing that they should start? What are they currently doing that’s effective and thus, should continue? On the other hand, if there’s someone on your team who’s falling short of expectations, you’re not doing this person—or your company—any favors by sugarcoating it. Be direct with poor performers. Explain exactly what requirements are not being met, the steps necessary for improvement, and the repercussions if he/she does not improve.

5. Be specific and objective.

Whenever possible, use facts, data, and examples to support your assessment of an employee’s job performance. You also want to avoid making vague statements when offering praise and advice. For example, instead of saying “You should be more proactive” say, “You need to take more initiative in making follow-up calls to patients.” Or, instead of simply telling an employee that he/she is “resourceful,” provide a specific example when he/she was actually resourceful.

6. Focus on the future.

Dwelling too much on an employee’s past performance is unproductive. They can’t change the past, but they can control their future. In light of the pandemic, now more than ever, people want (and need) to see a path forward. So, help them connect the dots from where they are to where they want to go. Show that you care about their professional development by discussing available training opportunities and asking them about their career goals. Understanding your employees’ personal ambitions will help you accurately assess their work and how you can best support their advancement.

7. Set and realign goals.

Create SMART goals that build off their goals from the previous year. In other words, keep moving the goalpost. How else are they going to unlock their full potential? Encourage big-picture thinking and promote a growth mindset by tying what your employees do each day to your organization’s mission and values. The more they understand how they contribute to the company’s success, the more invested they’ll be. And don’t forget to mention the company’s priorities for the upcoming year as well as any major changes or projects that might affect staff.

8. Stop talking and listen.

Performance reviews should always be a two-way conversation. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel like they’re on trial. Give them a chance to discuss any challenges or conflicts they’re experiencing without becoming defensive. Your staff should feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly about issues affecting their performance. Be especially compassionate about issues that are beyond the employee’s control and those related to work-life balance.

9. Ask for feedback and suggestions.

Your employees see things that you don’t. They might even understand certain aspects of their job better than you. So why not show that you value their opinions and welcome their suggestions on operational improvements? While you’re at it, ask for feedback on your performance as a manager (i.e., “What can I do as a manager to help you be more successful?”). Allowing staff members to have a voice and letting them feel heard fosters trust, ultimately leading to greater engagement.

10. Keep the conversation going.

Hopefully, you’re having regular conversations with your staff about job performance. If not during weekly or monthly one-on-ones, then at least quarterly or bi-annually. No employee should have to wait an entire year to find out how they’re doing and what they can do to be better. Before concluding the meeting, outline next steps, and set a date to regroup to discuss the employee’s progress towards his/her goals.

When properly planned and executed, annual performance reviews can be extremely rewarding for employees and employers alike. If you have any questions about how to handle year-end reviews or low-performing staff members, Consult can help.

Take advantage of our industry-leading human resources support!

About the Author

Jason DiOttavio joined Consult as a Corporate Recruiter in 2011. Previously, he worked as an agency recruiter for a staffing firm specializing in IT/Administrative roles including such large companies as Dietz & Watson. When not working, Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two young daughters. He’s also obsessed with cooking shows and finding new ice cream and donut shops.