Performance Reviews: 3 Leadership Must-Haves

It’s that time of year again when employees sit down with their leader and review their performance for the past year. This should be a meaningful discussion that focuses on results and accomplishments and recaps what went well and what could have gone better.   But ask any employee and most likely you will find that their experience is less than satisfying.  Many leaders struggle with conducting effective performance reviews.  So what’s missing and how do you make it better?  Here’s a few things I learned along the way that can help you make year-end reviews more meaningful.

Build Trust: Before a leader and employee can have a meaningful conversation about performance they must develop trust between them. Leaders do this over time by being honest, consistent, fair, keeping their word and taking a keen interest in the employee’s wellbeing and development. When an employee trusts their leader, they respect their input. Trust allows candid feedback for improving performance to be accepted as coaching versus creating defensiveness on the part of the employee. Once trust has been developed, feedback will become a meaningful conversation.

Define Excellence: Most companies have a rating system based on how well expectations are met. Leaders should be able to describe to their employees in general terms the attributes and behaviors that ‘meet expectations’ and what it will take to ‘exceed expectations’.  This should be done at the beginning of the appraisal period so that employees have every opportunity to excel throughout the year. I am a strong believer that if you are going to rate someone a ‘meet’ you should be able to describe what it would take to ‘exceed’. This is probably one of the most difficult skills a leader needs to develop. It’s easy to read a list of attributes or criteria in an appraisal document and decide whether it was met or not met. It’s not so easy to describe what it would take to exceed. But employees deserve to have that conversation and leaders need to be able to differentiate and explain to employees what actions, behaviors or activities are needed to achieve an ‘exceeds’ rating. You will find that most employees will appreciate the discussion. Some will step up to the ‘exceed’ challenge and those that don’t, won’t or can’t will understand why they rate a ‘meet expectations’.

Maintain an Ongoing Dialogue: Year-end performance reviews should be a recap of discussions and feedback that has occurred throughout the year. Leaders should always take the time, on an ongoing basis, to acknowledge a job well done, extend gratitude for extra time put in to meet a deadline and provide positive feedback when warranted. Likewise, leaders should take time to chat about things when they don’t go well and provide coaching on how to make things better. Providing frequent and candid feedback throughout the year enables a leader to translate this feedback into a meaningful year-end summary of the employee’s performance with no surprises.

Leaders play a key role in making sure year-end reviews are meaningful.  Done well, performance reviews can strengthen employee engagement, improve future performance and enable employees to reach their full potential.


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