We know: you saw the words “performance review” at the top of this post and started reaching for the BACK button. Not many people love performance reviews: not managers, not employees, and not HR administrators who have to organize everything in one place, especially during the end of the year which can be a hectic time for everybody.
Performance reviews shouldn’t strike fear in your workforce, though; they’re a great opportunity for your workforce to celebrate successes together and map out a strategy to tackle objectives in the coming year. You just need to know what common pitfalls to avoid.
No Alarms and No Surprises
Some surprises are great, others not so much — feedback that a manager withholds until an annual performance review would definitely fall into the latter category. Try to treat your performance reviews as opportunities to appraise how continuous feedback was acted on during the year, not chances to ambush unsuspecting employees with critiques they haven’t heard before.
Reaching back to previous feedback also helps you avoid the Recency Effect with your appraisal, or recalling things, positive or negative, that might have happened in the last few weeks.
Rather than simply saying an employee needs to get better, you need to illuminate a path for them to get there. Be SMART with your critique; that is to say, set out goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This also gives you a great opportunity to soften the blow of negative feedback- if you and your employee agree on a set of realistic goals, then it puts both of you on the same team rather than establishing an adversarial relationship.
Don’t Polish that Halo
If your organization has agreed on a set of metrics that a class of employee should be judged on, then stick to those metrics. If you don’t, you could run the risk of the performance review Halo Effect: letting one area of the review affect the totality of the evaluation.
Let’s say that an employee is in a customer-facing role and has a hard time not coming across as rude, but that same employee is also extremely efficient in their role. Those are two separate metrics and should be viewed that way: good marks for work performance, bad marks for friendliness.
Judge the Judges
If you run a large organization and have a lot of performance reviews to sift through, it’s easy to take all those reviews at face value without considering the source. That’s definitely something you’re going to want to take into account though, especially when you have the luxury of several years’ worth of performance reviews to…well, review. Gendered and racially-tinged critiques are an unfortunate reality that managers themselves might not even realize they’re guilty of if nobody is sifting through reviews and looking for certain keywords. For example, tech entrepreneur Kieran Snyder studied almost two hundred and fifty performance reviews and found that almost two-thirds of women were criticized for their personalities, being deemed “shrill,” negatively, in contrast with their male coworkers who were called “assertive,” positively.
Just Do It
Of course, the biggest pitfall involved in performance reviews is not doing them at all. Performance reviews have absolutely no value if they’re not done consistently on at least a yearly basis. Having a system where different levels of managers are required to audit and approve paper performance reviews can create needless friction and could cause a delay in getting the process off the ground. Modern human capital management software can help by storing documents in the cloud and automating complex approval processes.