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3 Tips for Pain Free Performance Reviews

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This is the time of year that instills fear and loathing in the hearts of managers everywhere. The good news is that you may be planning on taking some extended time off during the holiday season. The bad news is you may also be planning to spend some of those precious hours writing up annual performance reviews for the people that report to you.

If that sounds like what you’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks, I’m here with three tips to help make it at least somewhat pain free for you as you write the reviews and, more importantly, as you deliver them in the weeks to come.

I understand that you likely have an app, format or template that your organization requires you to use as you prepare the reviews. No matter what format you have to use, you should be able to use the following tips:

  1. Be specific. In your review, cite two or three things your direct report did well this past year. Be specific in terms of what they did that stood out for you and the specific behaviors they demonstrated that you would like to see them continue to do this year. Tie their achievements back to the difference they made in achieving the big goals for your organization. Explain why what they did mattered. Conversely, when you have constructive feedback to deliver, focus on the behaviors they need to adjust or skills they need to acquire to be more effective next year. Again, tie those improvement opportunities into why they matter to the overall success of the organization.
  2. Less is more. People can only process so much in one conversation. If at all possible, practice the principle of less is more in writing up and delivering the performance review. Focus on the two or three things that you really want them to keep doing and build on and the one or two (no more than two!) things you really need for them to improve. Focus, focus, focus if you want the review to actually make a difference.
  3. More is more. Yes, I know this seems to contradict the previous point but I’m actually going in a different direction. The annual performance review is a fundamentally flawed premise. The reason why was best explained to me years ago in a speech by Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis and author of the classic leadership book, Up the Organizationhttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=wwweblingrouc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0787987751. Townsend said that the annual performance review is the equivalent of whacking your dog on the rear with a newspaper once a year for every time he peed on the carpet in the preceding 12 months. You’re just not going to get your point across. Far better is the “more is more” approach. Do yourself and your team a favor in 2014 and make a resolution to have regular conversations about performance (in real time or at least monthly) throughout the year. Even if your organization’s HR department doesn’t require it, establishing the norm of talking about performance throughout the year is the best way to keep everyone continuously improving and focused on what matters most.

What’s your take? What are your best ideas for making the performance review process meaningful and pain free?

(Image via JNT Visual/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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