The performance review is one of the most impactful meetings a manager can have. It is a chance to have an open, honest conversation about the role an employee plays in the company, their career trajectory, and any issues or challenges that have arisen.
It also has the potential to be an incredibly stressful conversation for both the manager and the employee. Especially if negative feedback needs to be given, it’s important to be as prepared as possible before a formal sit down. To help with this, let’s look at the things managers should keep in mind before and during a performance review.
The Week Before
Before a performance review, managers should spend time rehearsing what they want to say, how they plan to say it, and what takeaways they want the employee to leave the meeting with. This includes:
- Evaluating peer feedback to find common themes or concerns and synthesizing those in meeting notes.
- Being open to both good and bad responses from the employee, regardless of expectations.
- Setting the time at least a week in advance to give the employee the opportunity to prepare.
- Choosing a neutral and calming physical environment that doesn’t put the employee at a disadvantage in the conversation.
The goal of a performance review is not to “talk to” the employee, but to have an open dialogue with them that identifies the areas in which they can improve, the areas in which they already excel, and the next steps they can take to further their career. Managers should keep these goals in mind and prepare for the meeting accordingly.
Preparing to Deliver Negative Feedback
This is the biggest stressor for managers (and employees) going into a performance review. How do you deliver criticism in a way that is constructive, engaging, and reduces the risk of defensive responses that might undercut the purpose of that feedback?
There are three key points to remember:
- Be Specific – It’s not enough to say, “projects are taking longer”. Managers should be specific, sharing individual examples or recurring issues along with the real-world implications of those events. “TPS reports are taking 25% longer compared to this time last year, and we’re getting a higher number of revision requests.” Managers should follow up these examples with clear descriptions of what they’d like to see done differently.
- Keep it Professional – Avoid language that makes it personal and that might trigger a defensive reaction. Remain objective, discuss individual behaviors, and avoid attacking someone’s character.
- Avoid Hyperbole – Again, remain specific and speak to individual behaviors with tangible examples. Avoid hyperbole that is difficult to counter such as “you always…” or “you never…”. Such statements can make someone instantly defensive. The more specific you can be, the more effectively someone can change their behaviors.
Conversations that include negative feedback will inevitably make an employee at least a little defensive. Managers should be prepared for strong defensive reactions, even if it’s out of character for that employee. Remain objective, specific, and as language-neutral as possible while giving them space to voice frustration.
Preparing to Deliver Positive Feedback
Most managers focus heavily on the negative feedback and don’t prepare for the positive. This is a mistake. Positive feedback is just as important, ensuring employees know they are on the right track, identifying standout behavior, and providing actionable steps to continually advance their career. This means:
- Not Sandwiching Feedback – Managers should keep negative and positive feedback separate. They shouldn’t sandwich them together to lessen the blow of the negative. Employees will fixate on the negative and the positive will be forgotten, or worse seen as disingenuous. It lessens the impact of that part of the conversation.
- Focus on Behaviors – As with negative feedback, managers should focus on the behaviors and actions of an employee, not the outcome. “Your calm demeanor and attention to detail were an important part of our success in renewing ABC Company’s contract” is a much better piece of feedback than “You helped us sign ABC Company to another year”.
The goal here is to make it clear what the employee has done right and what is appreciated about how they did it.
Conducting the Perfect Performance Review
Feedback provided during a performance review can guide an employee to make key corrections in their behavior, encourage them to continue their strong work in certain areas, and prepare them for the next stage with the company.
It’s an incredibly important opportunity.
Managers should invest time in reviewing and acting on peer feedback, fully preparing for all possible outcomes in a review, and being open minded to both negative and positive reactions. In doing so, they encourage employees to speak openly about their experience and work hard to be an increasingly important part of the company’s success.
In a recent webinar, Torch and Lattice discussed how managers and employees can approach performance reviews in a way that is both honest and productive. You can watch the full reply of the webinar below: