Managers: Make the Most of Performance Reviews - After the Written Review
June 29, 2020
Discussing a review

Meeting with your team member to discuss their performance review can be a challenging encounter. Feelings tend to run high, and egos are easily bruised. It’s easy to rush through the discussion - after all, it’s all in the written review, right? However, the discussion, and the subsequent ongoing conversation over the next six to twelve months, will determine how much value your employee gets from the review.

Preparing for the meeting

Make sure that you have specific examples for the feedback and development areas mentioned in the written review. Ideally, the written review contains these examples, but if not, take the time you need to gather the material.

All too often, managers present their employees with examples from six months ago. It’s virtually impossible for employees to act on that kind of input. They might have already corrected the issue that you’re raising, in which case you’ll come across as needlessly critical for even bringing it up. Or, the issue might have been linked to external circumstances which have since changed; in that case, they won’t be able to understand why you are raising it either.

At other times, managers dish out over-generalized feedback full of vague terms which employees then have to puzzle over. The more specific your feedback (e.g., in this meeting, I saw you do X, and the impact was y), the more effective and actionable it is.

Then, you need to be crystal clear about what, exactly, success looks like. The more granular you can be about this, the better. Telling an employee that they need to “be more of a leader” will not set them up for success. If you want to see growth in this area, you’ll need to define exactly what “leadership” means in your company, and what it means specifically at their level.

Looking ahead

A performance review isn’t just about one meeting; it’s a lengthy process, in which every step is important. It’s a good idea to schedule a post-review follow-up meeting for a week after the review meeting itself. By setting that up ahead of time, you can ensure that it’s not seen as a problem arising from the review meeting but rather as a built-in part of the process. This follow up meeting is to check-in and follow up from the initial meeting (more on this below).

In the same vein, it’s also a good idea to send your employees a copy of their review ahead of time. 24 hours before the meeting is ideal. That allows them enough time to read and digest the review, and to process their initial reactions and thoughts; it also won’t give them so much time that they start to stew over the critique. Encourage employees to use those 24 hours to prepare for the meeting and to come up with a list of questions to ask you.

Making the most of the meeting

During the review meeting, the written review itself will serve as a jumping-off point. Don’t read it out loud to your employee. After all, they’ve already read it themselves. Instead, this is a good time to present them with a high-level view of their work. Mention the areas in which they’ve made progress and the areas in which they really shine, as well as a few, carefully selected areas which you’d like them to target for growth.

Aim to make this meeting as interactive as possible. You want this to be a discussion of how you can work together to make this employee reach their full potential, rather than a top-down meeting in which you brief them on your views. You can create an atmosphere of give and take by asking questions, which might look a little bit like this:

  • What would it take for you to grow in x area?

  • What skills do you need to learn? What do you need to practice?

  • What ideas do you have for how you can get on the job practice in this area?

  • How can I be a thought partner and support?

  • How can I offer ongoing supportive feedback as you work on this?

At the close of your meeting, you’ll have another opportunity to hand your employee ownership over the growth and development process. Ask them to write down their growth and development goals (which should be based on the feedback you have given them), along with how they plan on achieving their goals, and come prepared with those to the post-review follow up meeting you scheduled for the next week.

In the follow up meeting, review their goals and action plans. Make sure they align with what you wrote in the review and discussed in the review meeting. Your employee, especially if on the junior side, may need help with this.

Be prepared to lay out the steps that they can take to address your feedback. Set clear benchmarks so that they can tell when they are on the right track. Make sure that, coming out of the meeting, they understand what you want to see from them in three, six, and/or 12 months time.

Nodabl can help with this process. Ask them to set goals and create their action plans in Nodabl. Then you can review it together on Nodabl and make adjustments directly into Nodabl during the meeting. By setting it up from the start in Nodabl, you and your employee will be able to easily continue the conversation and track progress on an ongoing basis.

Handling the post-meeting

No matter how carefully you handle the performance evaluation, your employee might have a strong reaction to the review. After all, it can be tough to take in feedback. Allow your staff plenty of space to process their reactions; avoid barging in and pushing them to discuss an issue before they are ready. After a few days, you might want to say something gentle and open-ended to them.

If you’re not quite sure how to broach the topic, you can try saying something like, “I noticed you have been quieter since our review, am I reading that right? Do you want to share what has been happening for you?” The beauty of this approach is that it is open-ended. It doesn’t make assumptions about what your employees might be feeling, and it allows them to choose whether they want to open up to you.

Make time for progress

If you want your employees to own their own professional growth, you’ll also need to make yourself available to discuss their progress on a regular basis. You can think of yourself as a coach, a mentor, a sounding-board, or some combination of all three. But it’s clear that the more you’re on-hand to help out, the more progress your staff is likely to make. Present yourself as open, non-judgmental, and invested in their success; make yourself someone they can trust and turn to.

Your role here isn’t just passive and responsive, of course. You’ll need to give regular, ongoing feedback. That’s especially true in the areas that you flagged in your review. When you see growth, point it out and encourage it. When you notice that there’s been a setback, bring it up calmly and ask for them questions about it. For example, if they are behind on their plan, ask about their workload and their priorities, don’t jump to an assumption that it’s poor time management or lack of interest. The more you’re asking questions and the less you’re telling them what to do, the more they will own their own professional growth.

Ideally, you’ll build in some time to discuss career development in each of your one on one meetings; holding frequent, brief check-ins to evaluate progress is a great way to take the pressure off and to remove the sting from any feedback that arises. It’s a lot easier to discuss incidents that took place a few days ago than it is to handle several months’ worth of issues all at once.

You should also set up dedicated time every four to six weeks to discuss growth and development. Some managers like to make every fourth weekly 1-1 dedicated to this topic, others like to set dedicated meetings in addition to their 1:1s.

Final thoughts

As a manager, you know better than anyone that each employee is different. Your leadership is going to reflect those differences. Still, there are some overall recommendations that hold true for all employees. In order to help them make progress, you’ll need to be as transparent and as specific as possible. You can achieve that by sharing their annual review in advance, and being clear about your expectations of them. You can also achieve that by setting a follow-up time a week after the review to check in on any lingering questions, and by holding regular check-ins after that. You can engage them in a dialogue about their career growth and development by asking questions instead of defaulting to being directive. Finally, you can work closely with each employee to create a plan for growth and forward motion.

Whether it’s in Nodabl, or you have your own system, you and your employee should have a shared space where goals, actions, and feedback are documented in a way that lets you stay aligned and in sync on status, progress, achievement, and objectives. Otherwise it’s too easy to lose track of growth and development among day to day business, and before you know it, the next review will roll around and you’ll be trying to retroactively determine what happened to address the feedback from the last review.


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Written by
Maris Goodstein

Based in Los Angeles, Maris is a coach, facilitator and trainer with impressive experience as an executive in large, national, high-growth organizations. Her direct experience includes growing organizations, growing people, building and managing boards, growing high-value relationships, navigating complex relationships and succeeding in resource-restricted environments. She has managed multi-million dollar budgets and staff across the country. Her training and facilitation experience includes work with for profit, nonprofit and government clients in the areas of presentation, negotiating, networking skills, building mentoring programs, change management, leadership, people, and team development, effective delegation and more. Her program design experience includes creating customized workshops and retreats to better support teams and leaders in achieving their desired outcomes (both as a team and as it relates to their bottom line).

Maris holds a B.A. from Barnard College where she consistently received Leadership awards. She is certified in the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument and has completed the rigorous certification in coaching from the Hudson Institute of Coaching.

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