Make performance reviews productive

Make performance reviews productive

Mar 01, 2002

I find myself reluctant to do performance reviews, and feel almost apologetic to employees when I schedule them. Perhaps it is the formality involved, or the fear of criticism that makes performance reviews take on an atmosphere of tension.

Yet once we have completed them, the employee and I usually agree that the review was a valuable experience.

Real purpose

The purpose of a performance review is well summarized by the phrase itself-it is a time set aside to review the job performance of a specific person employed by you or your company.

If conducted properly, it serves to reinforce positive behaviors, and to discourage negative ones. It also allows the employee and manager to discuss future plans, with ideas freely shared and discussed. It should also allow the employee a chance to give the manager some feedback.

Three-part outline

I structure employee reviews under a three-part outline.

First, I ask them to summarize their perceptions of their strengths in their position. Then, I ask them to list "opportunities to improve," which is a more positive term for weaknesses. Finally, I ask them to tell me what changes they would like to see in their area of responsibility, and what role they want to play in those changes. I tell the worker that I will come prepared to discuss the same subjects, and that we will then turn the tables, and they will give me a performance review.

Give specifics

As I prepare my comments for the employee, I make sure I can list specific situations that explain my comments. This allows them to really relate to the feedback I am giving them.

For example, I recently listed "innovative" as a strength on a manager's review. If I had let it go at that, this person may have been pleased, but also uncertain as to what led me to see them as innovative. Therefore I cited a specific problem that I knew this manager had solved in an innovative manner.

Listing the example demonstrated that I was familiar with this particular situation, and strengthened the positive effect of the feedback.

In a similar vein, under "opportunities to improve", I had listed "attend to paperwork promptly". This came from a couple of occasions where delays in paperwork had led to problems. At the review, I referred to these situations, and made sure the manager saw the importance of improving in this area. Without the concrete examples, the general observation is far less powerful.

Start with positive

When I actually sit down with the employee, I ask him to begin by reviewing his strengths. The employee is often nervous, and may minimize his attributes. I have honestly never experienced anyone overstating his or her good points.

After he finishes, I usually support the list, and add to it from my own, being sure to cite examples.

We then move on to what he sees as areas for improvement. The employee often notes the same areas as I, and sincerely wants to do better. Again, I build on his observations, and add to them if indicated.


We next proceed to ideas and/or plans for the future.

If the person I am reviewing is a manager, I want to see some clear planning, with goals and action lists. If the person has less responsibility, then I am mostly seeking ideas. I always ask how the employee sees his own role, and then inquire about what he needs from me. I make sure I write down his suggestions, because I do not want to ignore them. I try very hard to implement some of the employee's ideas, and to at least give consideration and a later response to ones I decide against.

Tables turned

Once we are finished with the employee, we turn to me. I will have prepared the same information on myself that I asked him to do, and will share it with him. I then ask him to evaluate me. Most of the time I get favorable comments, but some harsh ones have emerged as well. I take the criticisms seriously, and let the commentator know that I appreciate his honesty. We will also review future plans from my viewpoint.

When I have completed the review, I make two copies of the portion dealing with the employee. He receives one, while the other is filed with his record.

No surprises

Many managers do not do formal performance reviews, because they believe they have good communication with employees, and that they give informal feedback on a daily basis. This type of interaction is certainly important and effective. Indeed, if either the reviewer or the employee is truly surprised by the formal evaluation, then a lack of effective communication exists.

Although informal feedback is important, it does not replace the formal review. Performance reviews should be done at least annually, and more often if special circumstances make it appropriate.

I suggest you set up a schedule to review your entire staff. Give them advance notice, let them know what to expect, and make it happen. You will be pleased you did!

Dr. Gardner is director of animal health and herd economics at Keystone Agway. He also consults with dairy practitioners on practice management.


Table 1: Employee Review Worksheet

* List your strengths as it relates to your job here.

* List areas where you can improve.

* What changes would you like to see made? List anything you want.

* What role would you like to play in these changes?

* How can I help you bring about these changes?