9 Things Performance Reviews Should Accomplish

It's no secret that performance reviews get a bad rap.

Come November, they can hang like a black cloud over the office with both managers and employees dreading the year-end sit down.

But performance reviews aren't something your people should have to "survive" each year. Done right, your performance review process can be a crucial ally for your business.

If you're rethinking your review process, here are nine simple but powerful things it should accomplish. (Hint: None of them are, “destroy office morale once a year.”)

1. Start a Conversation

A performance review should start an ongoing dialogue between employee and manager. HR expert Susan Heathfield calls conversation the "key word” for a performance review. When employees get "talked at" by a manager they can feel like they’re being punished, even if they aren’t. Turning the review into a conversation by using open-ended questions about the employee’s expectations and goals can help put everyone at ease.

2. Invite More Opinions than Just the Manager’s

Making the review a conversation is a critical first step, but a truly effective performance review process can bring in multiple viewpoints for a more complete picture of what's happening on the ground. Managers can be as biased as anybody else and while manager reviews are still the best we have, it can be helpful to bring more of the office together and collect peer, self-reviews and employee-to-employer feedback in order to get a better feel for opinions and ideas that often go unvoiced.

3. Build on Feedback Regularly and Consistently

According to Deloitte, 58% of HR executives considered reviews an ineffective use of supervisors' time — and don't get us started on how your employees see it.

Too many organizations make the mistake of funneling all feedback into one massive annual review, when a lighter, more regular model would be both easier to implement and better received by all. An effective performance management process should build on the feedback of each meeting, check-in, or review to deliver a steady stream of empowerment and accountability (not to mention, profits!) throughout the year.

4. Make Duties and Responsibilities Crystal Clear

Today's business climate requires a greater level of adaptability than ever before. Most managers and employers take it for granted that their employees know exactly what's required of them, but more often than not, performance reviews are plagued with vague and arcane language that leaves employees confused and uninspired.

A truly effective performance review will make it easy to give specific feedback that helps employees understand how their role is evolving and lays out clear steps for how to progress and develop within the company.

If you can go the extra mile by offering a specific solution, even better. For example, say your HR department is rolling out a new learning and development program, managers could try suggesting a relevant training that might help the employee strengthen their skills in a specific area.

5. Help Employees Get Better at Their Jobs

This might be the most obvious of reason for why everyone everywhere should do performance reviews — yet this fundamental message can easily get lost among the latest business or HR trend du jour.

At its core, a performance review absolutely can and should improve employee performance, but only if it addresses an employee's performance in a way that’s clear, specific and firmly focused on moving forward. In other words, if it doesn't feel easy, it probably isn't helping.

6. Help Managers Get Better at Their Jobs Too

Performance reviews can help managers and HR just as much as it helps employees.

Employee feedback and 360 reviews are just some of the ways you can use reviews to get past biases and see the reality of what’s going on in the office. Even the simple act of encouraging your managers to use more relevant, compassionate questions in employee meetings and reviews will help reveal insights that can have a major impact on their ability to lead.

7. Treat Employees More Fairly

One reason employees dislike performance reviews is because they seem unfair by way of being inaccurate. Performance reviews can be a good time to put an employee up for a promotion or pay raise, but your process needs to be fair and objective if you don't want it to backfire. Develop a simple, objective performance management system, then work with HR to train your managers to give fairer reviews within that supportive framework.

8. Give Employees a Chance to Think About Their Own Performance

Employees shouldn’t see feedback as a passive affair. A great performance review process makes your people feel actively involved in managing their own performance, without ever feeling daunted or intimidated by the process itself.

Letting employees evaluate themselves is a great way to spark that sense of ownership, while also getting a deeper reading on performance. Author, speaker, and HR pro Jessica Miller-Merrell says, "Most employees tend to be harder on themself then their boss would be when reviewing their performance. This will give the employer more details on how the employee has performed, because they are more likely to remember everything, as opposed to a supervisor who’s keeping track of 7-10 employees."

9. Build and Maintain Office Morale

Review time is done. Work is back on. If everyone feels exhausted, anxious, and frustrated then there’s a problem with the review process.

Take the time to reframe your process in a way that will build and maintain momentum for your people and your business. Because at the end of the day, performance reviews shouldn’t be a dreaded blight on the office, but an ongoing opportunity for growth.