Performance review meetings can be stressful. It can feel like you're gearing up for a confrontation -- but maybe it’s not as hard as you’d think.
We brought together an approach that can help anyone have more effective performance meetings. If you’re looking to feel more confident and comfortable while having better, more productive conversations with employees in your upcoming performance review meetings, here is where to start.
How to Structure a Meeting
Set the Tone and Agenda
The goal of the performance review--and what you should make clear from the beginning--is to talk through what is working and what isn’t, with the purpose of helping the employee, the manager, and the company achieve their goals.
The employee should understand that the purpose of the meeting is to establish what they can and should do to succeed going forward.
Share upfront how you intend to structure the meeting. As you'll see we believe in starting with goals, moving to strengths and ending with a conversation on improvements.
Start with Goals
Yes, you read that right. While it might seem more natural to finish with setting goals for the future -- we submit that discussing goals first will help to better frame the rest of the performance review conversation.
Establishing the employee’s goals should help set up and inform the entire discussion of strengths, accomplishments, and ways to improve.
If you understand an employee's motivations it will make the later discussions about improvements more fruitful. Rather than saying, "I'd like you to be better at X," you will be able to say, "I think if you get better at X it could go a long way at helping you achieve your goals of Y."
Also, if you uncover greatly misaligned goals at this point, it is important to address those first. If you want an employee to be a future leader, but they're just here to count time until their art career takes off, then that will change the rest of the conversation.
Give employees a chance to advocate for themselves first. This will also help you better understand what the employee believes is high performance. Again maybe there is misalignment there.
Frame any accomplishments with the "why" it matters to help place them with their impact on the team and organization. This will help focus the discussion when it's easier so that when the topic turns to weaknesses the tone has already been set.
For example, an employee could tell great jokes around the water cooler, and everyone could agree it is a great strength, but when we focus on the why, it puts the jokes in their rightful place.
Address strengths as they are brought up, reinforce the ones that you feel matter for the organization. Push back if the employee fixates on accomplishments that you don't believe are as impactful.
Stick with perceptions and hard facts, don't label. The truth is you can't know who the employee is as a person, all you know is your own perceptions and facts. Even if your label is correct, you can't prove it. Conversations about labels quickly degrade into unwinnable arguments.
Always push for concrete examples. Don't let your employees list off a bunch of perceived strengths without backing them up. Strengths are only as valuable as the accomplishments they generate.
When discussing improvements, it’s important to give the employee a chance to be self-aware and bring up their own ideas for improving. Employee will be much more likely to receive constructive feedback, and walk away from a review fully bought-in to making necessary improvements if they raise the idea initially.
Like accomplishments, always frame improvements with the “why” -- how the employee’s increased, optimized performance ties in to their impact on their team or company. Giving concrete examples is also a helpful tool in this portion of the review, in order to avoid misinterpretation.
Big, abstract concepts such as “leadership” leave plenty of room for confusion and uncertainty. In our post on delivering criticism that employees appreciate, we suggest that identifying specific issues and focusing on specific solutions helps to engage employees around finding a solution as well.
Finally, close out the meeting by negotiating a plan and a timeline to revisit improvements. It doesn’t hurt to also reaffirm the employee’s strengths and achievements, especially your good performers. Make it clear that your intentions behind criticism and feedback are to clarify expectations, to provide direction for the coming year, and to help the employee move from good to great.
Conversation Do’s and Don’ts
- Come prepared. Obtain and bring the necessary materials and data to already be well-informed about the employee’s performance, strengths, and achievements before the conversation begins.
- Be direct, factual, and detail-oriented. An honest conversation paves the way for effective performance reviews. Instead of sugarcoating the review for poor performers, use the face-to-face interaction to call for improvement. Be intentional to point out work-related behaviors that you want the employee to stop, start, or continue.
- Listen intentionally. Ask questions and make sure to allow the employee to share his or her thoughts, views, and perceptions of their own performance. Understand that change can be jarring for employees, and remain calm if emotions become heightened.
- Wait until the formal review. If you’ve observed performance issues in an employee, make sure you’re maintaining an ongoing system of feedback and communication so that there are no surprises in the performance appraisal.
- Confuse the job for the person. Your conversation during performance reviews should be focused on an employee’s overall work performance based on specific, job-related criteria--not their attitude, personality, or character. Focus on the job, not the person.
- Focus on negative behaviors. Be sure you’re engaging around solutions, not just pointing out problems. Employees want feedback that propels them in the right direction, and chances are they wish to play just as big of a role in finding solutions as you.