Bruised ego, hurt feelings, and a low-spirited exit. No, we are not talking about a UFC athlete who's just lost a fight. But how most of the employees feel after their performance review meeting.
Managers deliver annual performance reviews face-to-face, behind closed doors, and using established practices. But, employees find that among the most stressful conversations in their work lives. At its best, the review is a pat on the back. And at its worst, a harsh judgment with power to shape their pay and career growth. They see it as a backward-looking conversation where more focus is on what they did wrong and less on their career development.
On the other side of the table, managers, too, find delivering a performance review challenging. It's not easy to give an objective assessment of your reports while navigating through the intense emotions of the conversation. As a result, some managers resort to "balanced" techniques, such as "feedback sandwich" touted by the late Mary Kay. But, that way of delivering the negative between two pieces of praise annoys employees the most.
Performance reviews are important, but employees find the experience abhorrent. So, what can you do to deliver performance reviews better?
Research provides some answers. To deliver effective reviews, you have to start early in the year by setting clear goals and expectations. And when it's time, you have to structure meetings in advance, provide feedback in a personalized manner, and follow up after the review. Also, the world is in the middle of a pandemic. People are juggling responsibilities and not operating at their best. So, you have to be more understanding and tolerant.
Set the stage early
Performance reviews start at the beginning of the year with employees' setting their goals. Here, you should set clear expectations for your reports and evaluation criteria that you will use for reviews later. Then, a couple of weeks before the review meeting, you can ask employees for a self-appraisal: their wins, losses, strengths, weaknesses, and learnings. Finally, give a copy of your evaluation to the employees an hour before the meeting. That way, they will have time to think about it and come to the meeting with a calmer head.
It will help employees if the company can provide training sessions on making the best out of review meetings. Continuous feedback also helps the employees feel more comfortable receiving constructive feedback. Click here to know more about continuous feedback and how Mesh can help.
Structure your meeting
Avoid going with the flow and structure your review meetings. Like a movie script with three acts, you can deliver the review in three parts: explain the objectives, give tough or love, and let them respond.
Explaining the objectives will calm down emotions, power up the rational brain, and make the employee listen to you. In addition, the "Tough or Love" approach will create trust between you and the employee. And letting them respond will help you know their perspective. To improve your listening, you can use former FBI negotiator Chris Voss's mirroring technique.
Start with what matters most
Review meetings are not thrillers. Both you and your employee know the purpose of the appraisal. So, after you've told them the objectives of the meeting, it's better to cut to the chase and deliver the main message that will have the most impact on the employee. For example, if compensation is part of the review, discuss it first. Don't make the employees wait till the end because they will ignore everything else except "How much" throughout the meeting.
Tough or love
Effective feedback is personalized feedback. But most managers favor a "balanced" review with part praise and part criticism, which almost always backfires. Employees despise template reviews, sugarcoating negative feedback, and "feedback sandwich" the most. To personalize the review, you first need to categorize your employee base and then apply the "Tough or love" technique.
You can divide your performers into five broad, common sense-based categories: Stars, Steady Joes, Likable Underdogs, Underdogs, and Prima Donnas. Deliver love to Stars and Steady Joes by focusing on their strengths. Deliver tough to the rest by telling them areas for improvement and ways to do so.
Start, stop, continue
There's an ongoing discussion among researchers whether to focus on employees' behavior or their overall personality in performance reviews. While the jury is still out, we recommend balancing the both. For your employees with good overall personalities, focus on the behavior for course correction. Use the "Start, stop, continue" method for behavioral nudges: Start this, stop that, and continue these. For underdogs and Prima Donnas with evident personality issues, focus on addressing the personality.
In hard times, show empathy
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has turned the world of business upside down. Employees are doing remote or hybrid work, juggling work and family responsibilities, and wrestling with uncertainty. It's challenging to operate at their best while dealing with burnout, isolation, and health scares. So, cut your employees some slack. Skip ratings for now and adopt coaching. They need empathy more than a quantitative review.
At the end of the meeting, ask your employees to send an email with their next steps or goals and how you can help. Following up on those goals is key to employee development. You can do that with a follow-up meeting every month or quarter. Also, ask them how you can make the review meeting even better for them.
There's no "one size fits all" template to run perfect review meetings. No matter how factual you make the evaluations, some employees will always find them judgmental. On top of that, the pandemic and hybrid work have made delivering effective reviews even trickier. Still, these research-backed suggestions will help you improve the quality of review meetings, develop your employees, and fulfill the company's goals.
Today, more and more companies are reducing their reliance on annual appraisals to deliver reviews by switching to continuous feedback. This frequent, informal model helps managers course-correct employees in real-time to boost performance and generate better data for compensation and succession planning decisions. Contact us to learn how Mesh can help you improve employee performance with continuous feedback: mesh.ai