Delivering Effective Employee Performance Reviews

One of the most difficult conversations to have in any workplace is the employee performance review. Most managers conduct this in the traditional way — through a face-to-face conversation directly with their staff — and it can be an incredibly stressful experience for both the conductor and the recipient.

Employee performance reviews usually go like this: typically, you’ll meet with your employee and give them a document you’ve prepared detailing their performance. Managers will then start by discussing the positive things in the review, telling the employee what they have done well and what the employee’s strengths are.

Next, a manager will discuss the employee’s weaknesses and areas of their performance that need improvement. Going into detail about an employee’s weaknesses can naturally be an uncomfortable conversation for both parties, so it’s crucial to plan out your performance reviews before they happen for best results.

Delivering effective employee performance reviews is an essential component of any successful business. Performance reviews help your employees continuously improve the work that they do, and more effective employees result in better business performance. The big question on most manager’s minds is: how do you make your review feel like an opportunity for improvement and not like a punishment for bad work?

This article will explain the ins and outs of performance reviews, and provide you tried-and-tested tips to maximize the quality of your time with your employee.

Let’s get started!

Start Early

One of the big mistakes that most managers make is they don’t begin providing employee feedback until the last possible moment.

Nothing will put more strain on a manager’s relationship with their employees than waiting until the employee performance review to deliver all the negative feedback in a single meeting. Instead, you should strive to set your expectations early, preferably the moment your employee joins the team, and to provide candid feedback to your employees regularly as they make mistakes and grow.

Experts suggest holding regular discussions with your employees — as much as once per day — to set performance expectations early on. The goal in these sessions is to let your employees know exactly what your expectations are on a daily basis and if they are currently meeting those expectations or need improvement.

These sessions may seem simple or unnecessary, but the benefit they provide is enormous for new employees.

First and foremost, you see a nearly instant improvement in employee performance. The reason for the improvement is simple — employees know exactly what your expectations are on a daily basis, and they also know that their performance is being monitored and you’re providing them constant opportunities for improvement.

It can sometimes be difficult knowing, as an employee, if you’re doing a great job or if there’s room for improvement. That’s what consistent check-ins like these are for. They don’t need to be long, either — even just three minutes at the end of each workday is enough to instill a strong habit of conscious review.

Another benefit to this strategy: making things clear for your employees before employee performance reviews allows them to focus on the task at hand, and make sure they tick every box that needs to be completed. Communicating and making expectations clear early on gives the manager the ability to hold their employees accountable for their performance, and to do so in a non-judgmental or passive-aggressive way. Few things are more frustrating in the workplace than receiving negative feedback for something you were unaware of, and that’s what this strategy helps prevent.

Listen to Your Employees

Unfortunately, managers often neglect their employees’ opinions and advice when managing a business, leading to resentment and poorer productivity across the board.

It is always important to listen to your team and understand their views when planning for the future of the company. Your staff works ‘on the ground floor’ each and every day, so to speak, and oftentimes your team has more insight into how to optimize business practices than the managers do.

Using this information to assist you, you can more accurately organize your business, create logical and reasonable expectations for your employees, and allow your staff to be heard.

Additionally, managers should not assume that every employee has lofty ambitions such as becoming an executive or even CEO of the company. Some employees may wish to take different paths with their careers; their strengths and interests could lie in other aspects of operations, and showing ‘vulnerability’ through asking for help should not be seen as a negative thing to do. Try your best to leave corporate politics at the door.

‘Warm Them Up’ Before the Review

As previously mentioned, it is jarring and often stressful for employees to walk into a face-to-face employee performance review, especially if they are going in blind. You can help your employees feel more at ease by giving them an idea of what will be discussed.

Giving them a heads-up on what will be discussed during the meeting will help them think more rationally and react less emotionally. It will also give them private time to reflect on their performance beforehand, allowing them to improve their work before the employee performance review. This should allow you to spend more time on the positives during the employee review leaving face-to-face meetings a little less stressful.

In order to do this, you need to prepare an assessment of their performance a couple of weeks ahead of the employee performance review meeting. You can do this by compiling a report of your notes taken throughout the year on the employee, both positive and negative, as well as a peer evaluation by their co-workers. It helps to get insight into how an employee’s colleagues perceive their overall impact on the team’s performance.

Once you have compiled an accurate assessment of the employees’ performance, give it to them in private. This will allow them to read their assessments without the pressure of a supervisor or co-worker watching them. When it’s time for their face-to-face employee performance review, you will notice an improvement in ease and stress of the situation.

An easy way to do this is using an automated time or productivity tracking platform like By automatically compiling your employee performance at regular intervals (and allowing them to self-manage clocking in and clocking out), they’ll be able to easily identify areas they need to improve on without your direct supervision.

Prepared beforehand for any negative comments they receive, the employee will be more open to receiving criticism and receptive to making changes.

Avoid the “Feedback Sandwich”

Many managers resort to using the famous “feedback sandwich” method when delivering employee performance reviews. This method involves starting with positive compliments on employee performance, followed by criticism and complaints about the employee’s performance, and lastly finished off with more positive details or strengths. Using this method is like taking the “easy way out.”

You should avoid using this method when delivering employee performance reviews because it is simply less effective than other methods. Workers are very familiar with this way of providing feedback and it may come off as disingenuous or lazy. Furthermore, using this method your weak performers may think that they are doing well because of the sandwiched complaints and choose to ignore their weakness or areas for improvement.

Set the tone of this meeting and let your employees know that this is a serious discussion. You help no one by sugarcoating employee performance reviews. Let your poorly performing employees clearly know what their weaknesses are and areas they need to improve. If you follow the previously given insights, your employees should be prepared to hear what you are about to say during their employee performance review. They can thus be held accountable for any inaction towards needed areas of improvement. Be clear and direct with your employees when discussing their strengths and weaknesses — it is more beneficial for the business and the employee.

Be Constructive and Reasonable With Employee Performance Reviews

Nothing hurts an employee more than unreasonable and unjustified complaints. Be a constructive coach and provide feedback with the aim of making your employees the best they can possibly be. Remember that you are dealing with adults — not children — and that you are both capable of mature discussions. Ask them about their feelings and the direction of the business. Use what they say during the employee performance review to form reasonable plans and expectations moving forward.

Furthermore, an effective performance review does not just inform your employees about their strengths and weaknesses but gives them direction and motivation for improvement. Managers should help their employees find ways for them to always be improving or becoming more efficient. Experts suggest adopting a “stop, start, and continue” model for feedback instead. Inform your employee what habits they need to stop, what things they should to start, and the positive contributions that they need to continue providing.

Focus on the employees work and their behavior, not on the employees themselve. Try hard to remove any personal feelings when delivering effective employee performance reviews to avoid having your employees thinking you have any negative personal feelings towards them. Keep it strictly professional. Make your advice specific and target certain concrete aspects of their performance. Give your employees something to work on or some goal to aim for. Do not give vague feedback or direction, such as “you need to take on more responsibilities.” Instead, give clear tangible instructions, such as “we need you to take the lead more in creating sales pipelines.”

Keep the Meeting About Their Performance Only

Your employees may think that the face-to-face meeting may be their chance to discuss topics such as a promotion or a raise, especially if they have performed well as per your pre-delivered assessment. If you allow the employee performance review to shift towards promotions and raises, the main reason for the meeting can get lost easily. You will find that there will be an invisible feeling overhead casting uneasiness over the meeting. Furthermore, your employee may begin thinking less of how they can improve, and more about how they can get promoted or get a raise. These things can be used as effective motivators, but they should not be the main topic of an effective employee review and they should be discussed at another time.

Remember: You’re the Boss

At the end of the day, you are the boss and employees need to respect what you say. Do not budge on issues that you are certain an employee needs to improve upon. Employees may try to give excuses as to why their performance is not meeting expectations, and you should be listening to them, but you are also running a business and they need to cooperate.

Being wishy-washy when delivering an effective employee performance review can make your employees think that they can get away with poor performance, or that you are unsure what you are asking of them. Instead, be clear and confident to convey to the employee that you are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. You’re not meeting to punish them, but to allow them to improve their performance.

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