5 Steps to Conduct Amazing Annual Performance Reviews

career May 24, 2022
5 Steps to Conduct Amazing Annual Performance Reviews

Why are we talking about doing annual performance reviews now, when they are typically done at the end of a year? Because reviewing an employee’s performance is something that managers should be doing all year long. The paperwork at the end of the year becomes just a formality that summarizes the conversations that have taken place each week 

For example, let’s say one of the project managers that reports to you did a terrible job in a project update to senior executives in April, while they may have thought they knocked it out of the park. You make note of their shortcoming to include on the end of year performance review and dutifully bring it up in December. The problem is that this employee updated executives for eight more months in the same terrible fashion. They never had an opportunity to hear the feedback and make improvements because you withheld it until the annual performance review. 

This is not good for the employee, the organization, the project, or you. 

How then can you conduct performance reviews all year long and have the end of the year review be just a formality? 

  1. Be Performance-Review Conscious 

The first thing you must do is change your mindset. You need to become performance-review conscious. This means that you are always on the lookout for actions and behavior that can be included in the performance review. It’s important to not only observe actions an employee can improve, but areas where they naturally excel or have done a phenomenal job. Record everything to discuss with your employees (more on that later). Thinking about performance reviews only at the end of the year leaves you with a blank slate of vague generalities with few examples. Being performance-review conscious all year provides you with detailed specifics and lots of examples. 

  1. Conduct Regular One-on-Ones with All Direct Reports 

The time to do employee reviews is each time you have your regular one-on-ones with your directs. Ideally, time is aside each week to catch up with those who report to you, where they talk about how they are doing, obstacles in their way, where they want to go, etc. But, a part of that meeting should be your observations of how they performed over the past week. Think of it as a Lessons Learned session or Debrief for people instead of projects. You wouldn’t wait until the end of the year to discuss all the things that could have been done better on a project. Neither should you wait until the end of the year to help your team get better. 

No need to make negative feedback long, drawn out, and humiliating. Keep it as simple as, “When you act this way or do this thing, here’s what happens. Can you do it differently in the future?” Short and sweet. Your employees don’t need a lecture, they need guidance and direction. Conversely, catch them doing something right that week and see how they shine. And, you don’t need to wait until your weekly meeting to provide feedback. Give it right after the behavior is observed. Just don’t let it go longer than a week. 

  1. Develop an Intake System 

When you think about performance reviews all year long, and meet regularly with your employees, make sure you have a system to document key points. A simple way is to create a spreadsheet with the following columns:  

  • Employee Name 
  • Date: Can just be the month you talked with them 
  • Review Criteria: Include whatever criteria are on your annual performance reviews. For example, Productivity, Innovation, Results, Communication, Expertise, etc. 
  • + or - : Some indicator of whether this was positive or negative feedback 
  • Comment: One or two sentences summarizing the feedback 
  • Example: Include an example if possible 

Keep this spreadsheet front and center on your desktop and update it regularly. 

  1. Create an Output Process 

This spreadsheet now turns into a bank of information for your reviews at year’s end. The beautiful part of a using a spreadsheet is that you can create a pivot table and sort it in the following manner: 

Employee Name 1 

  Review Criteria 1 

       + 

           Comment 1  

           Comment 2 

       - 

           Comment 1 

  Review Criteria 2 

       + 

          Comment 1 

           etc. 

 

Employee Name 2 

  Review Criteria 1 

       + 

          Comment 1  

        - 

          Comment 1 

  Review Criteria 2 

       + 

          Comment 1 

          Comment 2 

 

You can also drill down to pick up any specific examples that were included. 

You will be amazed at how simple performance reviews become at the end of the year. They almost write themselves! The abundance of specific details and examples show you really care about your employee’s performance, and not just checking this administrative task off your to-do list. 

  1. Get Them Done by End of Year 

Many managers start their review process in January. For example, January 2023 is when they pull together reviews for 2022.  The problem with that is everyone is back from end-of-year vacations, business is cranking up again, and you get busy very quickly! Throw performance reviews into all that is going, and they may not get the attention they deserve. 

Make it your goal to have all reviews done (written) by the end of the year. December typically slows down a bit and there will be blocks of time to fit this in. Don’t worry if you don’t have access yet to the tool that the company uses for reviews. You can pull what you need from the great spreadsheet you’ve been maintaining, and pre-write everything in a Word document. It’s then a matter of copy and paste into the performance review tool once it’s ready to use. 

Getting performance reviews done by the end of the year is a big deal! While your colleagues are scrambling to get their reviews completed in January and February, you will be focusing on the business at hand and starting off the year strong.  

It’s the Small Things that Bring Big Results 

Completing well-thought-out and well-written reviews falls under the category of understanding and executing on the small things discussed in Understanding Your Organization’s Project Management Journey. It’s not that performance reviews are small or unimportant. Rather, it’s that consistently keeping up with all the small activities necessary to accomplish great performance reviews leads to something big…a well performing organization.  

A final benefit of following these five steps is that an employee will never be surprised about what is on their performance review. If you’ve been performance-review conscious all year long and have had the managerial courage to provide constructive feedback, your employees will always say, “That’s exactly what I expected,” after their in-person review. There’s nothing better than hearing those five words!   

One final suggestion. You’ll most likely need to write your portion of your own employee review. Why not the same system above to capture your performance through the year? Of course, it will all be positive; just watch the expression on your manager’s face as you help them remember what a great year you had!