How to give a mid-year review
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How to give a mid-year review

Performance reviews influence pay, promotions, and much more, but the vast majority of them aren’t designed with fairness in mind. From companies who swear by traditional performance appraisals to those who’ve thrown in the towel completely, most performance feedback is known to contribute to bias and inequity.

Large companies spend anywhere between $2.4 to $35 million a year in lost productivity to conduct their performance reviews, with extremely underwhelming results to show for it. Only 14% of the workforce agrees that their reviews motivate them to improve performance! This is disappointing, and for any other business outcome, we would not be so quick to accept an awful return on such a significant investment of our time, effort, and budget.

In 2014 Textio CEO and co-founder Kieran Snyder shared research findings on language bias in performance feedback, and Textio just launched a groundbreaking report building upon those findings. Performance reviews are still a huge source of bias and inequity today, which hurts employee engagement and growth. When employees are able to trust the process and the people conducting their reviews, they are more engaged, do better work, and are more likely to implement the feedback. So how can you conduct a fair mid-year review this summer?

What is a mid-year performance review and why is it so important?

There’s a lot of guidance out there on the annual performance review, but much less on the mid-year review. However, mid-year reviews are just as important as the annual review for a few reasons. First, they’re usually the only formal touch point before the end of the year conversation and help us avoid any performance surprises. Second, they’re an important tool to stay in the loop with employee engagement. From the employee perspective, it’s a chance to take stock of where to double down and where to course correct in the next 6 months.

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Tips for giving a fair mid-year review

Whichever system your company uses, whether that’s 360 feedback or a more traditional downward process, you can be certain that bias is creeping in somewhere. Even getting rid of performance reviews entirely can still result in unfair outcomes. Here’s how you can give a fair and helpful mid-year review:

As a manager

As a manager, your role is the most important in all performance reviews, but especially in the mid-year performance review. It’s your job to make sure all of your direct reports have access to actionable feedback grounded in business results so they can prioritize important growth areas in the second half of the year.

Here’s how to offer a fair mid-year review as a manager:

1. Allocate enough time and try not to batch

Giving good feedback takes time. If you write feedback the night before, the results show. As a manager mid-year reviews can feel like an interruption precisely during the busiest time of the year, especially the more direct reports you have. Block out enough time and space to offer meaningful feedback to everyone on your team. Allocate at least one hour per direct report. Even if you don’t use the full hour, it gives you the mental space to write up high-quality feedback that is supported by examples and recommendations on how to improve. If you can help it, avoid batching your mid-year reviews since that disadvantages the employee whose review comes last.

2. Focus on job performance and evaluate across the whole review period

Be careful not to use blanket statements that aren’t grounded in concrete examples and specifics. For example, feedback like “you always run over in your sales calls” may come from a seed of truth, but it lacks specificity and uses an extreme: always. We know from Textio’s research that underrepresented groups receive far more irrelevant, vague, and extreme feedback. To stay fair and offer feedback that’s more likely to be implemented, get explicit. Tie your evaluations back to concrete examples and offer suggestions on how your direct report can approach the growth area in question. Lastly, revisit the entire review period to avoid recency bias. This ensures that you aren’t only looking at last quarter’s performance, but the entire review year up until the review.

3. Balance positive and growth feedback to avoid surprises

There’s nothing worse than misaligned expectations when you reach the end-of-the-year review, and it’s a common trigger that causes employees to look elsewhere. The mid-year review is a great opportunity to avoid any performance surprises later in the year. Focus on providing a balance of positive and growth feedback. Write an equal-length review for everyone on your team so all employees have access to feedback, potentially offering 1-3 prioritized improvement areas. Check your word count if you want to make sure you’re providing equitable access to quality feedback.

As a peer reviewer

41% of companies rely on peer reviews, but this is dropping off in recent years. That’s actually a good thing considering that most companies institute peer reviews without any formal guidance or structured evaluation criteria. As you can imagine, that inadvertently nudges a lot of biased feedback.

Here’s how to offer a fair mid-year review as a peer:

1. Know when to say no

If you haven’t worked closely with someone, you really aren’t in a position to evaluate their work performance. The problem with peer-nominated review processes (often seen in systems like 360 feedback) is that employees tend to seek out those they are friends with or work well with. Being friends with someone or liking them doesn’t qualify you to give them performance feedback, in fact, you are likely to be more susceptible to perpetuating bias. So if you haven’t worked with someone close enough to give them a performance review based on their work, say no.

Here’s how to say no gracefully:

“Hey Rachel, I’ve loved working together on the latest XYZ account/project, and all of our great conversations. I feel honored that you are asking me but I’m trying to only say yes to reviews for coworkers that I’ve worked with close enough to identify a useful balance of strengths and improvement areas. For this round, I don’t think I’d be able to offer you the best feedback possible, but I’d still like to meet and have an informal conversation if you’re up for that?”

2. Offer to trade feedback with your least favorite colleague

Inviting feedback is often reciprocated and a great way to improve strained work relationships. Getting critical feedback from your least favorite colleague is valuable for you because it helps you get an outside perspective on your own growth areas. And, they’ll likely ask for your feedback too, giving you the opportunity to ask for your needs in the working relationship. We can have a tendency to run away from criticism, but doing your part to reinforce a feedback-forward culture improves everyone’s experience.

Here’s how you can ask:

“Hey Tara, I think there are a lot of ways that I can improve my approach to XYZ before the end of the year, and I’d welcome your feedback on A, B, and C from the [...] project we worked on. Would you mind highlighting 1-2 areas that I could improve for next time? I am happy to do the same for you too if you like.”

Check your feedback for fairness and relevance

Whether you’re writing a downward or peer review, make sure that you put the review down for a few days and come back to it with a fresh perspective. That way you can edit for potential bias, irrelevance, or subjectivity.

Here are 5 areas to pay close attention to when you re-read your mid-year review:

  1. Specificity: Did I offer specific enough examples grounded in their work results?
  2. Relevance: Is the feedback I’m offering relevant and tied back to their strategic goals?
  3. Recency: Did I look at work across the whole review period or just the past month/quarter?
  4. Personality: Are there any evaluations that are overly focused on perceived personality attributes instead of objective performance measures?
  5. Extremes: Am I offering feedback that avoids extremes like “always” and “never”?
  6. Helpfulness: Did I offer suggestions and guidance on how they can implement the growth areas I highlighted?
  7. Balance: Did I strike a balance between positive gratitudes and critical growth areas?

With those tips in mind and adequate time to write quality feedback, you’ll be in a great position at the end of the year to avoid surprises and unlock the best work possible. If you’re interested in learning more about performance feedback, read our report about Language Bias in Performance Feedback.
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