Performance review do's and don'ts
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Performance review do’s and don’ts

Most managers have good intentions when providing performance reviews for their team. However, some managers may lack confidence about how to do performance reviews well, especially in the era of remote work. It can be tricky to find the right words and strike the right balance when giving performance feedback. It’s also important to be educated on how to avoid biased language. Because of this, managers need consistent feedback on their feedback so they can learn to give equitable, high-quality performance reviews.

While things vary from company to company, there are some best practices that all managers should consider. Follow these performance review do’s and don’ts to ensure you’re providing the best possible performance review experience.

How do you give good performance feedback?

Do: Provide specific & actionable feedback

There’s nothing more frustrating than exaggerated feedback like “you’re always late” or “you never meet deadlines.” Let’s be real—“never” and “always” extremes are very unlikely to be accurate. They can also undermine the credibility of the rest of the review. One of the most important performance review tips for managers is to provide specific, relevant, and quantifiable feedback.

Be sure you’re focusing on the employee’s work or behaviors rather than any irrelevant personality traits. For instance, personality feedback like “you can be aggressive” is not helpful and is often rooted in prescriptive stereotyping and bias. Good feedback is actionable and highlights something that a person can work on. Most importantly, all feedback should be backed up with specific examples in order to be as valuable as possible.

When giving examples, consider using a standardized framework to guide your feedback and ensure consistency across your team. For example, let’s say you need to address an employee’s punctuality and its impact on the team. Rather than “you’re late all the time” or “try to stay more organized,” you can offer a more helpful version of the same feedback: “I’ve noticed you’ve been between 5-10 minutes late the past few team meetings which resulted in us not being able to get your input on XYZ projects. An area for continued improvement this year would be prioritizing team meetings, and making sure internal stakeholders aren’t blocked on important projects that you’re leading.” This provides a clear example that describes the situation, its impact, and a suggested behavior change.

After delivering feedback, ask the employee to find a solution with you. Ask questions like “What are some ways we can prioritize this growth area?” or “What’s your biggest pain point and how can I help?”

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Do: Be curious

Approach your conversations from a place of curiosity rather than assumption. This is especially important with underperforming employees—you’ll want to dig deep to find out if there are underlying causes you can fix, such as a lack of access to tools or an unreasonable workload. Keep in mind that if an employee is not meeting expectations, this is often due to a lack of coaching or support.

Utilize this approach even if you think everything is going well; remember that an employee may seem happy but they could be putting a positive spin on their situation. Some people are reluctant to ask for help or admit when they feel overwhelmed. This could be because your company culture doesn’t facilitate the basic psychological safety that encourages openness. Go into your reviews with a curious and empathetic mindset and you may be surprised by what you learn.

Do: Conduct performance reviews more than once a year

If you give feedback more than once a year, not only will you become more comfortable with the process, but you’ll help your employees grow faster. Regular feedback is also necessary for avoiding surprises during your employee’s annual review. Reviews are an opportunity to check employee satisfaction and identify areas where the company should consider new policies, benefits, or resources. If your company doesn’t have a formal review outside of the annual review, read these tips on how to give a mid-year review.

Do: Meet face-to-face (on camera or in-person)

Many people are thriving in the current climate of remote, asynchronous work. However, conducting your performance evaluations face-to-face is still important—even if screens and time zones separate those faces.

Reviews can be awkward and uncomfortable. Delivering feedback over the phone deprives managers of the chance to read body language and receive cues from facial expressions, which can help you tailor your approach or tone. Eye contact is also essential for making the conversation feel more personal. Allow for silence and give them space to formulate their response. Don’t feel the need to over-facilitate the conversation and let it evolve naturally. Learning how to give a remote work evaluation takes some practice, but isn’t as complicated as you may think.

What should you avoid in a performance review?

Don’t: Let bias creep into your performance reviews

It sounds obvious that bias shouldn’t be part of a performance review, but unfortunately, job performance feedback is heavily biased even today. Black and Latinx employees, women, and workers over 40 are most heavily affected by bias in performance reviews. This puts them at a disadvantage, as people who receive quality, actionable feedback typically grow in their careers at a faster rate, earn more, and have more leadership opportunities. Employers need to provide unbiased, equitable feedback in order to facilitate the growth of all employees and retain talent.

Don’t: Confuse reviews with coaching

While it’s great that you’re sitting down to communicate with your employee about what is and isn’t working, a performance review tip for managers is to recognize that an evaluation is not the same thing as coaching. While you may be providing advice and an action plan during the review, coaching is ongoing and involves regular two-way communication. Coaching is what should happen between reviews to help your employees build confidence and grow in their careers. It’s more than a periodic evaluation—coaching is essential to supporting your team.

Don’t: Wing it

A performance review is not the time to come unprepared. Ideally, you check in with your employees regularly, so you are well aware of their goals, achievements, and where they need coaching. Preparing the data for your review shouldn't be taxing if you’ve taken good notes throughout the year in one-on-ones.

It’s also a good practice to double-check your review first to ensure you aren’t unintentionally using biased language or giving feedback on personality rather than performance. Check your work to make sure you provide specific examples, relevant feedback tied to goals, helpful guidance, and a balance between positive and critical feedback while avoiding extreme statements and feedback about perceived personality attributes.

What are common performance review mistakes?

Don’t: Neglect regular check-ins

Whether your company conducts reviews annually, semiannually, or quarterly, it’s best practice to have regular check-ins with your employees between these structured reviews. Many companies encourage weekly or biweekly 1:1s between managers and employees. Continual communication allows you to be better informed about your employee’s day-to-day performance and allows you to spot and work on potential issues before they escalate into problems. Documenting information from these meetings will also make it easier when you prepare for their formal review.

Don’t: Forget to make an action plan together

Every performance review should end with clear steps for what happens next. For example, are there expectations for areas an employee needs to improve? Are there more responsibilities they’ve agreed to take on? What kind of support and resources do you need to get them to do their job successfully? The plan doesn’t need to be elaborate, but both parties must agree that it’s clear and reasonable.

Save this blog of performance review do’s and don’ts to improve your next review cycle. A quality review process will help employees grow in their careers and add to positive company culture.

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