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Taking the Sting out of Performance Reviews

Tuesday October 14th 2014

It is annual performance review day at the office. The sales reps are sitting in their cubicles getting very little accomplished, as they watch the parade of colleagues enter and leave the boss’s office. Those nervously awaiting their turns feign nonchalance while trying to read the latest victim’s facial expressions. Smiling? Glistening eyes? Outrage? Poker-faced?

Based on feedback from those who have survived the process, here are some tips to help managers improve performance evaluations:

Conduct on neutral turf
Face-to-face reviews are often held in the manager’s office, but many HR consultants suggest avoiding that setting. Subordinates are already nervous on this occasion, even if you have maintained a friendly relationship. Sitting behind a desk can be perceived by the employee as a physical obstruction, shouting, “This is my domain.” Set the review in a conference room or other neutral site.

Avoid interruptions
While getting settled into the flow of the review, a guy peeks his head in the door and says something like, “Jones in the warehouse says we’re short on blue pendaflex folders.” Or you continue to accept phone calls with a quick, “Let me get this, it will just take a sec.” Be considerate and respectful to your employee, preventing these types of intrusions that might say, “You are not important, you do not matter.”

Make it a dialogue, not a monologue
“The one-sided, boss-dominated performance review needs to be replaced by a straight-talking relationship where the focus is on results.”

— Samuel A. Culbert, Professor UCLA School of Management

The review should be an interactive conversation, not just a manager spouting off like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “whaa… whaa… whaa.” Many companies require employees to complete self-evaluations prior to their scheduled review. Use this input as a part of the process. Even if there are negative aspects in the evaluation, try to keep the conversation as supportive and developmental as possible.

Overcome the recency effect
Managers may tend to fixate on current events instead of evaluating the employee over a twelve-month period. Unfavorable, recent events can easily dominate the discussion, pushing aside accomplishments achieved throughout the year. Resist the recency effect by maintaining a comprehensive view of the employee’s long-term performance.

What other tips do you recommend for making the performance appraisal process as constructive and painless as possible?

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