Training & Development

How to make year-end reviews pain-free

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Have you ever told your boss you would like less feedback on the job you’re doing?

Me neither.

Research always reinforces this point. People want feedback on their job performance. They also want to be developed. In a dream world, we as supervisors would be doing a great job, giving feedback and developing our staff constantly.

But in reality, taking time at least once a year for a more in-depth conversation is well worth the time.

Quint Studer

At one time, I saw these as the dreaded “yearly performance reviews.” You know, the meetings where a boss may spend 80 percent of the time talking about missed opportunities and where you can improve. Many of you have experienced one of these and you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up. Most places have an annual review, right?

With clear, measurable goals and consistent conversations already in place, these annual meetings are not the time to share whether the person is a good performer or not.

Performance conversations happen throughout the year. They happen through yearlong strategic plans and 90-day plans. Between all of that, there should be no mystery for the employee whether they are meeting the performance standards.

Instead, my recommendation is for an end-of-year meeting to be a time to focus on development and input. Our companies currently are going through these meetings now and I have spoken with my direct reports throughout the week.

How do we make this happen? First, before meetings take place, some homework:

Collect the overall organization’s wins throughout 2016. What did the company get right? What victories, big or small, moved the company forward? I would review these in each 1-on-1 meeting.

Send out the questions you want to discuss with the employee ahead of time. I’ll get to what those questions are later.

When the meeting begins, I make sure the person knows that the meeting goal is to learn from this conversation.

I start by reviewing our organization’s mission and vision statement. This is the true north of the organization. Ask the employee how well they feel your company lives up to the values. Ask for examples, and ask how they feel they do living the values of the organization.

This makes sure the foundation is there. This is also an opportune time to have employees re-sign the standards of behavior if your organization has these.

Next, I review all of those organizational wins, and I’ll highlight those where the person I’m meeting with played an integral role.

Lastly, remember those questions you sent out ahead of time? This meeting is not a “gotcha” surprise. The goal is to have a constructive conversation. Here are some questions to consider. You will likely add some of your own reflective of your organization.

— Share with me a time or times in which you felt great about your work here? Employees struggle sometimes to share good things because they don’t want to seem boastful. This gives them permission to talk about themselves in a safer space to share.

— In looking at the past year what are some wins you feel the organization accomplished? Sometimes we look at the things we happened lately. Almost always there were significantly more wins than losses.

— What accomplishments do you feel best about on a personal level? Here’s an opportunity for an employee to talk about their role in company wins without the stigma of self-promotion.

— What areas do you feel the organizations could improve in? This gives employees an avenue to provide feedback on the whole organization.

— Are there areas you wished you had been able to do better in? Even this conversation leads to self-improvement in the context of positivity.

— What skills do you feel you improved upon or acquired this year? This demonstrates how important development is and that both the person and the company have a shared responsibility in development.

— Do you have the equipment, material and resources you need to do your job? This covers resources. Often times an employee may not have the things they need, but never feel comfortable “complaining” about it.

— What areas would you like to build your skill set in? This also helps in development, which is becoming more and more important to employees, whether they are in a management role or not.

— What are your career goals in the next year? 3 years? Again, employees feel uncomfortable talking about themselves. This gives the person permission to share their goals and dreams.

— How can I be a good supervisor for you? This role models the willingness to take feedback and builds the relationship.

— Is there any reason you are thinking of leaving? This is a win. All too often people are afraid if they share they would be willing to leave it will mean consequences. So what happens? They just announce one day they are leaving. The supervisor thinks, “I wish I would’ve known.” This question can help employee retention by addressing needs or concerns, or at the least, can help have a succession plan in place if a departure is inevitable.

For example, I met with someone and they shared they really wanted to live in another city. We discussed ways I could help them through my contacts. We talked about ways they could continue to help us remotely until they found a job. Make the best of the situation. As an employer, if you get the reputation as helping people advance their careers; filling open jobs becomes very easy.

This is how we take an annual meeting and make it a positive, feel-good conversation that moves the employee and the company forward. If you are already doing yearly conversations, that’s great. Let me know how you do them so I can learn.

Try to integrate lots of development into the conversations, utilize some of the questions I listed and always include the “why” the company exists, tying the person’s work back to the mission, vision and values.