Performance reviews can be dreaded by employees and employers alike. But good feedback can be a vital tool for employee productivity, and happiness. Use these three tips from experts to help you make performance reviews appreciated, not dreaded.
1. Cut out an annual review, and switch to regular performance feedback
One of the most frustrating aspects of performance reviews, for employees, is the vast length of time between them. They hear nothing for months, then get a serious annual meeting that details all of their shortcomings for an entire year.
Authors Samuel Colbert and Larry Rout state in their book that “annual reviews do not promote candid discussions about problems in the workplace — and their potential solutions.”
What to do? Quit giving feedback altogether? That’s not the answer either.
Make it your habit to meet, informally, with each of your employees on a weekly or monthly basis. Regular, short-and-sweet (under 30 minutes) reviews — limited to current performance and projects — will be much more beneficial than a yearly feedback fest.
2. Set objective standards to avoid any misunderstandings or bias
Good leaders don’t intend to be biased, of course, but sometimes people are blind to their own internalized assumptions and preferences.
When you give feedback based solely on your subjective appraisal of how well a job is being done, you’re probably falling into rater bias. That’s when the reviewer is, consciously or inadvertently, influenced by “non-performance related factors” of the employee, such as personal characteristics (race, gender, age, personality) and interpersonal factors (whether or not the reviewer personally “likes” and gets along with the employee). Employees, justifiably, feel wronged “because managers do not always rate them on objective criteria.”
Bias is not only frustrating for employees, it’s bad for business. “When a manager or supervisor is in a bad mood,” the same research finds, “he or she is a much more conscientious performance rater and more attuned to employee mistakes and problems. When in a good mood, the manager is more likely to overlook poor employee performance.”
In other words, you might have a bad morning, then take it out on one of your best employees.
Feedback should encourage great performance or give specific actions and standards to improve poor performance, not disintegrate into a personal venting session. To avoid letting bias and mood ruin the reviews you give, set clear, objective standards for each job role or employee position.
3. Tailor your feedback to each employee’s experience
You probably think you know what your employees want to hear: positive feedback, praise, assurances that their work is satisfactory, even excellent. Turns out that’s not entirely true. What employees want to hear depends on how skilled they are in particular tasks or roles.
For newbies, praise is paramount. “Novices sought and responded to positive feedback,” this study finds, and “positive feedback increased novices’ commitment.”
For advanced employees, however, apparently getting only positive feedback is like giving a teenager a pat on the head: useless (at best) and irritating (at worst). The study found that “experts sought and responded to negative feedback.” These employees actually want negative feedback on the areas in which they’re most skilled. Truthful feedback motivates them to want to make more progress.
Of course, a little goes a long way. Those high-level employees still appreciate genuine praise and encouragement, but they also appreciate thoughtful insight that will help them increase their skills and expertise.
As a small business owner, you probably know your employees well. Keep in mind, then, during those regular reviews, the skill levels for each employee. Encourage and praise to help employees stay committed to a new role or skill; encourage with some insightful critiques to help advanced employees stay motivated to improve.