For many companies, ’tis the season for annual reviews. Whether you’re delivering a company-wide review, a team review, or a one-on-one, you need to be prepared. After all, the feedback you provide may well determine the performance of your business in 2023.
I’ve seen some leaders dread the exercise almost as much as their employees do. That’s usually because the reviews are more like a visit to the principal’s office than a time to celebrate wins and figure out ways to redeem losses.
The fact is that performance reviews provide you with a wealth of qualitative information. They help you understand what’s working, what isn’t and what individuals—including you—need to do to make good things happen.
As with anything else in business, you need to make annual reviews productive and valuable. Otherwise, they’ll be a major time waster for everyone involved. Here are some ways to provide feedback, get it and use it as a formula for future success.
Show Them the Data
The context of annual reviews is simple. How did we do this year and how can we do better next year? At the end of the day, that’s the point, so don’t miss it.
You need to be able to demonstrate how you performed against key indicators. And I don’t mean in vague and subjective ways. You need to gather concrete facts, department by department, and present them as evidence as part of the review process. Sales should be evaluated on such metrics as conversion rates and average deal size; for HR, you might look at such factors as time to hire and employee turnover.
There are two key issues here. First, you need to employ performance analytics to glean this data. Second, you need to share broadly what you learn from the analysis, not hide it in the C-suite.
The data will show what happened last year. When you’re meeting with teams or individuals, brainstorm why goals were or were not met. Then spend time talking about changes they can make to improve performance in the future.
There are times when gut decisions are the way to go, but an annual review isn’t one of them. Let the analytics tell the beginning of the story, then empower your talent to write the next chapter. Where the success of your business is involved, fact is infinitely better than fiction.
Be a Coach, Not a Critic
Most people are familiar with the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, annual reviews aren’t about being nice, and they aren’t about keeping quiet. They’re about being honest with your team members without making it sound like harsh criticism. The exchange can be motivating, even inspiring, if handled in the right way.
Your employees are a team, which makes you their coach. As such, your job is to help your team understand their strengths and improve their weaknesses using strategies that achieve goals. If all you do is yell at your team from the sidelines about their shortcomings and mistakes, you’re a critic, not a coach.
Feedback is as much about listening as it is about talking and as much about receiving as it is about giving. Feedback is a collaborative responsibility that’s shared by both the manager and the employee. So when you sit down to talk to a member of your team about their performance, acknowledge that you both have skin in the game. That will encourage open dialogue that should motivate both of you to improve.
Always make sure you sprinkle some praise into every review. Then be supportive, providing direction for struggling employees and setting the sights of stellar employees higher. Everyone can improve their performance—and remember, that includes you.
Make Feedback Business as Usual
Although feedback is the primary focus of annual reviews, it should be standard operating procedure all year long. If you make it part and parcel of company culture, you may stop dreading the annual review process. Even better, your employees may approach such reviews with enthusiasm and anticipation rather than with fear and sweaty palms.
I’m talking about creating a culture where feedback flows freely all the time, not just once or twice a year. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
If the point of feedback in performance reviews is to improve performance, why not have a continuous loop running in the background? Ask a team member why they’re struggling and graciously accept the feedback that you may be part of the reason. Employees become comfortable offering feedback because they aren’t threatened by your reaction to their honesty. You discuss with them ways you can both do your jobs better, and voila! Better performance is the outcome.
When their annual review rolls around, your team members won’t feel intimidated because they’re accustomed to the process. They will understand you’re trying to make them better at what they do and that you’re working diligently every day to improve your own performance as well.
Get in the Loop
Feedback, whether it’s objective performance data or subjective opinion, is essential to achieving individual, team and company goals. If you aren’t using it to your advantage in annual reviews, you’re missing a golden opportunity. Give it and get it with equal grace, and no one needs to dread the annual review.
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