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It’s no secret that employees find annual performance reviews to be a little nerve-wracking – in fact, some say it’s “the most stressful work conversation” that they have each year. That doesn’t sound like a great jumping off point for a productive, two-way conversation, does it?

Luckily, there’s a relatively simple cure for performance review anxiety: a little preparation – from both parties!

LAY THE GROUNDWORK

+ INCREASE THE FREQUENCY OF FEEDBACK

The long and short of it is this: you should be giving regular feedback, and if you don’t already, you need to start. One-to-one meetings are essential, providing a platform for open conversation and allowing you to address questions or concerns as they arise, when the details are still clear.

If you’re checking in on your team regularly, setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback, nothing discussed in the annual review should be a surprise. When the big day comes, you’ll just be revisiting these issues and achievements as part of a larger conversation. you’ve discussed throughout the year.

+ IDENTIFY CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

It’s important for a manager to identify expectations early on, providing clear instructions and answering any questions that the employee may have about the specifics of their role and about what success looks like in this position. After all, how can you expect your team to exceed (or even meet) your performance expectations if they don’t understand what’s expected of them?

+ KEEP A RECORD

It’s mighty ambitious to think that you’ll be able to remember specific details about your employee’s performance off the top of your head, nearly a year later. The simple solution? Invest in a notepad.

It’s a great idea to make notes throughout the year, jotting down key points during your regular check-ins, for example! With a written record of your employee’s achievements, you’ll not only have that information readily available during the review, you’ll also be able to give credit where credit is due when it comes time to think about promotions and raises.

+ ENCOURAGE YOUR EMPLOYEE TO PREPARE

When you schedule the annual review, remind your employee that you want this meeting to be a two-way conversation, and that they’re welcome to bring their questions, suggestions and feedback.

To foster a productive discussion, encourage your employee to set aside some time to prepare and organize their thoughts beforehand. Some organizations ask employees to fill out self-evaluation forms, but the less formal (and arguably less awkward) option is to ask them to mull over a few questions in advance of the big day.

For example:

  • What do they consider to be their major achievements over the past year?
  • What part of their current role do they most enjoy?
  • What part of their current role would they like to do less of?
  • Is there an area where they want to develop?
  • How can you help support their growth with the company?


[Feel free to direct your employee this way for additional advice on performance review preparation!)

+ AND DO YOUR OWN PREP, TOO

Hey, you’re not off the hook just because you’re the boss – there’s homework for you, too! The time you spend preparing will help ensure you conduct a performance review that actually resonates with your team –  and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Review your notes from the past year, considering the employee’s overall performance as well as specifics:

  • Identify areas where your employee is strong
  • Identify areas where your employee needs improvement
  • Identify areas for growth or advancement
  • Consider what you’d like to see your employee achieve over the next twelve months
  • How can your employee action this feedback?


If there are other individuals in the organization who work with your employee on a regular basis, go ahead and touch base with them, too – this can give you a more well-rounded understanding of your employee’s skillset, helping you identify additional areas of strength and aspects of their performance that may need improvement.

ON THE BIG DAY

+ BE SPECIFIC

Specific, actionable feedback is essential in a performance review. Make sure you’re clearly communicating exactly what is being done well and exactly where improvement is required, and be sure that you’re both on the same page about next steps.

+ GOOD FEEDBACK IS THE BEST MOTIVATOR…

If you’ve got an employee who’s wowed you over the past year, let them know how impressed you’ve been with their work! This is a great opportunity to show your appreciation for their contributions to the team, to highlight positive aspects of their performance and celebrate their specific achievements.

+ …BUT DON’T SUGARCOAT THE NEGATIVE

On the other hand, if an employee has been falling short, it’s your responsibility to discuss that, too. Skip the vague feedback and get right to the issue, ensuring your employee understands what’s expected of them going forward. Let them know you’ll work with them to outline steps and goals, and ask if there is anything specific you can do to offer support – and remember, it’s a conversation, so give your employee time to respond to your feedback.

+ PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

After discussing past and present performance up to this point, it’s time to talk about the future. Goal setting is a big part of the annual review, and for good reason: it’s an opportunity to learn more about your employee’s career aspirations and to determine how you can best support them along the way.

Take this opportunity to refresh your employee’s memory on leadership development programs, workshops and ongoing training initiatives that are offered by the company. Offering learning and development initiatives is a great way to help employees advance their skills and ensure they’ve got a clear path to promotion at their current organization.

With this in mind, you may want to ask if there’s a particular area your employee would like to develop over the coming months. Is there someone at the company who they’d like to shadow for an afternoon? Is there a course they’d like to take in their spare time? Would they appreciate the opportunity to attend a professional networking event? Where possible, see what you can do to make this happen.

[Need to brush up on your goal setting skills? Right this way!]

NEXT STEPS

Schedule a follow-up meeting with your employee for a month after the annual review. This will give you a chance to revisit your discussion, to check in on their progress and get a sense of how things are going, as well as field any questions that may have popped up.

And remember, the best way to support your employee is through consistent, ongoing feedback –  block off time in your calendar for those regular one-to-ones!

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