torsos of two people sitting at a table talking and writing on paper
PHOTO: Nik MacMillan

The end of the year is getting closer by the minute, and we all know what that means: it’s time for the annual performance review process. For most people this evokes a sense of dread: hours spent preparing for it, not knowing what to expect during the conversation, and probably worst of all: no tangible follow-up.

It doesn’t have to be that bad. Performance reviews should be a process that support professional growth and career paths. And if you can support individuals’ professional growth within your organization, they are more likely to be engaged — making it a win-win situation for everyone concerned.

The five tips below help you make the most out of performance reviews, making them both more tangible and actionable.

1. Look at the Individual as a Whole

While people have job titles, they are more than just employees. They have a personality and life outside of work that makes them who they are. It’s important to understand your team members and what makes them tick so you can better support their career paths and aspirations. If you’re able to see them for more than their job function, it will enable you to think outside the box when it comes to ways to help them develop professionally. 

This should become particularly helpful during performance reviews. Encouraging this mindset within your organization will not just help reviews but should also impact company culture overall.

Related Article: Customer-Centric? Employee-Centric? How About a People-Centric Culture

2. Include Positive Feedback

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to provide a balanced overview of someone’s work. Positive feedback supports recognition in the workplace, which helps people feel valued and know you’re aware of what they’re doing as well as what they bring to the table. There is nothing worse than not knowing whether or not you’re having an impact in your job.

3. Make Positive Feedback Meaningful

Don’t just tell people “you were great” or “we loved your work.” While this is indeed positive, it makes it difficult for people to know exactly what was good about the work they did. It’s important that positive feedback says something about the behaviors you want them to continue, and talks about what strengths people have in their roles. Helping people understand what they’re good at gives them an opportunity to further develop those skills, while giving them confidence in their roles.

Related Article: Who Needs Annual Performance Reviews?

4. Give Tangible, Constructive Feedback

Constructive is often perceived as “negative” since it’s seen as the counterpart of “positive feedback” — but it shouldn’t be. In fact, it should provide the most added value to people so they can grow professionally. View constructive feedback as opportunities for development, rather than things that went “wrong.”

In order to make it tangible, have clear examples of how things could be done differently or of methods to try. For example if a person needs to work on their time management, share a few ideas: the Pomodoro technique, setting reminders in the calendar, writing to-do lists. With that, the person will immediately have actionable items after the meeting. One word of caution: these should only be suggestions, not a fool-proof solution to be implemented.

5. Set Goals Together

As mentioned above, the worst part about poorly handled performance reviews is that no one ever follows up afterwards. Meaning the time it took to conduct is never regained and it leaves people feeling clueless about their career progression, let alone how to do better in the day-to-day. Setting goals is a way to make up for that, as they turn feedback into actionable items.

With the manager and the direct report working collaboratively, goals make it easier for the person concerned to know what to work towards. Better still if the goals are tied to an outcome such as promotion or increased responsibilities. A goal in sight gives people additional motivation to work harder at their jobs, because they have more clarity on what is expected from them. Goals also give you something to talk about during regular check-ins, and the following year’s performance review. Of course, it should be relatively easy to tie individual goals back to organizational goals.

People cringe when they hear “annual performance review," when in reality it should be something they look forward to as a time to reflect on their work and consider how to best move forward. The first step to making performance reviews more enjoyable is by turning feedback into actionable items. The next step is empowering people to take charge of their careers so they start to ask for feedback more regularly.