How to Properly Conduct a Year-End Review

ATTENTION SUPERVISORS! That mostly dreaded time of year is here, when annual or year-end employee performance reviews are due, and the time-consuming venture becomes almost as exciting as doing your taxes.

But, the pain of conducting reviews shouldn't have to be comparable to giving birth or having your wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia.

In my career as both an HR executive and a business consultant, I find that most managers lack proper training on conducting year-end reviews, making it a very painstaking process for both the supervisor and their staff.

If you are an employer or supervisor, let me help relieve some of the stress and strain of your performance evaluations.

Here are a few guidelines:

Conduct a Pre-Evaluation Staff Meeting.

Employees dread the performance review meeting as much as the supervisor because it feels like going before a firing squad. Even if the employee is a high achiever and excellent performer, he/she will still dread the moment.

Ease their minds by conducting a pre-evaluation staff meeting where you gather your reports and collectively come up with an agenda. You will often find their agenda is not far off from yours, but because they had buy-in, it will ease the tension and set expectations ahead of time.

This is NOT where everyone points fingers or starts casting aspersions. This is merely a meeting where an agenda is established and everyone gets on the same page. What is the message you want everyone to walk away with in the end?

The agenda should be strictly focused on these key targets:

  • What is the company trying to achieve

  • How do we each play a part in helping the company achieve its goals

  • What have we each contributed

  • How well have we contributed and where can we improve

  • What can we do to help support one another in overall performance

  • What tools are necessary or processes need to be updated to accomplish company goals

When concluding this meeting, ask employees to conduct a self-review and write down three goals they wish to accomplish and have them bring this information to their evaluation meeting.

After the meeting, set up appointments with each report. Each meeting should last no more than 30 minutes, and should be easily accomplished in light of the preparation. Not to mention, if you consistently give feedback throughout the year, employees pretty much know how well they have performed ahead of time.

Create a Comfortable Evaluation Space.

Nothing says "dictator" like conducting evaluation meetings with the supervisor sitting behind his/her desk and the employee sitting on the other side. The employee may feel intimidated or like they are in the hot seat, waiting for the shoe to drop.

Instead, create a comfortable environment by coming out from behind the desk and positioning your office chairs in a way where it appears to be a more casual conversation.

This will ease even the slightest tension in the room and convey a message that you are interested in what the employee has to say, consider yourself an equal, and are intent on listening to their input.

Offer them a drink (non-alcoholic, of course) and start your meeting with "first and foremost, I want to personally thank you for your dedication and service to our team and company." Gratitude will automatically set the tone and make employees feel appreciated.

Even if the employee is the worst performer, gratitude usually always serves as a motivator for increased performance.

Focus on the Positive.

This can be a challenge with employees who are low-achievers or under-performers, but making them part of the solution often turns them around.

There are a few things to consider before addressing low performance issues:

Home life often affects work life. Although you cannot legally delve into a person's personal life or allow it to be a consideration in performance reviews, be considerate of the fact that everyone has challenges outside of work that you most likely will not be privy to.

It can be a strained marriage, rebellious child, financial distress, health issues, family drama, ailing relative, or any combination of stressful situations contributing to their lack of performance.

On the other hand, it may just not be a good fit for the employee, but nonetheless, you have to focus on positive solutions. Invite the employee to come up with ideas to resolve challenges or under-performance.

Be Sensitive to Employee's Aspirations.

More often than not, supervisors think they are motivating employees by encouraging them to write down long-term goals and aspirations for their careers. They encourage their employees to seek new opportunities for growth and promotion, develop new skills, and take advantage of employee programs that foster growth.

While I am first to preach "ABL - Always Be Learning," I also know this sounds good to a twenty-something, fresh out of college graduate, who is ready to work his/her way up the corporate ladder, or someone like myself, who is highly motivated by learning new things.

However, it usually comes across as insensitive and out-of-touch to the 60 year old who is marching toward retirement and may have already achieved great things.

I sat in on a performance evaluation conducted by one young supervisor in his early thirties. He consistently asked the same questions to each employee: "If you were considered for promotion, what job would you be most interested in?"

One by one, most of the employees spouted off their choice. But one woman stopped him dead in his tracks with her response.

"I'm 58 years old and have no desire to move up the corporate ladder or get promoted. I'm perfectly content with where I am. I do a great job. I come to work on time and work overtime when needed. I don't complain or gossip, and I enjoy what I do right now, and have no desire to do anything else," she said.

He didn't quite know how to handle her truth. But the truth is she had reached the pinnacle of her ambition, having accomplished what she desired. Her goals were not the same as his or anyone else's, but that didn't make it wrong.

Some would consider her statement lacking ambition or negative. But, in fact, she was the epitome of her success. Her ambition gave her a job she enjoyed and she wasn't interested in doing anything else.

When reviewing her resume, I discovered she had been a highly successful executive for a company 20 years prior. This told me she had accomplished great things and had tremendous ambition. It just wasn't the same ambition now as twenty years ago.

Despite her previous experience, not everyone has the desire or skill set to be a supervisor. In fact I know many a supervisor who has great managerial/administrative skills but lack people skills and are virtually ineffective.

Always base the employee's performance on meeting and exceeding company expectations, but don't let your ambition define theirs or you will set them up to fail every time.

Create a Plan of Action with To-Dos.

At the conclusion of your meeting, it's important to ask the employee to offer you feedback and recommendations about how you can help them achieve their goals, perform better, or grow professionally.

When done, both you and the employee should have a list of to-dos and a plan of action with deadlines and key points to review in the next evaluation.

Always end the meeting on a positive note. Share how committed you are to helping them and, again, how much you appreciate their contributions and loyalty.

Well-planned evaluations and feedback will end in success and hopefully a lot less dread in the process.

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Leo Pacheco | Personal Development | Life Coach | Innovative Strategist