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Staff appraisals can benefit all parties
Staff appraisals can benefit all parties

Top performance review tips for managers

Striking a balance between praise and constructive criticism can make performance reviews more productive and satisfying for all parties. BARBARA CROWHURST outlines ways to get the most out of the process.

Performance reviews are a lot like walking a tightrope: withholding positive feedback can discourage and demoralise employees, while failing to discuss problem areas can mean employees never improve.

Staff appraisals must be recurring events. In addition to providing ongoing feedback during the year, managers also must let staff know what time of year reviews take place.

To ensure reviews are useful, managers should follow these tips.

Allow enough time to prepare

Performance reviews are only valuable if managers and employees are given the time and resources they need to prepare for them.

Give staff the opportunity to identify their achievements from the past year and areas where they would like to improve.

Keep files on employees

When hiring a new staff member, create a file that contains performance review notes. This serves to document the good and bad aspects of that employee’s job performance and work habits.

Use the file to catalogue their accomplishments and also to track performance-related issues such as tardiness. The file will act as a record of items to be discussed at the next review.

Solicit third-party feedback

Managers shouldn’t rely solely on their own perceptions of an employee, particularly if interactions with the individual have been limited. Seek feedback and comments from colleagues and others who work closely day-to-day with the employee.

Enquire about his or her strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas that have improved over time and special abilities.

Ask specific questions, such as how does he or she handle challenges and overcome obstacles and what contributions have they made to team-based projects?

Does the staff member seem committed to continuing professional education and skills development? Compare the feedback.

Allow enough time for assessment

Don’t wait until the day before a review to start tracking and critiquing a staff member’s performance – this is unfair to the individual and will not give an accurate, comprehensive picture of his or her abilities and achievements.

“Employees may need time to digest the feedback from a review so encourage them to come back afterward if they have questions or concerns.”

Instead, try to observe the employee in a variety of situations over an extended period. Assess how well he or she manages both independent and collaborative assignments.

Create a conducive setting

Choose a quiet, private place for the review and schedule it at a time when interruptions can be kept at a minimum. When structuring the session, incorporate time for a two-way dialogue so that the employee can respond to feedback and offer input of his or her own.

To prepare for the meeting, organise all documentation – previous evaluations, comments gleaned from colleagues and other notes.

Give the employee sufficient notice to prepare also.

Set the appropriate tone

The review should be handled in a professional manner and treated as a conversation, not a lecture.

Open the discussion by talking about the employee’s accomplishments and positive attributes. When it’s time to shift to negative or problematic areas, focus not on mistakes but on ways to improve.

Most employees will not be surprised by anything they hear during a review; however, if there’s a gap between an employee’s perceived performance versus actual performance, be sure to explain the difference and suggest ways performance goals might be met.

During the discussion, invite comments on any observations. Talk about future expectations and clarify job requirements and responsibilities. Enquire about the employee’s professional-development goals and discuss how to work towards meeting them.

Be courteous and tactful and focus on behaviour rather than personality when being critical.

Maintain an open door

Employees may need time to digest the feedback from a review, so encourage them to come back afterward if they have questions or concerns.

If managers show that performance is not a once-a-year issue but a matter of ongoing importance, staff will focus less on the formal review itself and more on the feedback and guidance they receive.

They’ll be motivated to see feedback as a way to help them with their performance.

By preparing well in advance for performance reviews and developing a systematic, consistent appraisal process, managers can turn what could be an uncomfortable time into a chance to chat with team members and set goals for the future.

Who knows? Both parties may even start to look forward to these feedback sessions and the business will benefit as a result.

Barbara Crowhurst

Contributor • Retail Makeover

Barbara Crowhurst is CEO of Retail Makeover as well as an internationally-recognised retail consultant. Visit:

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