Performance Reviews: Tips for Giving Feedback

Conducting performance evaluations is an integral part of a staff member’s professional development and helps to define a company’s culture of communication and learning. When preparing to provide performance evaluations, it’s important to have a plan that ensures evaluations are provided in a respectful manner that allows staff members to learn which parts of their performance and behaviors are meeting or exceeding expectations. Additionally, performance reviews should touch upon which parts of their performance and behaviors need to be improved in order to achieve future success. Communicating feedback and expectations with staff members allows them to know where they stand and how their performance impacts the company. The steps listed below will help to make the performance evaluation process smoother and less stressful for everyone involved.

  1. Set clear expectations: Have your staff members review their job description. Be sure that all of your employees have an understanding of what is expected of them in their role prior to evaluating their performance.
  2. Decide who will be providing feedback: Some companies have many layers of management and review. Notify the person who will be delivering the review at the beginning of the review cycle about who they will be reviewing so they can be sure to pay close attention to the performance of that employee.
  3. Train staff and management: Be sure to coach or train staff and management on how to give valuable evaluations. Reviewers should be trained on the following to ensure a successful evaluation meeting:
    1. Leniency/Strictness Tendency – It’s important not to be too lenient or not too hard on an employee. Employees want to hear the truth about their performance, so be careful not to gloss over issues or focus too much on problems.
    2. Halo/Horn Effect – This is when reviewers rate a staff member good or bad on all characteristics based on an experience or knowledge involving only one situation, or in comparison with others rather than against the standards of the job.
    3. Legal Topics Only – Avoid topics with potential legal liability, such as race, color, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, family status, national or ethnic origin, disabilities, workers’ compensation injuries, leaves of absence, or military service.
    4. Recency Error: This is the tendency of recent minor events that have happened recently to have more influence on the rating than major events of many months ago.
    5. Favoritism: Reviewing certain staff members more favorably than others due to the nature of your positive working relationship.
  4. Allow employees to review their evaluation before delivery: Most people appreciate the opportunity to read their performance evaluation before the evaluation meeting. This will allow the staff member to gather any thoughts or questions to be discussed with their reviewer.
  5. Be factual: Performance evaluations should be documentation based on fact/observable behavior and not someone’s opinion. Maintain a record for each employee including accomplishments, awards, counseling forms, trouble areas that have been discussed, suggestions for improvement, training and notes of appreciation. Evaluations can be helpful tools for the future when an employee is being considered for promotion, but also can be documentation for when an employee in not performing and ending their employment becomes necessary.
  6. Be timely: Performance evaluations can be delivered annually, semi-annually, quarterly or more often if you choose. Whatever frequency your firm chooses, be sure to focus on feedback that is recent and not feedback that is outside of the review period or too old to be relevant.
  7. No surprises: Performance evaluations should be used as a tool to review a staff member’s performance and shouldn’t be a document full of surprise comments about poor performance. Employees will know prior to an evaluation if they are performing well or in need of improvement if managers are providing them with timely feedback throughout the year. This type of frequent communication is helpful in making the evaluation process less stressful.
  8. Focus on patterns, not one time events: Everyone makes mistakes. Performance evaluations are not a record of everything right or wrong that a staff member does. Recognize consistent positive patterns of performance or behavior that you want repeated. If a staff member makes an error once, but never again, you may decide not to comment on it in their review. Leave out issues that have already been resolved.
  9. Allow time for improvement: Employees who receive feedback for improvement, will need time to correct their performance or behavior. Areas for improvement should be phrased in a forward looking manner to allow employees to move in a positive direction. You may want to encourage employees to work with their mentor, Human Resources, or a member of management on steps necessary for improving their behavior. Coaching and training is often needed to assist employees with performing at an appropriate level. Working together with an employee to take appropriate action to improve behavior may help prevent an employee from quitting out of frustration or the company ending the employees’ employment.
  10. Use active listening skills: During the review meeting, the staff member may need to express their concerns about content listed in their evaluation. Be sure to give the employee your full attention and listen to understand their concerns.
  11. Agree on goals for the future: Involving staff members in determining their own career goals will allow them to be more motivated and committed to the company.
  12. Sign the performance evaluation: Both the employee and the reviewer should sign and date the performance evaluation. A copy of the signed performance evaluation should be kept in the employees’ personnel file for future reference.

Providing feedback and communicating expectations with staff members plays a valuable part of your company’s success. As managers of employees, think strategically about how you want to communicate with them so they understand you care and your goal is to help make them be successful. As the leaders of your company, you understand that no one is perfect, but high-functioning employees will welcome your feedback and appreciate the time you spend committed to their career development.

Karen Mattull
Karen Mattull

Karen Mattull is the Chief Operating Officer of Internal Operations and Shareholder for BeachFleischman PC. She is responsible for the strategic alignment of Human Resources functions within the firm’s overall mission and culture.