Categorized | Down to Business, HR

Give good feedback: A how-to guide for giving employee performance reviews

By Linda Nottingham

Many employers avoid the process of conducting formal employee performance reviews becauseperform review.small they are uncomfortable with confrontation. Don’t make that mistake! Handled properly, a performance review can be a fulfilling and satisfying experience for both you and your employee, and it will improve employee loyalty and morale.

As a boss, one of your primary responsibilities is to help your employees achieve success in their jobs and grow more proficient. The compelling reason for taking this responsibility seriously is the reality that every employee is either contributing to the mission of your business, or is not—and you don’t need people on your payroll who are not helping you succeed! Every employee needs to contribute 100% toward this effort. Employees represent your business to vendors, clients, and others; you want them “on-message” and maximally productive.

Start at the beginning: The job description

Giving a performance review that results in good feedback and improved productivity begins with a written job description that details the employee’s responsibilities. You should give a copy of the job description to each employee at the time of hire, and review it with them at that time. As you initially go over the job description, schedule the date and time when the first performance review will take place—such as in three or six months.

Then, stick to the plan. Barring extreme circumstances, don’t change the evaluation date. Moving the date devalues the job and the employee. It sends a message that you don’t think the evaluation is very important. (Employees almost always think performance reviews are important.)

Put ticklers into your own calendar and when the time for the first review is approaching, send the employee a current copy of the job description and ask him or her to come prepared to talk about performance. Give employees a week or two to think about a “self-assessment” based on the job description.

It may be a surprise to you, but almost all employees know what they do and don’t do well, and they are usually harder on themselves than you would be. In all likelihood you will never have to originate a negative point; they will beat you to it.

On the day of the evaluation, set aside adequate time and don’t allow any interruptions. Put your Blackberry or phone on silent and hold all calls. For higher level employees, consider doing the review off-site over a long lunch. This is your chance to reiterate the mission of the organization and share your vision.

Begin the review by identifying something you believe the employee does really well and speak about the value of that to you and the company. Give specific examples. Then move to the self-evaluation and go over the job description, allowing the employee to identify and explain strengths and weaknesses—again in terms of specific examples.

When an employee identifies a weakness or deficiency, ask what you can do to assist in resolving the problem. For example, does he need more access to you or better clarification? Does she need in-house training? Are there external training programs which would help? Make note of these deficiencies; they become the basis of employee performance goals.

As you discuss the job, you may find that the job description needs to be revised because of changes in actual practice—additional or fewer duties or different responsibilities. This is also a great chance to explore cross-training opportunities, as well as the employee’s long-term and short-term goals.

As you complete the performance discussion, review with the employee the items you both agree need to be improved and decide how and when they can be achieved. Write out the review immediately after the meeting. Give a copy to your employee and put an original that each of you has signed into their file. And set the date for the next review in writing.

Then follow-up. The employee’s success is your success.

linda nottingham.smallLinda S. Nottingham is president of JAX Realty Advisors, Inc., and is a member of the Jacksonville chapter of SCORE. She facilitates several of the Business Advisory Councils for the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center. She can be reached at or 904-534-1283.



Write SMART performance goals

As you and your employee go through a performance evaluation, you should be noting things he or she did (and continues to do) well, as well as things he or she could and should improve upon in order to optimize their contribution to the organization. These improvement areas are the basis for employee performance goals.

For example: Assume the employee has a problem getting projects properly organized so that they are completed on time. A solution you both agree would rectify the problem is for the employee to learn how to use Microsoft Project Management software.

A SMART employee performance goal (that is, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based) might read: John will complete a four-day computer-based training on Microsoft Project 2010 Essentials by October 1, 2010.


Performance and compensation

In some organizations, performance reviews are divorced from compensation discussions. In others, employees expect that at the end of the performance discussion, adjustments to wages or salary will be discussed.

If you do not want to discuss compensation in the review, make that clear as you prepare the employee for the review. If, however, you link performance evaluation with compensation, come prepared to discuss any adjustments.

You may want to take advantage of this discussion to review other perks your company offers, such as healthcare insurance plans, life insurance, or 401(k ) plans. Most employees—even those who pay a portion of their health insurance premiums—are not aware of the value (cost) of their benefits. Paint a complete picture of what the employee is receiving.

Even if you cannot offer an increase in wages because of economic circumstances, don’t put off the performance review. The review becomes even more important because it gives you the opportunity to discuss the company’s plans to turn things around. Employees may not have a guaranteed right to a raise, but you’ll be a smart boss to communicate honestly with them.

Furthermore, people work for more than just money. Your employees need to know that they are contributing to the success or growth of the business and that you value their contributions. In advance, consider whether you may be able to offer non-monetary incentives to your employee, such as a change in title or flexible work hours.

If it is not financially possible to give a raise at the time of the performance review, be prepared to indicate when the compensation for that individual will be reconsidered. For example, if you think new contracts will bring in additional revenue in six months, tell your employee you will revisit the compensation issue then. Set a date, and then do it, even if you have to defer the raise again.

The key is trust and communication. Your employee needs to believe that you have the ability and the desire to balance what is good for the company, along with what will benefit or promote them.

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