How to conduct constructive performance reviews

By Adam Blanch

A standard performance review is an evaluation against the employee's job description and (hopefully) some pre-established performance criteria. If employees really had control over their work environment, supply chains, other staff and workload, this would not be a problem. But they don't. Many employees are forced to do the best they can amid the chaos of customers, administration failures, team problems and (worst of all) varying degrees of management expertise. Many employee failures are actually management failures, but employees can't tell you that for fear of losing their jobs.

If you really want to do a constructive performance evaluation that actually does something useful for the company, turn the whole thing on its head and get your employees to tell you what they need to get the job done.

When you review an employee as if they were a standalone entity, you are setting them up for failure and demotivation, no matter how well you do it. When you treat them as an intelligent cog in the wheel of your machine, and learn from them about how that machine is operating, you set them up to reveal just how creative and dedicated they can potentially be. Even an underperforming or disruptive employee can be turned into a productivity powerhouse when you reverse the power dynamic.

So how do you create a bottom-up performance review? Follow these CLEAR steps:

  1. Context: Let them know right off the bat that this is not about how well they are doing, but about how well you are supporting them to do their job. Praise their dedication and contribution, and tell them you want to know how to best utilise their expertise and creativity.

  2. Listen: Let them lay out what works and what doesn't work about their position, paying particular attention to the challenges and difficulties they face. Then ask them how they've been overcoming those challenges. Praise their ingenuity and resilience.

  3. Empathise and evoke: Ask your employees what they need, what problems require attending to, what resources need changing and how you can make their job easier. Thank them for their ideas and contributions and express your appreciation for their efforts.

  4. Actions: Work with the employee to arrive at a set of specific, deliverable, time-constrained and actionable goals both for management and for them.

  5. Review: Set a timeline for regular review meetings to see how it's working. Make it at least monthly, though weekly is better to begin with. Deliver on your promises and keep the dialogue open.

It's true that most performance reviews are resented and useless. Why not turn them into something that will engage and motivate your staff to really achieve?


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