The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Developing Satisfying Performance Reviews

There are many instances when situations arise that toll one's knowledge of the most fundamental of good practices. Recently one of such circumstances presented itself. Although the players appear to be very capable, their handling of the situation showed some reminders are in order. They also showed that it's wise to make certain that your professionals from other countries have more than a passing appreciation of domestic employment laws and practices.

Please consider the strategies previously published in 2003 on

Some managers think of performance appraisal meetings and recollections of torn Achilles' heels or root canals immediately surface. They're sort of "been there, don't want to go again" situations. The more it can be put off, the better. You may be in that state of mind right now.

Chances are you're trying to make one meeting do for everything. So you're preparing for the performance review, the salary review, and a few other matters, all in one sitting. There are definite things you want to praise. You probably have a few who could use some improvement. The prospect of all of this is giving you a new ulcer and you're putting the preparation as far off as possible. It doesn't have to be that bad. Before you get yourself as prepared for this meeting as you would to go to Antarctica for six months, reconsider the purpose of the performance review and isolate the meeting to just that – communicating about how the employee has been doing compared with their job description.


As with any other meeting, prepare for it. Outline an agenda of what will be covered. This will help you to be the leader of the meeting so that you keep the conversation on track and both of you know what matters will be the focal points of the discussion. And as with any other meeting, make certain your employee has a copy of the agenda so they don't feel there's going to be a surprise attack of some sort. This will enable them to be as prepared for a discussion and stay focused.

The essentials of the discussion should start with the job description. Pull out a copy of the job or position description that was the basis of hiring or promoting your employee. Your conversation needs to cover an assessment of what they've been doing compared with what their "contract" says they are expected to do.

In addition to the job description, you'll want to discuss what you see that the employee has been doing well. People are people. No doubt there are areas that need improvement so feel free to discuss those. You'll also want to agree on the "how" and the "when" of the improvements. Finally, you want to leave time for discussing new work opportunities, where appropriate, so that the employee has some planned growth in their position.


Well, you now have a skeleton agenda. The next issue is having the meeting. At first blush, this may seem like a minor issue. However, this is a sensitive talk. It's a meeting about the very personal matter of how the employee is working and the caliber of their work. Plus the issues for review, there are some "climate" conditions that need attention.

Make certain that you schedule the meeting; don't send an emissary on your behalf. This should be a private meeting -- not in the middle of the office where everyone can share in the conversation. It should be free of interruptions. If you're expecting a conference call, schedule it for a good amount of time after the appraisal meeting so the appraisal doesn't become rushed. Have all of your phone calls held.

Finally, meet in a place other than your office -- some neutral area -- that is free of things that can cause barriers such as tables or desks.


Over-emphasis in this next area is not overkill. This conversation is a personal one. When a person feels they're being criticized or attacked, your meeting is not going to go well. The conversation will stop and what you'll have is, at best, a one-sided monologue with a half-hearted agreement in word. Think of this as a one-on-one coaching period and speak as though you are coaching. Use positive terms and sentences throughout your conversation.


It's one thing for you to do an appraisal of the employee's work. But this is supposed to be a conversation and a time for feedback. What you want is feedback from the employee about how they perceive how they've been working. It's rare that the manager rates an employee's performance lower than the employee. Usually it's the other way around. The employee is more critical of their work.

Although this is supposed to be a conversation, encourage the employee to talk when you reach the appraisal of how they're performing compared with the talking points of the job description. Allow for self appraisal.

Once they have made their appraisal, this will be a prime time to talk about
  • how you perceive their performance compared with their self appraisal
  • areas for improvement
  • steps to take to make changes
  • whether they are ready for some new opportunities for growth


It's fine to have a meeting and get all of the talking points covered. But part of this performance appraisal covered areas for change. Talking about change is not commitment to it. Put in writing what the employee will do, what you will do to assist or support them in doing this and when it these things will be done. Then both of you need to sign this contract for action. If it needs modification, as with any other contract, they can be made by mutual consent of both of you via a signed writing that memorializes the changes.


You've probably read enough material on performance reviews until you eyes have glazed over. It's one thing to read. It's quite another to actualize the reading. How about something that will help you practice doing an appraisal, complete with "bad move"-"good move" scenarios? The matters we've been discussing today, in addition to some other important considerations attendant to a successful performance review, are available on video.

In CRM Learning's "Discussing Performance," you can spend 20 minutes watching the supervisor and employee go through the bungled steps and then the "let's try this again" versions of a performance review. Interspersed with discussions about why the bungled and the better happened, this tape allows you to see and do from a safe perspective so that you have a performance presentation of the cause and effect relationships of words and acts. After each scenario, there is a very useful and brief discussion of why things went the way they did as you segue into the next phase. You're empowered with a conceptualization of how to have this meeting.


Performance reviews are actually very constructive periods of time; they're opportunities for growth for both you and the employee who's being reviewed. Leave the other issues for another time and conversation. And leave those old ways of the painful reviews as relics and sign posts of the past. Use these review and evaluation times only for the focused purpose of discussing performance.



Additional Reading: