How to conduct an effective performance review that motivates employees

Badly conducted reviews can be detrimental to employee relations and to the business. The wrong approach, the wrong attitude and the wrong words can deflate your team and send the very people you can’t afford to lose straight to a competitor.

A key question is: what do you think a performance review is for? If you see it as an end-of-term report that tells people how they’ve done, it can easily descend into mutual condemnation, with blame and recrimination taking centre stage. But you can look at it quite differently. A performance review is an opportunity to have a relaxed and extended conversation with a colleague, although the manager should do more listening than talking. It’s a time for people to reflect on how they can increase their own job satisfaction and their value to the organisation.

If you want to conduct more positive and more motivating performance reviews, follow these ten tips:

1. Structure the session in advance. If you don’t have an agenda to work through, you’re either inviting the appraisee to take control or you’ll end up having an aimless conversation. Does the individual have a job description? If so, use that as an agenda for their performance review. Think about what you’re aiming to do here. Make a list of the points you want to discuss.

2. Create an informal, unhurried atmosphere. Make them feel comfortable and at ease. Ensure you won’t be disturbed. Start by casually asking how they’re getting on.

3. Praise their successes. The emphasis in any performance review should be on praising their work. Get them to open up by highlighting what they’ve done well. Make sure they know that their efforts are appreciated. Encourage them to discuss their role. Talk about their ambitions and what they’d like to do throughout the rest of their working life.

4. Ensure there are no surprises. The golden rule in a performance review is no surprises. Don’t use it as an opportunity to list all the things you don’t like about someone’s performance. If they’re doing things you don’t want them to do, then speak to them at the time. It’s important to always deal with problems when they happen – and make a note of them.

5. Use self-appraisal. Ask them to appraise themselves (How would you sum up your performance? What areas do you think you could do better?). People are sometimes harder on themselves than you’d be.

6. Listen. Check you’ve understood what they’re saying. If necessary, probe with open questions (What do you mean?). Make sure they do at least half the talking.

7. Get them to face up to any problems. If you want to highlight any deficiencies in their performance, then be specific. Give examples, don’t make sweeping statements or character judgements. Make sure you have the figures or data to hand, to back up any statements you make. If people have faults or if they’ve made mistakes, try to tell them with positive language, not negative words. Explain how they could do even better, not where they’ve done badly. Stress their successes as well as any areas for improvement.

8. Avoid the self-defence reflex. Don’t get defensive and don’t get side-tracked into irrelevant arguments. If the interview becomes difficult, stick to the point, find something about their performance that you can praise and try to get things back on a more positive note. Always discuss their performance, not their personality. Never criticise people for who they are, only for what they do. You can’t change their nature; you can only try to improve their performance.

9. Empathise with their challenges. Don’t be dismissive of any problems they are having. Ask them to keep notes on any particular challenges. If they have a grievance about something specific, ask for a report on it and a recommendation of how it can be improved (What do you suggest we do about this?). Help them to come up with their own solution, rather than imposing one yourself.

10. Agree a plan for the future. The objective of any performance review is not to get the form filled in. It is to increase the appraisee’s motivation, develop their potential and enhance their performance. Think about what they’re going to do personally afterwards. Get them to agree any improvements (What can you do to make things even better?). Don’t be vague. Agree a specific target and set a review date.

If performance reviews in your organisation are just a tick-box exercise, you’re wasting an opportunity. Following the above steps can help your team members feel more valued and more engaged. That’s in your interests because it can improve their attitude, their motivation and their productivity.

Martin Addison is CEO of Video Arts, the learning content specialist. These tips are taken from Performance Review: Code Red, a new video-based training resource from Video Arts which shows how to conduct an effective performance review and how managers can handle three difficult types of appraisee. It is available as a video, e-learning or mobile learning course. Click here for a preview.