5 Keys to a Helpful Performance Review

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Whether it's your company's policy to conduct them a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis, performance reviews are a great way to give your employees a sense of how they're doing and where they stand. And the more strategic you are going into those reviews, the more successful they're likely to be. With that in mind, here's how you, as a manager, can make your next round of performance reviews as productive and helpful for everyone involved.

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1. Use hard data

A big part of your typical performance review involves telling employees how good a job they are or aren't doing -- and there's no easier way to illustrate that than with numbers. As you prepare for your team's reviews, gather data around their performance, and present it so that your employees can easily follow along. For example, if you manage a customer service team, and your goal is to have employees minimize the amount of time they spend with each person who calls in, you can record each worker's average call time and tell your team members where they rank. So if your team's average is six minutes per call, and you have a few folks whose average call time is nine minutes, you can point that out and offer some tips on getting that number down.

2. Offer specific examples of positive and negative performance

It's easy enough to throw buzz words around when praising or critiquing an employee. But saying things like "you're a real team player" or "you need to learn to set priorities" won't get you nearly as far as offering up actual examples of how that person does or does not do those things. So rather than throw out blanket statements, say "you consistently pitched in with market research this quarter when Tom took a leave of absence," or "you're often late with your weekly data send, and while I know you only get a limited window to churn it out, I'd advise you to block off time on your calendar to ensure that it gets done on time." The more specific you are, the clearer your message will be.

3. Counter criticism with praise

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It's not easy being on the receiving end of a performance review, especially when there's a degree of critique involved. That's why it pays to incorporate positive feedback into your criticism, constructive as it may be. For instance, if you have an employee whose presentations tend to get long-winded, you can say something like the following: "Your presentations are often loaded with helpful visuals and data. I would, however, advise you to start condensing them so that you don't lose your audience." This way, your employee is less likely to get offended or defensive, and is more likely to listen.

4. Leave plenty of time for questions

Performance reviews shouldn't be a one-sided conversation. While you may have certain points to cover during that meeting, be sure to give your employees ample time to ask follow-up questions or clarify areas of confusion. This will help ensure that they're able to act on your feedback, rather than just file it away in the back of their minds and eventually forget about it.

5. Set clear expectations

The purpose of a performance review shouldn't just be to tell employees how they've been doing. Rather, you'll want to define, or redefine, what you expect from them going forward. Therefore, each team member you meet with should leave that discussion with a clear understanding of what he or she needs to focus on in the coming weeks or months. If you have an employee who needs to work on being more diplomatic over email, make sure that person knows to budget in more time in his or her schedule to respond to messages. And if you have someone who's great at building relationships with other teams, encourage him or her to schedule weekly sit-downs with other departments over the next business quarter. Giving your employees action items to follow through on will make your performance reviews more worthwhile in the end.

Though it's often the case that employees and managers alike dread performance reviews, if you approach yours strategically, everyone stands to benefit. And remember, when your team members do a better job, you end up looking good as well.

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