Improving the Performance Review Process

With the End of Financial Year looming, so are annual performance reviews.


Annual reviews can be a cause of angst and dread for employees for a number of reasons.  The word review has negative connotations; we associate it with criticism.  Why is this?

  1. Often the only time employees hear they’ve done a good job or that they’ve under-performed is in their annual review.
  2. Reviews can be seen as a waste of time if nothing comes from what is discussed.
  3. Review documents are composed in a one-size-fits-all format.
  4. There can be a lack of focus on whether the employer enjoys their job or working for the organisation.
  5. Reviews are not always a forum for honest feedback.


Understandably, organisations need to measure their employees’ performance levels, so how can we change the review process so it’s constructive and worth doing?


1. Hold reviews more often so employees know where they stand

Consider holding reviews every three or four months instead of annually.  If someone’s been doing a great job, why let them sweat for a year to find out? If an employee has areas that need improvement, why would you wait a year to tell them?  If managers catch up with their staff on a regular basis, employees will know if they’ve been doing a great job and won’t fear their review.

Regular reviews provide the opportunity to identify if further training or support is needed and to provide targets and time-frames for improvement.


2. Acknowledging and rewarding a job well done throughout the year

This can be via small incentives shows employees they are valued and appreciated and will reduce unnecessary fear of their review.  It could be movie tickets, gift cards, a gadget or a bottle of wine.

What rewards motivate your employees?


3. One size does not fit all

Do you use the same review document for all staff? Sales staff are motivated differently and have separate career drivers to administration staff, for example.  They also spend different amounts of time on site.  What leads to workplace enjoyment and consequently work productivity for one group will be different for the next.  It doesn’t make sense to use the same review document for all staff so consider customising it.

Consider whether the questions asked in the review are relevant to the employee’s role.  For example, I dread being asked “Where do you see yourself in the organisation in 5 years time?” because as an Executive Assistant, I have nowhere to go in the organisation!


4. Aim for better engagement

Look at the ratio of manager speaking to employee speaking during reviews. Ask employees how they feel they’ve performed, what tasks or projects did they enjoy, what training, tools or support do they need going forward?  This makes the review more inclusive.


5. Use the review to construct a progress plan with each employee

The plan should take their skills, performance, areas for improvement and career drivers into account. Progress plans include areas to focus on, expectations and time-frames.  This shifts the review from a criticism or commendation experience to a development exercise.


6. Use reviews to increase workplace happiness

Asking what aspects of their workplace employees like and what could be done to improve it makes them feel valued. Ensure that feedback, requests and suggestions are listened to, acknowledged and acted upon. This makes the review worthwhile.


Employees are often nervous going into reviews, whilst some may have an inflated opinion about their performance.  By implementing a review process that’s regular, inclusive and constructive, which  focuses on development, it is possible to make reviews a positive (or at least less negative) experience that is beneficial and worth doing for all involved.


Clare Chittenden