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Guidelines for the Annual Review

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Annual reviews are often treated with disdain, like old laundry that no one ever gets around to cleaning. Why do we dread these conversations so much? The theory around annual reviews is to summarize the past year’s performance, align expectations, and begin the goal setting process for the upcoming year. Sometimes there is a monetary increase in pay or bonus associated with the annual review based on performance and ultimately the corporation’s financial status. With the current economy most industries have provided meager monetary increases in the last few years and for government and education raises have been almost non-existent. This can make for a difficult conversation for leaders, especially for those high potential and high performing employees that you want to reward and keep around.

The question then is how can we engage with direct reports to create a meaningful and worthwhile review that delivers constructive feedback, provides new opportunities, and motivates them to want to contribute their all? Sounds like a tall order to fill but with some forethought and preparation you can create a review that engages and motivates people. Here are 5 Guidelines to help create that atmosphere for upcoming reviews.

1.       No surprises!

As a leader it is critical to have regular and consistent check-ins throughout the year so when the annual review comes, there are no surprises for anyone. Many times we may be deluded into thinking “No news is good news”, meaning that if we haven’t heard anything from our direct reports or they from us then everything must be fine. Usually this is an incorrect assumption, as it often means there is not an open communication channel for either of you to report challenges, issues, or unpleasant feedback. Make a point to discuss both the good and bad with your employees, because if no one ever tells them they are doing something wrong or incorrect, they won’t know to stop doing it or fix the problem!!

 2.       Communicate with respect.

Your direct reports deserve your undivided time for feedback on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis. Remember they are helping you to accomplish your goals and if you do not show them the respect they deserve they can make your life less then fun. Most employees in this economy are working hard and long, and need reinforcement and acknowledgement that somebody is noticing their efforts and contributions to continue giving their best efforts. This also includes taking the time and effort to write and communicate their performance review with comments about their last 12 months on projects and responsibilities and development opportunities for the upcoming period.

 3.       Build trust & transparency with your direct reports.

Leading other people requires constant awareness of our own behaviors and communication. If you want people to trust you, you need to do what you say and say what you will do. Leadership requires that we are open, speak the truth, and have a genuine interest in our direct reports success and development. If your direct reports are not successful then it means you are not successful and there is work to be done. Building relationships takes time and effort with both parties making contributions to the relationship.

Sometimes as leaders there is confidential information that cannot be communicated, but strive to be as honest as is possible under the circumstances. On the other hand, most associates know if you are sugar coating information and will resent being treated like kids. Consistently tell the truth as you perceive it and provide as much information as you can for their positions and work to be achieved.

 4.       Keep a file for each direct report.

Twelve months is a long time to remember who did what and what projects were accomplished, to help you remember all this keep a file for each of your direct reports either digitally or in paper. Anytime you get an email or letter from a client or internal associate saying what a good job they did add it to the file, and just keep adding education, projects, tasks, or demonstrations of competencies to the file. When it comes time to start the appraisal process you will thank yourself for all the information, details, projects, examples, and reminders you have of what each employee was doing over the last 12 months.

5.       Proofread the review.

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I have heard of wrong names on the review, spelling errors, and inappropriate information added to the review. Remember this information can be used in court and for a later action, so it needs to be written using correct grammar and spelling, the correct name and information based on their job title and position. Use spell and grammar check and review the information to make sure you are getting the right information for the right person! How elementary you think…believe me employees have told me that the wrong name was used and that leaders just copied and pasted their review from someone else’s. Not a great morale builder!

Add comments and examples of accomplishments, competencies, and areas of improvement. Avoid using absolutes like always and never as they make people defensive. Spend the time and attention for each of your direct reports as they have been working for you over the last 12 months and deserve your time to let them know how they are performing.

 With some attention to detail and following these simple guidelines you can build a review that provides your direct reports with information on their performance that acknowledges their contributions, sets expectations and helps them to move forward with targeted performance areas and goals. If we want to make reviews a useful use of time and energy for everyone involved it is up to each leader and associate to partner in this process and come to the table with realistic views and expectations.

This is not a dress rehearsal. Live life passionately. Engage your talent!