Getting the Most Out of Performance Reviews

Jan 23, 2009

Katherine Spencer Lee

Editor’s Note: Katherine began writing monthly columns for CIOUpdate in July of 2004. Since then, she has been providing readers invaluable advice on how handle the often delicate job of employee relations. As editor, I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her dedication to the site and to wish her continued success in her new role with RHT as president, Southeast Operations.


As a leader, you likely have done your share of performance reviews. But, when was the last time you checked to see how effective they were? When executed correctly, appraisals should not only let employees know how they are doing and define strategies for improvement, but also motivate them to give it their best.


To give people the insights and support needed to make positive change, you may need to go beyond the forms supplied by HR. Here are some tips that can ensure you get the most out of performance reviews:


Time them right. Consider holding appraisal meetings more than once a year. In a survey by RHT, nearly 4 in 10 (39%) executives said their companies schedule performance reviews either twice a year or quarterly. By letting staff members know how they’re doing on a more frequent basis, you give them encouragement to keep up the good work and the necessary input to address areas of challenge before they become bigger issues. Remember, too, to go beyond the formal reviews and give ongoing feedback. You’ll help eliminate the element of surprise for employees at these meetings.


Discuss pay later. As you prepare for performance reviews, you might also be determining pay raises or bonuses, especially when current economic factors may affect the amount you are able to offer employees. However, you may want to hold off discussing compensation with an employee until later. When a person is eagerly awaiting news about his or her salary, it’s possible he or she will be distracted and fail to listen intently to performance feedback.


Additionally, waiting until after the performance review allows you to make adjustments to how much you want to give the employee. You may be set to give someone a bonus for work on a successful project, for instance, only to learn through your discussion that the individual played almost no role in the outcome. Or you might discover the opposite is true and that the person deserves more for making a notable contribution.


Cover all angles. To gain a well-rounded perspective on an employee’s job performance, consider soliciting feedback from people who work with the individual, such as coworkers, subordinates and colleagues from other departments. This input can give you valuable insights about a person’s strengths and weaknesses, particularly if you don’t have significant interaction with the employee being evaluated.


In addition, you might ask the staff member to complete a self-appraisal. You may gain new information that sheds light on particular situations at work or points out contributions you didn’t previously know about. For instance, you might discover someone played a bigger role in completing a server upgrade ahead of schedule than you thought. Soliciting the individual’s input also shows that you care about hearing your staff’s perspective, which can be motivational.


Be selective with wording. As you talk about an employee’s performance, make sure the language you use is clear, constructive and accurate. Avoid words like “always” and “never” because they aren’t likely to be true. For example, if you say that someone is “always late to work,” the person probably will be able to recall times when he or she arrived on time and may disregard your feedback. Instead, choose words like “often” and “frequently” to describe situations that occur on a regular basis.


Also be careful that you describe job performance, not personality. It may seem like a personal attack if you tell someone, “You don’t handle stress well.” It’s more helpful if you say, “During stressful times, you can become short-tempered with end-users and coworkers.”


Make reviews a two-way street. Provide sufficient time in the discussion to hear the employee’s perspective. Allow the person to comment on your criticism and solicit the individual’s ideas for ways to improve. Often a staff member is well aware of his or her own weaknesses and knows the best ways to overcome them. For instance, someone may suggest being assigned a mentor because she learns better one-on-one than in a classroom setting. The more involved a person is in deciding how to initiate change, the more likely he or she is to follow through.


Be sure to give staff members a written copy of their performance reviews and a follow-up memo outlining any new goals. This will help reinforce objectives and serve as a resource for monitoring progress. You’ll also have quantifiable expectations in place that can be the foundation for future discussions.


Formerly the executive director of Robert Half Technology, Katherine Spencer Lee, is now president of Southeast Operations. RHT is a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

Tags: IT career, IT Leadership, employee retention, IT staffing, performance reivews,

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