Performance Ignited

The 5 Must-Use Steps to Successfully Conduct a Performance Review With Employees

The 5 Must-Use Steps to Successfully Conduct a Performance Review With Employees
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If you follow this plan you will gain a lot of insights that ultimately help people put themselves in control of their work, their future and ensures the company has a talent pool that is motivated to perform at their best.

For many companies, the beginning of 2016 represents the middle of the fiscal year, which brings with it several measures for checking in on the success of the business to date. It also brings forward one of the most important health indicators of any company – the health, happiness, engagement and performance of employees through the delivery of mid-year performance reviews.

At Porch, where I serve as SVP of head of communications and lead a small team, this is a task I take with great responsibility. I often tell people that managers and leaders have one job: to get the very best out of their people. Given everyone is motivated by different things and receives communication in different ways, no two performance reviews are the same. That said, over the years I have used a blueprint for conducting performance reviews that has always served me, the people I manage, and the company for ensuring every review is unique, even if the template is uniform.

Related: Fix, Don't Nix, Your Performance Reviews

For anyone giving a mid-year review or looking to develop and deliver a performance review, here is the blueprint I use.

1. Share an outline of the review in advance to promote an open and informed discussion.

I am a firm believer that the best performance reviews happen when you take the time to plan for and promote a well-prepared discussion. A performance review should not be a surprise. It should be an open dialogue where both the manager and direct report come equally prepared to talk about a pre-determined set of topics and questions. If you are sitting down and reading to someone the results of their year so far, you are missing out on an opportunity.

Share the questions and topics you want to discuss in advance so both parties can come with unique insights. These insights are the ingredients needed to deliver a review where both sides are talking and the focus is on making sure someone is setup for durable and long-term success and being put in the right situations at the right time.

2. Capture the moment when someone was at their best.

As noted about, I believe that managers and leaders must figure out how to get the very best out of their people. If everyone is performing at their best, then a business has a chance to thrive throughout every rung of the organization. I put a heavy emphasis on figuring out when someone is at their best. What’s important here is driving a discussion that let’s the employee share their insights into when they felt they were performing at their best.

Here are some of the questions I share in advance to promote a meaningful conversation on this topic.

  • Tell me a time this year when you were at your absolute best.
  • What made you feel that way? What was happening around you?
  • Who were you working with?
  • Who were you learning from?
  • What values were you demonstrating during this time?
  • What did you learn about yourself during this time?
  • What made you excited to come into work each day?

In addition to hearing what my direct report shares, I will come prepared with my commentary on the same questions.

3. Capture the moment when someone was not at their best.

Instead of focusing on “weaknesses” or “areas or improvement,” I prefer to let real life situations be the guide. If you have already established the opportunities and environment that helped someone perform at their best, what was happening when they were not at their best?

Here are some of the questions I share in advance to promote a meaningful conversation on this topic.

  • Tell me about a time this year when you felt that you were not firing on all cylinders. What was going on?
  • What were you feeling during that time? Where you frustrated, disappointed, confused, unclear on what success looked like? Tell me a bit about how you felt.
  • Who were you working with during this time? Did you share with them how you felt?
  • Did you ask for help along the way?
  • Did you feel this way during the process, or was it afterwards?
  • What else did you need from me?
  • What else did you need from the company?
  • Were the values of the company on display? If not, what held them back?

Same as step two, in addition to hearing what my direct report shares, I will come prepared with my commentary on the same questions.

Related: 5 Tips for Gracefully Accepting Constructive Criticism

4.  Rationalize a plan to consistently optimize for the best.

The reason I like to put so much attention on how someone felt and what they experienced in moments of their best/not best is because it allows you the chance to have a discussion that puts people in the right situations to thrive. It also helps determine areas where you can help guide someone’s career development. For example:

  • If someone was at their best when they were working cross-team and cross-discipline, you know that you may have someone who thrives in collaborative environments. If someone struggled in instances like these then you know you need to work on skills to improve collaboration.
  • If someone was at their best when things were very clear and highly organized, you know that they may struggle in periods of ambiguity.
  • If someone struggled because they never asked for help, you may find that they need help understanding the importance of delegation.
  • If someone worked from a home on a project because it allowed them to work with no-distractions, how can you make that happen with more regularity?
  • If someone was not clear on the outcomes, what can you as a manager do to set better expectations?

The summary here: find out as much as you can and build a plan for putting people in situations where they can be at their best. In some ways you are codifying what you need of an employee, in some ways they are codifying what they need of you and the leadership team. The output is the same: to get the very best out of people so they remain engaged, happy, and productive.

5. Career development and the road ahead.

When I meet with new hires or new team members I often shock them with how open I am about their career development because I generally like to find out, “Where do you want to go after this?” The reality is that people change teams, roles and companies. I want people to know that first and foremost I care about their well-being as a person, then as an employee. If we cannot give someone the fulfillment they need, it is okay to help them understand where else they can look. It might be in the same company in different role, or outside the company. At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in the best interest for the people.

Here are some of the questions I like to ask to help someone plan for their future.

  • What type of experiences do you want to have?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are your requirements for managing life/work balance?
  • Do you want to be an individual contributor, or do you want to be a manager?
  • Who are your mentors? If none, who would you want to be your mentor?
  • What do you not want to do? What do you dislike?
  • What types of people do you want to learn from?
  • What makes you curious?
  • Who do you have empathy for? Who can you help?

If you begin to ask questions like these you will begin to unearth a lot of insights that ultimately help people put themselves in control of their work, their future and ensures the company has a talent pool that is heard and motivated to perform at their very best in the most consistent way possible. 

Related: What Are Performance Reviews Really About?