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4 Ways to Avoid the Worthless Annual Performance Review and Give Valuable Feedback

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It's the of year for something both and bosses dread: the performance review.


An employee walks into his supervisor's office for his scheduled 15-minute review. The boss looks down at his notes and tries to remember how the employee did on a project that finished nine months ago. The employee tries not to yawn as he listens to comments that are no longer relevant to what he's currently working on.

Related: You Can Know What Employees Are Doing Without Being Big Brother

Once the review has gone on for an appropriate amount of time, the employee goes back to his desk and both he and the supervisor forget about it.

This type of unproductive annual performance review has become all too common. A 2014 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that if HR professionals could grade the effectiveness of their organization's performance management, 35 percent would grade it a C or worse. Only 2 percent would give their company an A.

It's time to change how we evaluate performance. Here are four ways to make reviews more useful for both employees and employers:

1. Let employees choose the date.

Deciding that all employees will have their reviews in November might make scheduling easy, but that doesn't make it the best time for each employee. By letting employees choose when they meet with you to discuss how they are doing, you can prepare to provide more relevant feedback.

For example, for a team leader for a project, having his or her performance review when the project ends gives timely feedback to consider. With the project, and the leader's part in it, fresh on both of your minds, you can better evaluate performance. The leader can easily look back at the project and understand what gave you cause to praise or critique his or her actions.

By allowing employees to choose when they are evaluated, it also quickly eliminates any disconnects between employees and employers. Perhaps an employee asks for a review because he or she thinks he or she has been doing particularly well the last few months. The employee might be right, and you have nothing but good things to say. However, if you have a different opinion, it's brought out in the open and weaknesses can be addressed before months have passed.

2. Incorporate peer reviews.

Employees spend more time with their peers than they do with their superiors. They have a better vantage point from which to evaluate performance. Adding this level to reviews gives you and employees a more detailed picture of how they are doing.

Related: 3 Reasons You Should Kick That Annual Review Tradition to the Curb

Have employees anonymously fill out surveys about those they work closely with. Instead of just having them rank skills on a scale of one to five, leave questions open ended to receive a more personalized depiction of each employee. For example, if you ask an employee's peers to describe him with three words, his most standout skills and qualities will come to light.

3. Provide ongoing feedback.

It's naive to think that fitting a year's worth of feedback into one annual review will be effective in improving an employee's performance. Anything you say will either be a vague comment about the overall position or a specific, but possibly outdated, critique.

The Brandon Hall Group's 2014 survey of 223 companies found that 32 percent reported that using ongoing feedback also improved employee engagement. It helps employees connect better with their work and how their contributions are viewed by management.

Checking in with employees on an ongoing basis allows them to address weaknesses quickly. Instead of being overwhelmed with a whole list of strengths and weakness, they can process and focus on them one at a time. This also gives you the opportunity to effectively recognize achievements right after they happen.

4. Address employees' personal goals.

Performance reviews shouldn't be viewed solely as a way for employees to improve for the company, but also for them to improve in their careers. Whenever you talk to an employee about his or her performance, also ask about personal goals and discuss ways to achieve them.

For example, if an employee tells you he'd like to start taking on more roles, offer him ways to gain experience. If your company has a leadership program, enroll that employee in it or find a mentor that can work with him to develop his skills. The next time you meet with him, be sure to tell him how you think he's improved as a leader, and ask if he feels like he's accomplished his goal.

This will not only show your employees that you care about their future with the company, but also that you want to help them along their career paths. Your employee reviews will not only be beneficial for the company, but also for the individual employee.

Related: 10 Ways to Have Better Check-Ins With Your Employees

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