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How to Conduct Employee Performance Reviews That Reduce Stress Too many leaders limit the potential of an effective assessment.

By Nadine Greiner, Ph.D.

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You've likely conducted many performance reviews and been the subject of many more. How much time do you put into your employees's performance reviews? Do you consider the process merely a formality? As a leader, your team's success depends on an effective performance-review process. The key is to put employees in charge of their performance reviews and destiny. When your team members don't feel that they have control over their situations, it causes what's called situational stress. It's the same feeling we feel when confronted by danger, like a house fire, and it triggers a fight-or-flight response. The amygdala, a group of neurons in your brain, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, the brain's command center. The brain senses danger and activates the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine are released, and blood pressures and heart rates rise.

If you structure the performance-review process well, you'll avoid this SOS-type response, because your team members will feel in control of their situations. You'll empower your team members to boost their performance, advance in their career and reduce their stress levels. Here are four steps that you can apply to create a performance-review process that enables your team to thrive.

Related: It's Time to Reinvent Your Performance Reviews

1. Map out expectations.

Your employees need to have a map to tell them where they should go. If they don't, they'll get lost at sea. Ambiguity causes anxiety. When anxiety is prolonged, it increases cortisol in the body. This takes a heavy toll and leads to clouded thinking and impulsive reactions. You can set your employees up for success by clearly outlining how they will be evaluated and how often. It's important to dig deep and outline key result areas and indicators of success. These performance standards will help you avoid surprises when having difficult performance conversations. You should also outline how often your team members should expect feedback and in what format. Will it be annually? Quarterly? Monthly? If your team members don't know how they'll be evaluated, they're likely to fall short, which will only cause both of your stress levels to increase.

2. Provide ongoing feedback.

Your team members grow quickly, develop new skills quickly and can also veer off-track quickly. Strong, constant communication ensures a cohesive environment and boosts morale. When employees understand their company's direction, they feel more secure. When feedback is constant, it becomes an expected source of welcome pulse points. When structuring your performance-review process, try to use a diversity of data points. You should include 360-degree reviews, real-time feedback and self-evaluations. All data points are valid. When feedback is constant, your team members will appreciate that they can quickly correct behavior rather than needing to wait for an annual review. The entire experience becomes less stressful -- even welcome. I dedicate a section to this notion in my book, Stress-Less Leadership.

3. Use performance reviews to create individual development plans.

When delivering performance reviews, it's important to evaluate how each of your reports can improve. You should have an ongoing individual development plan for each of your reports that you can refine and add to. You should include the skills and competencies they need to build in order to boost their performance and advance in their careers. The more concrete you can be, the better. Try to identify specific skills and behaviors that can help them. When your team members have roadmaps to improvement that are based on evidence, they are more engaged, perform better and are less stressed. As a leader, you're also less stressed knowing that your employees are growing in their roles.

4. Provide extra support for poor performance.

Research has shown that working with poor performers is a primary cause of stress in the workplace. Whenever possible, go out of your way to help your poor performers. Face-to-face discussions are always more effective to deliver performance results, but these conversations can be difficult. Ease the stress by coming from a place of understanding. Start by explaining once again how they've been evaluated and why their performance is at its current level. Try to use concrete examples and evidence rather than opinion. Next, tell them that you empathize with their situation and want to help them succeed. It's important to have the difficult conversations but not to be judgmental. You shouldn't assume poor performers know their performance isn't up to par. Finally, refer back to each individual development plan and explain what's included and why. You should map out actionable steps for them to improve performance. This can include performance training, shadowing, focusing on certain behaviors and skill development. When you make feedback actionable, it becomes concrete and is easier to digest. Your team members will be less stressed when they know how to improve, and so will you and the rest of your team. It's stressful to work with, or be surrounded by, poor performers.

Related: 5 Tactics for Transforming Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are ever-present in the workplace, but too many leaders limit their performance by conducting ineffective reviews. You can stand out. Effective performance reviews are the best way to understand how you can help your team succeed. What's more important than that? As a leader, it's your responsibility to set your team up for success, so use these four steps to conduct performance reviews that propel you and your team to new heights. Most importantly, take good care of yourself.

Nadine Greiner, Ph.D.

Human Resources Executive

Dr. Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. is a Human Resources executive. Her book, 'Stress-Less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and Life,' was published by Entrepreneur Press. She believes that the world needs great leaders and has dedicated her career to helping them.

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