Make performance reviews productive


I find myself reluctant to do performance reviews, and feel almost apologetic to employees when I schedule them. Perhaps it is the formality involved, or the fear of criticism that makes performance reviews take on an atmosphere of tension.

I find myself reluctant to do performance reviews, and feel almost apologeticto employees when I schedule them. Perhaps it is the formality involved,or the fear of criticism that makes performance reviews take on an atmosphereof tension.

Yet once we have completed them, the employee and I usually agree thatthe review was a valuable experience.

Real purpose

The purpose of a performance review is well summarized by the phraseitself-it is a time set aside to review the job performance of a specificperson employed by you or your company.

If conducted properly, it serves to reinforce positive behaviors, andto discourage negative ones. It also allows the employee and manager todiscuss future plans, with ideas freely shared and discussed. It shouldalso allow the employee a chance to give the manager some feedback.

Three-part outline

I structure employee reviews under a three-part outline.

First, I ask them to summarize their perceptions of their strengths intheir position. Then, I ask them to list "opportunities to improve,"which is a more positive term for weaknesses. Finally, I ask them to tellme what changes they would like to see in their area of responsibility,and what role they want to play in those changes. I tell the worker thatI will come prepared to discuss the same subjects, and that we will thenturn the tables, and they will give me a performance review.

Give specifics

As I prepare my comments for the employee, I make sure I can list specificsituations that explain my comments. This allows them to really relate tothe feedback I am giving them.

For example, I recently listed "innovative" as a strength ona manager's review. If I had let it go at that, this person may have beenpleased, but also uncertain as to what led me to see them as innovative.Therefore I cited a specific problem that I knew this manager had solvedin an innovative manner.

Listing the example demonstrated that I was familiar with this particularsituation, and strengthened the positive effect of the feedback.

In a similar vein, under "opportunities to improve", I hadlisted "attend to paperwork promptly". This came from a coupleof occasions where delays in paperwork had led to problems. At the review,I referred to these situations, and made sure the manager saw the importanceof improving in this area. Without the concrete examples, the general observationis far less powerful.

Start with positive

When I actually sit down with the employee, I ask him to begin by reviewinghis strengths. The employee is often nervous, and may minimize his attributes.I have honestly never experienced anyone overstating his or her good points.

After he finishes, I usually support the list, and add to it from myown, being sure to cite examples.

We then move on to what he sees as areas for improvement. The employeeoften notes the same areas as I, and sincerely wants to do better. Again,I build on his observations, and add to them if indicated.


We next proceed to ideas and/or plans for the future.

If the person I am reviewing is a manager, I want to see some clear planning,with goals and action lists. If the person has less responsibility, thenI am mostly seeking ideas. I always ask how the employee sees his own role,and then inquire about what he needs from me. I make sure I write down hissuggestions, because I do not want to ignore them. I try very hard to implementsome of the employee's ideas, and to at least give consideration and a laterresponse to ones I decide against.

Tables turned

Once we are finished with the employee, we turn to me. I will have preparedthe same information on myself that I asked him to do, and will share itwith him. I then ask him to evaluate me. Most of the time I get favorablecomments, but some harsh ones have emerged as well. I take the criticismsseriously, and let the commentator know that I appreciate his honesty. Wewill also review future plans from my viewpoint.

When I have completed the review, I make two copies of the portion dealingwith the employee. He receives one, while the other is filed with his record.

No surprises

Many managers do not do formal performance reviews, because they believethey have good communication with employees, and that they give informalfeedback on a daily basis. This type of interaction is certainly importantand effective. Indeed, if either the reviewer or the employee is truly surprisedby the formal evaluation, then a lack of effective communication exists.

Although informal feedback is important, it does not replace the formalreview. Performance reviews should be done at least annually, and more oftenif special circumstances make it appropriate.

I suggest you set up a schedule to review your entire staff. Give themadvance notice, let them know what to expect, and make it happen. You willbe pleased you did!

Dr. Gardner is director of animal health and herd economicsat Keystone Agway. He also consults with dairy practitioners on practicemanagement.


Table 1: Employee Review Worksheet

* List your strengths as it relates to your job here.

* List areas where you can improve.

* What changes would you like to see made? List anything youwant.

* What role would you like to play in these changes?

* How can I help you bring about these changes?

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