This article originally appeared in Forbes
HR managers who are willing to foster a culture of open communication on a regular basis may be able to eliminate any surprises or uncomfortable conversations prior to performance evaluation submission dates.
To do this, schedule monthly 1:1 meetings or team collaboration sessions in order to spark some early and meaningful dialogue based on what employees truly need to help them improve on a current performance level that may be lacking or continue to exceed their individual and department goals.
Below are 14 tips from Forbes Human Resources Council members to help executive leaders make the annual performance review process easy and stress-free for department heads and their direct reports.
1. Create Individual Development Plans
One way managers can make performance reviews as easy as possible is through the use of individual development plans. With consistent check-ins, monthly or quarterly, by the time a manager is expected to complete a performance review, they will already have one year of documentation assessing the employee’s performance. – Cheney Cherry, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation
2. Provide Advance Notice With Clear Instructions
Managers can make their team’s performance reviews painless by taking a few easy steps. It is important to send clear instructions with plenty of time in advance to allow the employee to properly reflect and prepare. Sometimes the review process can be too time constraining, which can be a disservice to the employee. The company can also invest in a performance review platform to streamline the process. – Mark Sinatra, Aspen HR
3. Be Consistent And Empathetic
There is so much value to be gained from consistent performance reviews for both employees and managers. For example, at PainTEQ, we’re firm believers in consistent communication coupled with clear empathy. We start all reviews with rapport building to strengthen the human connection aspect prior to diving into performance. This provides the perfect balance for an effective and seamless performance review. – Cally Stanphill, PainTEQ LLC
4. Stay Authentic And Engaging
The key is continued authenticity and engagement in two-way communication. With consistent and clear communication on goals, challenges and successes, the performance review process will ultimately be organic, and nearly effortless, for all involved. It becomes almost a reference document of discussions and work that has been taking place throughout the review period. – Bernadette Robertson, GLIDE Foundation
5. Schedule Regular Meetings
Performance should be reviewed every month, during a 1:1, where expectations are clarified in a simple and measurable way. Consistency, frequency and content are the keys to effective review discussions. Be consistent with your meetings by never canceling unless it’s completely unavoidable. Engage frequently at least a minimum of once a month, but every other week is even better. For content, providing information on how to measure goals and objectives is key. – Steve Lowisz, Qualigence International
6. Utilize Auto-Generated Reminders
Utilizing a nimble and efficient tech tool, with regular touch points, within a performance review process is essential. Require the forms to be auto-generated each month to ensure feedback is given and recorded. It’s hard to change behavior, so start here. – Andrea Jones, FuelCell Energy
7. Start With Why Performance Matters
Start with why an employee’s performance matters. For example, you could say, “The project you are managing will help children have better access to technology.” Then, discuss what percentage of the performance rating is determined by what gets done versus how it is done. Finally, establish regular check-in meetings to address roadblocks and maximize impact, focus on development and celebrate progress. – Julia Brandon, Lenovo
8. Normalize Feedback Through Multiple Settings
Normalize continuous feedback, which can occur in many ways like recurring 1:1 meetings, real-time suggestions after a meeting, presentations and peer reviews or 360 evaluations. No matter the vehicle, the key is open and honest communication. If you have a traditional annual review process, what’s being said at the end of the year should never come as a surprise to your employees – Stacey Woods, XPO Logistics, Inc.
9. Align Performance Levels With Value-Based Behaviors
It’s not just if you hit your performance goals, it’s how. Ensuring that performance is tied to value-based behaviors helps amplify the culture of your organization and your team. If you are living your values as a team, these tenets should naturally be part of how people operate and can provide a clear and consistent standard of conduct for performance evaluation. – Megan Barbier, Jumio
10. Don’t Replace Conversations With Reviews
Performance reviews should never be a tool to replace bad management behaviors. Nothing from them should be surprising, and they should not be used to replace ongoing conversations (specifically, the difficult ones if performance is not at desired levels) or goal-setting throughout the year. They should never be used to stack and rack people, manage out nor reward based on predetermined numbers. – Russell Klosk, Accenture
11. Treat It As A Collaborative Opportunity
I find collaborative working sessions with my team to be extremely effective. In many ways, it’s a combination between regular 1:1 meetings and a review where we are collaborating to resolve a particular business challenge or eliminate roadblocks that keep us from achieving our goals. It’s a teaching opportunity combined with ongoing feedback that’s also effective for strengthening relationships. – Sanja Licina, QuestionPro
12. Ask Questions That Prompt Meaningful Dialogue
Focus on writing a review that will lead to a meaningful conversation. Ideally, managers and employees won’t spend more than an hour on the document. I like to share the review at least a day in advance so people have time to read and reflect. Don’t read the review to them line by line. Instead, start with a question like “Were there any surprises?” or “What should we make sure to cover today?” – Mikaela Kiner, Reverb
13. Offer Transparency
Transparent reporting is key and can help to identify hurdles. How long does the team take to interview, complete admin tasks or provide feedback? Reviews should also focus on what resources the team needs to perform at its best. Do those involved in the hiring process have access to candidate profiles, interview guides and rating scales? Are there barriers to operating more efficiently? – Sean Fahey, VidCruiter
14. Focus On What Will Help Employees Succeed
Performance reviews are outdated and such a pain for both the leader and the employee. I believe we need to take a step back; reviews need to become discussions. Start discussions on engagement, coaching employees and ensuring that they have what they need to be involved, perform and have an impact daily. That’s it! Leaders need to focus on what the employee needs and wants versus what the leader needs. – Sophia Nardelli, Bath Fitter