How To Make A Performance Review Effective And Productive By Liz Sebag‑Montefiore

The annual performance review process has fallen out of favour in recent years. Regular, timely, and more informal check-ins work better, particularly for administrative and knowledge workers. The CIPD says: “Many organisations are moving towards more continuous feedback, rather than relying on annual or six-monthly reviews, which is a positive change.”

Where line managers conduct performance reviews it’s essential that preparation is put in place so they are effective and productive; the problem is that managers, even those with HR experience are rarely trained to handle performance conversations. 

Good employees seek feedback in order to improve performance and enable personal development; what they don’t want is a retrospective critique of past performance. They need forward-looking guidance and encouragement to enable a proactive approach to career management. A constructive career conversation makes the process more relevant and effective. Here, Liz Sebag-Montefiore of 10Eighty explains.

Optimise performance

To engage and motivate employees the organisation should adopt a strengths-based and employee-centric approach to enable optimal employee performance:

  • Keep the review positive and constructive – encourage employees and express appreciation of their contribution; positive reinforcement and constructive feedback can afford workers the confidence and drive they need to perform better. Regular constructive conversations facilitate the improvement of performance over time, making the process more relevant and effective. Don’t aim to criticise and blame, aim to boost productivity. If a review only addresses fixing issues or less than optimum performance, it will likely miss the opportunity to shape future growth, and inspire innovation, creativity and collaboration within the team.
  • Make it about improvement – a performance review should aim at betterment of performance, employee, team, culture and ultimately the wider organisation. When giving feedback, the start point should be an examination of outcomes related to goals. Ideally, before providing feedback it’s best to start by asking the employee’s view about their performance. Most people will have assessed this and have a good idea about what’s working well and where they need to improve; bear in mind that people like hearing that they are improving and that their work is being noticed.
  • Focus on opportunities – good employees want learning, growth and development in their career path. A team look to their managers for guidance and support in terms of career development; and, by helping them to improve, grow and develop, the organisation enhances productivity, effectiveness, wellbeing, and job satisfaction. Ask what support the organisation can provide that will help the employee achieve their goals? As well as addressing performance, it is crucial to look at what the employee aspires to achieve, where they want to be next year, and how they see their career path developing.
  • Make it employee-centric – adopt an employee-centred approach to enable optimal employee performance. Talk in terms of what’s important to the employee; what they like doing and what they are good at; i.e. the support needed to enable their aspirations, development and personal brand? Be specific, a review should build on knowledge of what’s important to the employee at work, and what their strengths and aspirations are.
  • Talk about strengths – a strengths-based approach tends to use a coaching style and be future-focused, which is what makes it effective. Don’t ignore issues or below par performance, but as a default, focus on what’s working well and how strengths can be applied so that someone can fulfil their existing role even better. Research, not new but still relevant, suggests: Focusing on strengths in performance reviews leads to a 36% jump in performance versus a 27% decline when focusing on weaknesses. (Corporate Leadership Council 2002).

Real business transformation is predicated on an understanding of what makes employees tick – what top performers do, how effective managers create engaged and collaborative teams to drive productivity, innovation and agile performance in a super-competitive landscape. 

A performance review process is only truly effective when it allows managers and employees to improve their lives at work and make the organisation more effective.

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