Robert Schooling

For many companies, performance reviews fall at the end of the year heading into the New Year. This can be a stressful time for employees and their managers alike. After 20 years of participating on both sides of a performance review, I've noticed that most people don't like hearing "constructive feedback" and most managers don't like giving it.

Let's face it. Most people want to be liked, and telling people things they don't want to hear is awkward—at best.

So, with that in mind, let me suggest a few rules for managers that will make everyone happier in the long-run.

  1. Get your facts straight. Don't make general observations. Offer feedback (positive and/or negative) based on specific instances of behavior and performance.
  2. Honesty is kindness. Pulling your punches doesn't do anyone any favors in the long run. Of course, feedback should be respectful, but it needs to be real feedback—not squishy platitudes. Feedback also has to confront the tough issues and be clear about the consequences. For this to work best, it needs to be consistent throughout the year.
  3. Top performers need feedback too. One of the hardest things as a manager is to review top performers and find helpful, constructive things to tell them. This is for two reasons: first, they may well have fewer areas where they need to improve; and, second, there may be nervousness about alienating those top performers when things are going so well. However, without feedback, top performers may assume that they are doing everything right until years later when weaknesses become more pronounced.
  4. Avoid surprises. If you are giving feedback, it should be generally consistent with what you've shared over the course of the previous year. Of course, if you unearth issues through your due diligence process that you weren't aware of during the year, you should share those, but also figure out how you can do more to identify those issues earlier on.
  5. Don't focus on irrelevant weaknesses. Sometimes, reviewers spend their time focusing on relatively small areas of weakness rather than recognizing core strengths. Go into a review with a clear sense of what is important for that particular employee's growth and hone in on those issues.
  6. Use the review to communicate values. Fundamentally, the review is an opportunity to reinforce the values of the organization. Every manager needs to understand and embrace those values and use the review as a chance to reinforce them.
  7. Focus on the future. Reviews are given to successfully set employees up for what happens next. While summarizing feedback on past performance is helpful for context and goal-setting moving forward, the majority of the review should focus on the exciting, new adventures that lie ahead.

With these guideposts in mind, all of us at Reservoir wish you a happy, productive, and even cheerful—review season!