How to Handle Employee Performance Reviews Productively

Performance reviews. The meetings that only the most deranged person would actually look forward to but are very necessary for employers to keep everyone on track, and for employees to learn how they can improve and advance in the company.

Performance reviews are kind of an interesting enterprise because, though they seem like a simple activity on the surface, they’re actually quite complex and require some delicate consideration on the part of both the employer and the employee.

If you’re the one conducting the review, you can easily turn the meeting into a complete waste of time, or worse, into an interaction that negatively impacts the employee. To make these performance reviews productive and positive, it’s good to use a few specific elements, and that’s what you’ll learn from the ideas in this post.

Don’t Pull Your Punches

Don’t Pull Your Punches

You’re doing both the individual and the company a disservice by pulling punches with employees during performance reviews. There are a lot of important matters to be discussed during these meetings.

If you beat around the bush with those issues, then it’s going to be the first thing that will impair the productivity of the meeting. That’s why you want to go straight at those issues, right away. Don’t warm up to it by flattering the employee in some way or stalling, and don’t water it down.

It’s actually a good strategy for performance reviews to get the tough stuff out of the way first, so you can then take the remaining time with an employee to reinforce your support of them and come up with a plan of action for ongoing improvement.

Let the Right Person Conduct Performance Reviews

Let the Right Person Conduct Performance Reviews

There’s no place for being afraid to say the hard things when you’re advising employees on what they need to change. If you find that you can’t tell someone what they’re doing wrong, then you should consider letting someone else conduct the reviews, as it is of the utmost importance that the employee understands the aspects of their performance that need to change.

Not only will the problems the employee is having never be solved, but they also won’t grow as a person, professionally, as well as personally. Performance reviews may be just another item on your to-do list for the day, but for the person you’re interviewing, it’s all they’ve been thinking about for weeks. The person whom you are reviewing is concerned about the meeting.

They’re looking to you, as the facilitator, to let them know where they’re really at with performance, and as much as it may hurt, that person wants you to tell them where they are falling short because there will probably not be another opportunity for them to hear it.


Provide Helpful Solutions

Another common mistake owners make when they’re conducting these reviews is that they simply tell employees everything that they’re doing wrong or badly, without offering any help or telling them how they can improve it. This is a key aspect of the interview that you cannot forget to address.

It’s true that the nature of a performance review is to judge employees concerning where they are falling short because that’s obviously important information which the person needs to know for their job, as well as for the employer to determine what course of action needs to be taken based on that assessment, if any action needs to be taken.

What you should focus on even more carefully during the review, however, is actually working with the employee and coming up with a good plan for the next steps that should be taken to remedy any deficits or problems they’re having, so that they can be more successful at their job. That is a task that will probably be ongoing and will take place after the review is finished, but it is an opportune time to start the process.


Employees Look to You for Direction

Many times, the individual has poor performance in a given area because they don’t know how to do it well or properly, and no one has taken any time to assist them with it. It should be understood, of course, that an employee is responsible for understanding what their job is and performing that job as agreed with their employer; however, there are sometimes lapses in proper instruction for aspects of the job they’re charged with.

There can also just be some gray areas that you didn’t anticipate. For example, an employee may have a primary duty for which they are responsible, but certain tasks that are required to complete that duty might be undefined or unforeseen by the employer. That means they’re going to have to figure out how to get it done on their own because it was never discussed when they were hired.

Those are the kinds of things that can be resolved during a performance review. It’s on them to bring it up during the review, but you should also be prepared to come up with a plan for getting that person the training or resources they need to complete the task.

They Can Benefit from Your Experience

They Can Benefit from Your Experience

Giving someone a few tips on what they need to do to improve can make all the difference in the quality of their performance, too. If you recognize an area where your employee is struggling to succeed, even though they know exactly what they’re supposed to do, you can make the review with them a lot more productive by using your experience to explain some things that will help them to be better.

It’s not productive to simply tell them that they need to shape up and figure it out. Naturally, some employees such as those in upper management should probably be expected to figure out a lot more on their own, but even then, you can still help them on their way to having greater success in their position.

Sometimes, an employee is not doing very well in a certain area because they’re not applying themselves or simply don’t care, but that tends to be the exception and not the rule.

Give Employees the Opportunity to Speak

Give Employees the Opportunity to Speak

Very often, the person conducting the review has specific items that they want to go over with the employee and doesn’t give them a chance to voice his or her thoughts. Performance reviews happening within companies all over the world right now (if they’re even handled in-person) consist of a facilitator or owner reading through a list of results.

The list contains some points that they’ve compiled from an assessment of someone’s work performance, then giving the employee a printout of those points, and then saying, “Thanks, have a good day!”. That’s definitely not how it should go down.


Try a New Approach for More Productive Reviews

Depending on your approach to these reviews, you might think that’s perfectly sufficient for the meeting and that nothing else should be done. This article probably won’t do much to convince you otherwise, if that’s the case; however, if you’re not sure you’re handling reviews positively, or that there may be room for improvement in how you handle them, then hopefully, this will be helpful to you.

You can learn a lot about the reasons for poor performance on the part of an employee by hearing them out. That is not to say that it will excuse the poor performance, but it can provide valuable insight into what is causing it to happen. You can then offer informed counsel for someone, to help them to solve those problems.


Remember the Value of Your Employees

Listen to what your employee has to say about what they are having trouble with, how their days are going at the company, etc. These people are the ones who make your business work. Without them, your business couldn’t even function on a daily basis, so it’s a good idea to hear what they’re struggling with because when you help them to improve, you’re helping your own company to improve.

Sure, you can always just fire them because you don’t want to spend the time helping them, but then you’ll just have to take on all the extra time and money required for adding a new employee and most likely end up with the same problems with the new person, anyway. You’ll know when you really need to fire somebody.

You just might want to consider the possibility that there is a deficiency on your end, instead of automatically assuming that an employee is just incompetent. Taking a closer look at how their overall experience is, as an employee of the company, can reveal to you what needs to change about how the company operates.

Lay Out a Clear Plan for Improvement

Lay Out a Clear Plan for Improvement

Once you go over everything an employee is doing poorly and doing well (which is another point to touch on, by the way), it cannot end there. You can’t just say, “Ok, so that’s it, then. Good luck.”

You need to lay out a plan following the review, that gives the employee some direction for improvement from that point, on. As a business owner, it probably won’t be much of a challenge for you to come up with some specific directives that an employee should focus on to solve any issues that they’re having with certain responsibilities or the level of their performance, in general.

This is something that is lacking in performance reviews and has been for a long time. Most of the time, the meeting consists of (as we mentioned already) listing all the points where the employee is coming up short or missing, and then the employer or manager simply directs the employee, “So, do better.”

If nothing else, there should at least be a rough timeline for how long you expect it to take them to solve the issues they’re having, along with some advice for how they can accomplish that.

Set Achievable Goals and Offer Help

Set Achievable Goals and Offer Help

When an employee gets “demerits” from you during a performance review, they’re already scared about the possible consequences if they don’t improve. You’re only adding to that sense of apprehension when you just tell them to, “do better”, without giving them any direction at all. One great strategy you can use is to provide them with specific goals that they should reach, and that within a certain timeframe.

Setting goals for them and then going over each one during your meeting is an excellent way to get positive results because they will know exactly what to do from that point and won’t have to waste time figuring out how to formulate a plan, which might not be the way you would have them go about doing it, anyway. This way, you’ve already formulated the plan of action for them. Without a plan, things will likely continue exactly as they are now.


Concentrate on Productive Meetings

If you take a different approach to your performance reviews, you will begin to see more positive results in the work your employees are putting out. It’s a fairly nerve-wracking experience for an employee to meet with you for a performance review.

So, they could always speak up and ask you how you would suggest they go about improving the areas where they’re coming up short, but they might either be afraid to ask or feel that it would be inappropriate to ask.

You will naturally make it easier for them to ask for help if you cultivate an environment within the company that has very open communication between you and your employees, but even if you don’t have that advantage, you can turn your performance reviews into a conversation that is productive, rather than a speech given by you that just lists all of the errors someone is making.

If you are not conducting regular performance reviews, in the first place, it’s something you should start doing right now because it is so important for keeping all of your operations running smoothly and making sure your team has everything it needs to be successful. If you do already have regular performance reviews with all of your team members but don’t see any difference as a result, then try out these tips to increase the productivity of those crucial meetings.




Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

StephanieHow to Handle Employee Performance Reviews Productively