5 Steps to Constructing and Conducting a Solid Annual Review


Take the stress out of conducting annual performance reviews with these five steps from an experienced manager. They'll help you ­– and each member on your team – grow professionally.

When I graduated from college, I couldn't wait to tackle my first "real world" assignment. At that time, my career focus was solely project-based. Eventually I transitioned into a role where I also managed processes and – deep breath – people.

For many new managers (and some seasoned ones), the thought of being responsible for aspects of another person's career is a little scary. Overseeing your direct reports' day-to-day duties as well as encouraging their professional growth can seem like a daunting task.

As such, there are devices that supervisors must have in their toolbox for effectively managing creative people. Akin to a Swiss Army knife, the annual performance review is one of the most essential and versatile tools at your disposal. You can use the annual review to spark conversation, carve out and define goals, tighten up weaknesses in performance, and shine a light on achievements.

But the question many managers ask and desperately want the answer to is: What are the steps to constructing the best annual review possible? I've learned it begins well before you type anything in an official review document. The following five steps will help you build a solid annual review as well as a stronger bond with each member on your team.

1. Open the door to service leadership. It's incredibly important for managers to adopt a true open door policy and serve their staff. From their first day on the job, each member of your team needs to understand that your biggest goal is to make sure they're successful. Ask them what you can do to support their performance and professional growth throughout the year. Then, when the time comes, make the annual review conversation a safe zone where they can open up and share honest feedback about their performance­ – and your performance as a manager. Listen intently, jot down notes and take their comments seriously. Over time you'll be able to decipher the constructive from the destructive and become a better leader.

2. Ask employees why their roles exist. This is a great first question to ask each of your direct reports to contemplate and document on their self-evaluations. You want to make sure employees clearly understand how their roles and daily responsibilities impact the productivity of the group and help the company achieve its big-picture strategic objectives. The answers can be surprisingly enlightening for both you and your team contributors. The discussion that ensues will hopefully open their eyes to the fact that they (individually) are important to the organization's bottom line. With a little guidance, your direct reports will begin to see, more clearly, the forest for the trees.

3. Set a time to take the meeting outside. At times, I've found there's nothing worse than conducting an annual review meeting from behind a desk or sitting in a cold, gray-walled conference room. Location, location, location is one of the most important components in setting the right tone for a collaborative annual performance review. Together, choose a comfortable, relaxed location away from the office that is conducive to having a constructive conversation.

I've found that a quiet spot in a local restaurant, especially if it's your employee's top pick, is a great place to facilitate an annual review discussion. When you meet, turn off your phone and any other "alerts" that will distract you from participating in a focused and meaningful conversation.

4. Keep the conversation going. The annual review is not a once-a-year cumulative event, but rather a 12-month working process. It's a continuous, two-way conversation between the manager and employee that crescendos in a collaborative document. This document can highlight perspectives on the employee's accomplishments, behavioral expectations, skill assessments and development opportunities. The conversation should continue into the next year with new goal setting and the repositioning of existing objectives.

5. Stop keeping score! Employees gauge their performance not by merely meeting or exceeding expectations. In many cases, employees measure success or failure by examining the percentage increase in their paychecks. Encourage your organization to stop keeping a numerical scorecard and invest their money in stellar performance. The homogenization of your employees' performance impedes innovation and breeds mediocrity.

Nothing will discourage a top performer more than finding out he or she received the same "meets expectations" designation as a known underachiever who is just barely getting by. Benchmark your firm's creative salaries and push for a clearer definition of what excellence means within your organization. Be an advocate for eliminating the scorecard.

A well-crafted and candidly delivered annual review is critical to the development of each contributing member on your team. These five steps will help you build a year-round performance review that guides both you and your employees onto a path of professional excellence.

Related post: 7 Tips on Giving Feedback to Employees