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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Making the Grade

Written by  Hannah Genslinger


The words “performance review” may, for some, call to mind a nightmarish scenario straight out of the movie Office Space, complete with a dull, ineffective interview process and angry employees. Unfortunately, there are certainly some businesses where the film’s satirical exaggeration of performance reviews is not such an exaggeration. But the good news is that your business need not be one of those bad examples.

The following five tips are aimed at making your employee performance review process easier and more effective for everyone involved:

1. Be honest, but avoid negativity

While the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” may not be scientifically sound, your review will be much more effective if you focus on the positive aspects of an employee’s performance. One of the primary goals of performance reviews should be to motivate your employees rather than merely chastise them for their shortcomings. Caveat aside, your employees are adults, and you don’t need to handle them with kid gloves. Do not insult or attack them personally, but directly address aspects of their performance where there is room for improvement. Give constructive advice and set clear, attainable goals, when it comes to the ways in which they can improve their performance.

2. Review performance periodically, not all at once

A basic mistake is scheduling only one evaluation per year for each employee. Conducting performance reviews only once a year puts an unnecessary amount of stress both on you and your employees. Like a college course that hinges on just a single cumulative exam, this practice will make everyone in your company a nervous wreck and harm your chances for productive dialogue. You also run the risk of evaluating an employee only on his or her most recent performance instead of gaining a more comprehensive outlook. Schedule your reviews at least four times a year, and keep records of your employees’ successes and weak points in the interim. Additionally, speak with an employee’s coworkers and other supervisors in order to get a broader picture of his or her performance.

3. Be prepared

Approach your reviews like a Boy Scout camping trip, but rather than remembering to pack matches and gauze, you should prepare your evaluation forms and practice your discussion topics ahead of time. The meetings with your employees should be neither entirely scripted nor entirely improvised; going in unprepared will waste your time and theirs. It’s only fair that you also allow your employees ample opportunity to prepare for their reviews. Give each employee a copy of the evaluation form in advance of his or her meeting with you. This will serve to assuage nerves and lead to fewer deer-in-headlights situations in the conference room. Some companies require their employees to evaluate their own performance before the interview, and then the two assessments are compared side by side. This gives the employee the chance to honestly examine their own skills and actions, which helps provide for more effective dialogue during the review.

4. Facilitate open communication

Communication is a two-way street. You can make your employees feel like their input is welcomed by asking open-ended questions and conducting the meetings in a quiet area free of distractions, so you can give them your full attention. The conference room should be comfortable for a small discussion (no yelling from opposite ends of a long table) and you must be ready to commit as much time as is necessary to conduct a thorough dialogue. Another bonus of having multiple reviews throughout the year instead of one end-of-year evaluation is that you will not have to choose between spending a ridiculous amount of time in each individual meeting or cutting short valuable discussions.

5. Make it personal

Especially for owners of small businesses, where the company culture generally supports a more tightly-knit community, an essential part of any performance review is personalization. Each of your employees wants to feel needed and valued. Though a checklist of performance criteria is useful for guiding the discussion, you should maintain a healthy level of flexibility. You are not a robot, and neither is your employee. Take into account your employee’s personal goals and try to align them with the goals of your company.


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