7 Best Practices for an Effective Employee Performance Review

An employee performance review is a formal assessment of an employee’s work performance. These reviews help foster open communication between managers and team members about performance and may help improve employees’ work going forward.

Need a form to perform a performance review of your hourly employees? Download this employee performance review template for free.

So how do managers go about these assessments? Try these 7 tips to help you conduct an effective employee performance review:

1. Prepare Beforehand

If you can plan ahead for an employee performance review, it means you have a system and process you take seriously. 

Planning ahead for the review might mean:

  • You have a copy of the employee’s personnel file with you.
  • You have documentation or notes from previous reviews (if they are not already in the employee file). This includes the goals and objectives you and the employee discussed at the last review.
  • You have any forms or reports you need to fill out ready to go.
  • You’ve spoken with any supervisors or coworkers according to your review process, and have that information handy.
  • You have copies of recommendations (or complaints) from managers, coworkers, or customers.
  • You have performance data (sales, productivity, etc.) relevant to the type of review you are conducting.
  • You’ve gone over all data, comments, and documentation and made notes of possible questions to ask.
  • You’ve told the employee the date and time of the review, giving them adequate time to prepare.
  • You’ve given the employee forms or questions to think about ahead of time based on what your review process allows for.
  • You’ve alerted them to whether or not you expect them to also review management, so they can think about it ahead of time.

Note: Performance reviews should be planned separate from promotion/pay increase conversations.

When an employee thinks the conversation about their performance will affect their pay, they may speak more cautiously and avoid sharing potentially beneficial information in order to protect themselves.

Consider a performance review a place to encourage professional development, and create a separate review for promotions and pay increases, even if the latter is held just a few days later.

2. Use Tactful Communication

Before you sit down with any employee, go in prepared to use thoughtful communication that will build up your employee, not tear them down.

Performance reviews should avoid swaying all negative or all positive. Being overcritical will likely demotivate the employee; but on the other hand, there’s almost always something that could be improved.

Tactfully sharing positive attributes alongside the items that need work will help the conversation feel more balanced, and ensure your employees don’t feel attacked.

Note: In general, anyone conducting employee performance reviews should have experience or knowledge of diversity training.

If your company has a diversity training program, your reviewer should definitely participate. Hopefully, the different ways cultures and people work and communicate are part of this training so that a reviewer can understand each employee’s background.

3. Provide Concrete Examples

Have examples prepared for both achievements and areas of improvement and share them throughout the review.

Being able to cite specific instances of behavior to employees proves you’ve truly done your homework as a manager.

This type of communication is much more effective than simply saying what your team member has done right or wrong. It shows you’ve been paying attention and gives your feedback more credibility.

4. Try 360 Degree Feedback

360 degree feedback is where each employee receives anonymous feedback from those who work around them. This includes co-workers, managers, and anyone whose paths they might cross.

These people fill out a survey responding to questions about the performance, behavior, and competency of the employee. The employee also takes the same survey as a form of self-review.

This system offers a form of checks and balances which gives coworkers a chance to supply information about what’s happening in a way you might not be able to do. However, this method isn’t meant for measuring “hard data” items, such as job attendance or sales performance.

If your performance review tends to fixate on the measurable numbers, 360 degree feedback is an excellent way to broaden those results and discover ways your employees make your culture great, even if they aren’t standouts in the numbers game.

5. Put Performance Requirements In Your Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook should be clear on how your performance review program works, and what is expected of each employee in regards to performance, attitude, attendance, sales, and so on.

This includes:

  • What your review process is, and the timeline it occurs.
  • What supervisors and managers expect of employees, and what employees should expect of them.
  • What leads to an employee being fired instantly (e.g. theft), and if, in other cases, they’ll receive a written warning for their personnel file before the danger of being fired is real.
  • Performance, attitude, teamwork, ethics, and any other benchmarks that you will cover in a review and that you expect employees to meet.
  • What the end results of reviews might be (e.g. you won’t get fired, you might get a pay raise)

Clearly lay out your entire employee performance review program in the handbook, and go over it with each new hire.

For one thing, making this clear helps reduce fear and dread among employees. It also helps protect you legally, which is why you should work with your legal counsel when developing employee policies relating to firing.

6. Make Performance Reviews an Ongoing Process

Instead of annual, set reviews, employees should be given clear expectations and have regular feedback (positive and negative) with managers.

These periodic times of feedback are based around a time schedule that works best with the particular job the employee has. Is the employee working in four week shifts? Set the feedback loop at four weeks, for example.

What’s the benefit to this approach?

  • You can make micro-adjustments to employee performance instead of trying to push big changes through once or twice a year.
  • You find out about good (or bad) employee performance trends and capitalize on (or put an end to) them early on.
  • You get a better understanding of what’s happening for all employees as it’s happening instead of making shocking discoveries the next time a perfunctory review rolls around.
  • Employees work as a team instead of competing against each other.

You can adjust your employee performance review methods to adopt a progressive and continual approach that is punctuated with a periodic standard “full” review. This makes the review less jarring for everyone involved.

7. Track the Impact of Reviews

Look back on your goals you established for each of your employee performance reviews. Ask yourself:

  • Does performance get better afterwards, or is it hampered?
  • Do employees seem more confident, or are they hesitant?
  • Has morale increased or decreased?
  • Are the changes you suggested for improvement happening in a positive way, or at all?
  • Do you notice employees quitting their jobs at a greater rate after reviews?

If the results of your employee performance reviews leave things worse than when you found them, it’s time to make a change to your review process.

Employe performance reviews aren’t there to weed out “bad” employees.

Instead, reviews are critical to determining salary or wage increases, promotions, needed correction, and an overall sense of what’s happening in your workforce. By using these eight approaches to your performance program, you’ll be able to treat your employees as what they really are: your most valuable asset.

7 Best Practices for an Effective Employee Performance Review