3 Easy Ways to Make Performance Reviews Less Painful

The dreaded performance review. A 20th century tool being used to measure 21st century skills. How can a conversation that happens 1-2 times a year measure creativity, innovation, risk-taking, or collaboration?

It can't.

But many of us are stuck with them because change is hard and feels scary and oh my gosh how will the company measure and reward people without performance reviews?

Most of us are going to be stuck with a formalized performance review process for the foreseeable future. But we don't have to use a 20th century approach to completing them.

  1. Old approach: Save up feedback and share it all during the review // New approach: Give feedback consistently in 1:1 meetings and use the review as a summary. I strongly believe that performance reviews should be 100% no surprises. Nothing new. Nada. Not a single constructive comment (or even positive feedback because managers should be telling their employees all the time what makes them awesome) that the employee hasn't heard before. One way to achieve this is to have regular 1:1 meetings throughout the review period. Most people feel uncomfortable giving constructive feedback. A 1:1 meeting can provide a platform for the manager to deliver feedback so that it feels less daunting. The alternative is that without this platform, most managers will save up all of their feedback and only give it at the performance review.
  2. Old approach: Write a novel using as many big words as possible // New approach: Solicit feedback from colleagues and incorporate it into the review. Ask the employee to choose 8-10 colleagues (from a variety of levels and departments). Then, send one email to that group (BCC everyone - this is one case where BCC is appropriate) asking two questions: What are this person's greatest strengths? What are their greatest areas of opportunity? Use this feedback (anonymously) in the review to create a more well-rounded and beneficial conversation. If you've been giving feedback regularly, the areas of opportunity that emerge won't be new information.
  3. Old approach: Schedule the review conversation in a conference room and don't talk about it until the meeting happens // New approach: Be open and transparent. Reviews are nerve-wracking. Know what's even worse? Having the meeting pop-up on your calendar and then pretending it isn't there because your manager isn't saying anything about it. Reviews aren't secret. Ask your employee when they want to have the conversation instead of scheduling it at the end of the day (who wouldn't read into that and immediately think the conversation is going to be bad?!). A few days before the conversation, tell them you're looking forward to talking about all of the great things they've done during the review period and are committed to the conversation feeling open and positive. Reassure them you're not going to surprise them with anything new.

If we have to continue to use performance reviews as a measurement of success, let's all agree to start calling them Performance Summaries. The phrase changes our mindset and approach to the process and makes it easier for everyone to endure.