The Interpersonal Side Of Performance Reviews

Make Sure You Package The Process Well, Both The Functional And Face-To-Face Parts.

I only remember two things from the performance reviews I have had during my career. One boss told me, “we could have hired someone right out of high school and they could have done as well,” and another boss said, “do you mind if I back-date this so I don’t get in trouble with HR?”


I do not remember the ratings I received, the raises I got, or anything to do with the outcomes of the performance review process itself. All I remember is the two negative things that were said to me.

I have seen a number of companies that have pretty good performance review processes, but they do not train their managers to execute the face-to-face, interpersonal parts of the review. So, managers stumble through explaining the rating, focus too much on the negative, do most of the talking, and try to get it over with as fast as possible.

Annual performance reviews are uncomfortable for both parties involved. Employees do not like to be evaluated, and most managers do not like being put in the position of having to evaluate others. This is the time, however, that employees get summary feedback on how they have done all year, which is very important. If both parts of the process, interpersonal and functional, are not handled well, the employee is left with less than good feelings about the process and the boss.

Some things for your to consider, from the standpoint of the interpersonal part of your reviews:

Be an active listener. Listening is not sitting quietly, waiting for your turn to talk. It involves asking good questions, rephrasing, clarifying and checking for understanding. Certainly, you as a manager have a lot to say to your employee, and you need to make sure your employee has the opportunity to verbalize his/her perspective also. Good listening skills are imperative all the time, but never more so than in a performance review setting.

Watch your body language. Non-verbals account for over 90 percent of communication, so try to be conscious of rolling your eyes, making eye contact, body position, vocal tone, and other parts of body language. We have all heard the phrase “your actions speak louder than words”. That truism plays out in dramatic fashion in a performance review.

Four positives for each negative. As humans, we focus much more on what has gone wrong than what has gone right. Do you remember the time your teacher scolded you in front of everyone? Of course you do. Do you remember when they praised you in front of everyone? Probably not, or it is not as clear as the scolding. The world of work is no different. We hear the negatives so clearly that they often block out the positives. As a manager, you want your employee to hear the positives and keep doing them. To get that to happen, it takes roughly four positives for each negative.

Ask how you can help. With each performance review, there will be areas that your employee will struggle with. If it has become clear to you that the employee cannot achieve the goal, or master the behavior on their own, ask them how you can help. It is your job, as a manager, to set employees up for success. One way to do that is to offer help when they need it. Of course, you have to make an action plan with that assistance and follow-through with it.

Summarize. People tend to remember what came first and last in performance reviews. Given that, make sure you have a very solid summary at the close of the session. Be clear on who is going to do what as action items, and try to end in an upbeat fashion. This is your opportunity to help the employee feel like they can conquer the world.

Performance reviews are a vital part of developing your employees. The functional parts of the review are only one part of that development. How you handle the give and take, and interpersonal part of the review can make or break your success as a manager, and the development and success of your employees.

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