There's no point in sugarcoating. Performance review time can be pretty awful, whether you're giving or receiving the review. Here are three ways to bring everyone's anxiety down a notch.
Performance reviews have been ubiquitous in the corporate world for a long time -- whether anyone likes them or not. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, some major companies like GE, Microsoft and Adobe have done away with the performance review, but if you don't work for one of these companies, it's likely you still have to deal with the dreaded task.
Here are some steps that you, as a manager, can take to make the process more positive and collaborative, and less threatening and anxiety-inducing:
Keep the process open-ended
Adobe's new approach replaced traditional performance reviews with a new "check-in" system where employees are encouraged to set their own expectations each year and create a plan for growth and development. And they get feedback on a regular basis, instead of just once a year. The advantage here is that conversations can flow more freely and with less discomfort because discussions about performance occur with such regularity that employees already know how their managers feel about their work. When employees don't receive regular feedback, they're wondering whether their work is on the mark or not, which only contributes to more anxiety.
Develop a work plan that you and the employee can build and measure against
This plan should include goals and projects as well as how the employee is performing them. When an employee understands the game plan up front and how his/her work is contributing to the company, the employee feels he/she has more direct control over performance and results.
When you're setting up goals, be sure to be specific about expectations. Employees, especially if they are new to the company or just starting their careers, don't always know how to best define work-related objectives. They will look to you as their manager to help define these for them. These goals should be clearly stated, for example, "Successfully complete the xyz project and train all system users by Jan. 1, 2017."
Give the employee the benefit of the doubt
Your own performance as a manager reflects in the performance reviews of your employees. If your own job has kept you busy and you find that you are hurrying to complete an employee's performance review and you really haven't had time to assess the employee's performance on your own, slow the process down and make sure that you do. Too often, managers rely on secondhand input from downstream supervisors and fail to develop their own observations--which could turn up a different impression of how an employee is doing his work than how others say the work is being done.
The big takeaway here is that it's a good idea to keep ongoing collaboration and feedback with your employees so performance reviews don't come off as surprises. Another helpful tip comes from a post by Sharlyn Lauby, an HR blogger: "One other thing I'd suggest - ask the employee to give you some feedback. Ask for suggestions on ways you can improve as a manager.