Taking time to prepare for a thoughtful performance review can set up the year for continued success, improvement and development.
In my last column, I shared best practices for writing an effective annual performance review. In this post, I will provide strategies for making the evaluation meeting more comfortable, conversational, and meaningful.
Most performance evaluation meetings are stressful and ineffective. According to Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve, and only two in 10 strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
Taking time to prepare for a thoughtful and meaningful conversation can set up the year for continued success, improvement and development. Even if an employee is underperforming, you can still facilitate a discussion that is clear and honest and encourages improvement. Follow these guidelines to facilitate a conversation that is much less stressful for you and your employee!
Prepare Each Employee
An important step in preparing for the conversation is to prepare the employee for the evaluation process. If your credit union uses self-evaluations, let each employee know that their self-evaluation is an important part of the performance management process and that you rely on them to take time to be reflective and honest. Encourage the employee to include specifics about accomplishments, lessons learned throughout the year, improvement areas, progress on goals and career development goals in the self-evaluation.
Providing guidance to team members before the meeting with increase the likelihood of a meaningful and productive conversation. Let your team members know that the meeting will be a conversation discussing the past year and the upcoming year. You may want to suggest that employees come prepared to discuss their:
- Goals for 2023 (Are there any particular goals the employee feels are relevant or important for the upcoming year?)
- Top two accomplishments from the previous year
- Top two areas of development or improvement
Prepare a Performance Snapshot
I recommend creating a simple performance snapshot/summary sheet that you can refer to when facilitating the evaluation conversation. This provides clarity for the discussion rather than looking through the written evaluation for information. You can still refer to the evaluation and point out areas to the employee, if necessary, but the summary document ensures that you cover all the main points you want to highlight.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are completing the performance snapshot/summary sheet:
- What is the main message I want to convey to this employee?
- What do I want the employee to get out of this meeting?
- What specific feedback is important for me to cover?
- What is working well?
- What is not working well?
- What would success look like in the upcoming year?
Create an Opening Statement
When facilitating the performance appraisal meeting, engage the employee in a discussion rather than directing the entire conversation. Avoid reading through the evaluation line by line.
One best practice is to start the conversation off with a statement before moving on to asking questions to facilitate the conversation. Here’s an example of an opening statement:
“We’ve had several conversations throughout the year, and what I’d like to focus on today is a recap of successes and development areas and to provide clarity for how to make this year successful. This is meant to be a dialogue—I want you to share what goals and areas you would like to focus on, and I can provide any clarity that will help support you.”
Use Questions to Facilitate a Conversation
Next, facilitate the discussion by asking the employee questions.
- How do you feel about your overall performance this past year?
- What do you see as your strengths?
- What do you see as your development opportunities?
- In which areas do you feel you need the most improvement? Or, what are two areas you would like to focus on improving this year?
- What are your professional goals? What types of projects or tasks do you want to take on this year to develop your skills?
- What do you feel was your biggest contribution to the organization this year?
- What can I do as your supervisor to support you this year?
There are many open-ended questions that will facilitate a rich and meaningful discussion. Since ideally you have had many coaching sessions throughout the year where you provided the employee with feedback and coaching, you should not need to spend a lot of time focusing on past performance. Instead, focus the discussion on the future by asking future-oriented questions. This sets the foundation for a successful year for the employee. A good thing to remember is that you as the supervisor should talk less and the employee should talk more.
Even if the employee is not meeting expectations, you can end the discussion by expressing encouragement around improvement. For example:
“There are several things we have discussed today as well as over the past six months that need significant improvement to meet expectations this year. As your manager, I am here to support you in improving and contributing to the team. I’d like to continue to meet weekly to review goals and provide support. With continued focus, you have the opportunity to meet your goals next year and make a positive impact on the company.”
Principles for a Meaningful Conversation
Below are guidelines of things to do and not do for a successful evaluation meeting.
- Facilitate an open conversation rather than direct the meeting. Recap the previous year, and keep most of the discussion future-focused.
- Focus on performance, not characteristics. (Avoid absolutes like “always” and “never.”) Avoid judgmental language.
- If an employee is not meeting expectations, use the coaching approach to shift ownership to the employee. (Facilitate, don’t fix.) Examples of questions:
- This area has been a challenge for over a year. What are your ideas for improving this going forward?
- What can you do to make sure you are here on time?
- What will you do ensure this area is addressed this year?
- Involve the employee in the goal-setting process. You should bring ideas that relate to moving the company forward and ask the employee to also bring ideas.
- As much as possible, end the session in a way that leaves the employee inspired to continue great performance or improve performance.
- Follow up on the goals, development opportunities and improvement areas after the evaluation conversation in regular meetings and coaching sessions with the employee. Make sure you are tracking performance (goals, challenges, and improvements) throughout the year.
- Direct the meeting while the employee listens. You want to employee to be an active participant in the conversation. Asking questions is a great way to facilitate a dialogue.
- Give general feedback. Instead, be specific, clear and use data and examples.
- Avoid the tough conversation with an underperformer. This is your opportunity to be clear and set expectations for the coming year.
Planning & Planting Seeds
Planning for the performance evaluation meeting should start much earlier than most leaders think. Most of the challenges and stress leaders feel around this process have to do with poor planning.
NOW is the time to start planting the seeds and planning for a successful performance evaluation season. Preparing a performance snapshot and opening statement will help you facilitate a meaningful, engaging conversation to set up the coming year for success.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or email@example.com.