​Giving a constructive performance review is an art. While you want to encourage employees to strive for higher levels of success, you also want to point out where they can improve. Test out these tips and tricks for giving the best possible performance review in your next one-on-one!

Tip #1: Choose the right timing.

Many companies choose to give reviews on an annual, twice annual, or quarterly basis. While these reviews are an excellent opportunity to connect with your employees and provide feedback, they probably shouldn’t be the only time you’re giving performance reviews. For many companies (and their employees), the best time for a performance review is right after each completed project. This accomplishes several things:

  • It ensures that the content is fresh in the individual’s mind.
  • It allows you to give project-specific examples in a way that is current and relevant.
  • It ensures that you are able to build a culture where feedback is prioritized. When your employees know that feedback comes regularly, they might become more comfortable with the entire process and less likely to experience stress concerning those reviews.

Tip #2: Be direct in addressing problems.

When you know that an employee is having problems, whether with a coworker or with a specific aspect of their job, it’s important to address the concern directly. If you want the performance review to have a constructive outcome, you need to clearly define the problem. Try this:

  • Let employees know what problem you have observed using clear, concise language.
  • Provide concrete examples. For example, “I noticed that you had a hard time hitting deadlines on this project. You were late with X and Y, and Z was very close to the wire.”
  • Listen to the employee’s feedback. Sometimes, you may discover that the employee had a good reason for why they performed a task the way they did.

Tip #3: Point out what employees are doing well.

Yes, a performance review is an amazing opportunity to help employees improve their regular job efforts - but that doesn’t mean you want to spend the entire review offering “constructive feedback” which thinly veils critiques. Instead, take the time to build a positive connection! Find the things that the employees is already doing well and make a point of commenting on them. You’ll find that when an employee knows they are well regarded for something they do right, they will take more pride in it. Afterward, they may show better efforts than before. By building employee engagement, you can often achieve a greater willingness to work on any problems that come up during a review.

Tip #4: Brainstorm solutions together.

You’re the boss. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the perfect solution for every problem your employees face on a daily basis. In order to make the most out of a performance review, brainstorm solutions with the employee - especially for ongoing problems. Coaching isn’t just about throwing your opinions out there. It’s about working with your employee to decide what to do next.

Consider this scenario: an employee is habitually late to work because they need to drop off a child at school before work. The employee confesses that the child often drags his feet, causing the tardiness. You might suggest that the employee arrive at work fifteen minutes later and tack those fifteen minutes on at the end of the day, if that works for the office schedule, or you might be able to offer suggestions that can help streamline the morning routine.

Tip #5: Avoid language that could be perceived as a personal attack.

When you address a problem that an employee is dealing with, talk about the situation, not about the person. For example, “I’ve noticed that you arrive late most Wednesdays,” addresses a situation. “You’re the latest person in the office!” is a statement that the employee may perceive as a personal attack. When an employee feels attacked or threatened, they may be less likely to address the behavior, and they may have a poor opinion of you and the company as a whole. Instead, deploy soft skills and try:

  • Using neutral language
  • Discussing potential solutions together.
  • Addressing concerns, not personal issues with an employee

If you’re worried about offering feedback to an employee that you don’t get along with well, consider bringing another employee into the office while you have your discussion. The presence of another person can help smooth out those jagged edges, and that individual may be able to offer a little feedback about how you’re handling the situation.

Tip #6: Build on current feedback sessions.

It’s not just about immediate progress—you also want to be sure that your employee is making steady progress over time. Remember, growth doesn’t happen overnight! The fact that you’ve addressed a problem once doesn’t mean that the employee will immediately correct the behavior. Make a note of your current feedback in the personnel file so that you can come back to the discussion again in the future. Talk with employees about both the progress they have made and the areas in which they still need to improve.

Tip #7: Create a quantifiable way to measure success.

When you ask employees to make big changes, you need a way to measure them. As part of your performance review, create a way to measure the employee’s progress. Create SMART goals that are both measurable and attainable: setting them too high could have employees struggling to reach those goals! Consider building in a rewards system that will allow employees to see their continued progress toward their goals. You might offer more flexible working conditions, extra time off, or small rewards as your employees reach each new goal.

Effective performance reviews take effort, but if you put in the work to make a professional relationship with your employee, you will often discover that you can more effectively handle these challenges and help both of you achieve success.

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