8 ways to bring humanity back to the employee performance review

Monday, February 15
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Difficult conversations have always been just that: difficult. Even when you have to deliver bad news to someone that you are comfortable with, it just doesn’t get any easier. When it comes to employee performance reviews, we sometimes get so caught up in the emotions that we forget to take a step back and look at the task at hand. Employee performance reviews can be a great opportunity to help someone get back on track if they’ve maybe been falling behind. Don’t forget, if they were doing too poorly, they surely wouldn’t still be with the company.

Instead of diving into the statistics and getting lost in translation, let’s go over some quick tips on how to be more human at your next review.

  1. Be open and honest with your review. One of the most important things we forget as managers and Human Resources staff is that we sometimes have more information than our subordinates do. Sometimes that information rightfully deserves and demands to be kept confidential, but sometimes we can share it with the employee it involves. If the employee you meet with seems confused, lost, or genuinely concerned with a disconnect, level set with them and try to find common ground.
  2. Always maintain a specific set of goals and metrics when possible. Setting clear guidelines for how an employee should behave and perform at work will cut out most possibilities for genuine confusion between management and employees. Using quantifiable metrics, employees are able to see both their growth as they improve, but also their slack if they do start to fall behind. This allows for both of you to know where you are at the review and where you would like to be by the next time you decide to meet.
  3. Using the employees official job description helps to bring things full circle as well. After we’ve been on the job for a long time, it becomes easier and easier to forget what our job specific duties and responsibilities were when we first got hired. Take time to return to the job description to give everyone involved a refresher. You may find out that the employee who seems overwhelmed and has been underperforming is doing so because they’ve taken on responsibilities that are assigned to someone else.
  4. Try sandwiching the bad news. Think of the bread on both sides as something positive and the good stuff in the middle is, oddly enough, the negative. This begins the conversation with something that will make both of you feel more comfortable, gives you time to honestly discuss the issues that may be occurring, but then let’s both of you walk away from the conversation with a game plan and optimism for the outlook. Peanut butter and jelly works best if you think of the PB&J filling holding it all together. The negatives should really just be room to grow, holding the already good pieces together and making it all better in the end.
  5. While we as managers/HR may have the most well-rounded understanding of how the performance review criteria works because we may very well have had a hand in developing it, our employees may not share that sentiment. It is a good idea to do two extra steps to give our struggling (and even overachieving!) employees an extra leg up. Test out the option of peer and personal reviewing as part of the overall performance review as well. If an employee is struggling with issues at home, with their health, or with a private or professional relationship it is very possible that they might not ever mention it to us, but they might just mention it to their friend at work who is by their side all day. A peer review could give the employee the extra boost they need and could give you some insider information on what’s happening at your workplace - news that may not always make its way to your desk. 
  6. The other compassion you can bring to the review is to give the employee an opportunity to see and process their review before meeting with you. If the review is positive, the employee may have some of their own issues they would like to bring up, but could get distracted with the good news and let it fall by the wayside. If the review is negative, the employee could feel so overwhelmed that you both end up losing the opportunity to come together.
  7. Always offer genuine, manageable solutions to whatever concerns you’ve addressed during the performance review. If we are to give employees a list of the things they’ve done wrong or poorly, we must also be prepared to coach them on how to get and do better. Metrics based reporting or Behavioral Anchored Rating Scales offer honest reviews that showcase the areas where an employee would need work.
  8. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask them to review you as well. Letting them feel accountable for holding you to task will build rapport and community. That doesn’t mean they should be speaking inappropriately or being disrespectful to any coworker, but it does gently remind everyone that we are all human.