Performance reviews can bring up a lot of negative emotions. Anxiety, dread, annoyance — you name it. But often, these feelings stem from the fact that performance reviews are usually disorganized and rushed. Not to mention, they can have a reputation for doing more harm than good.
To avoid the onslaught of paperwork and accompanying productivity disruption, many companies favor having annual performance reviews. But while annual reviews should account for the last 12 months of performance, oftentimes managers and employees have trouble reflecting on more than the last few most recent months.
While many companies have turned to more continuous feedback models to meet employee preferences, very few have completely done away with annual or mid-year reviews. According to a WorldatWork survey, 91% of companies conducted formal reviews in 2017. In fact, companies with strong performance management programs usually combine ongoing feedback with a traditional review cycle, said Jill Panall, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, an HR consultant with over 21 years of industry experience and owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, which offers services for small and growing businesses.
“I encourage all of my clients’ managers and leaders to have performance conversations constantly throughout the year. They shouldn’t wait until a formal review to bring up course corrections and changes,” said Panall. “That way you can catch issues sooner, keep people on track, and show employees you’re committed to their development and career growth.”
Mid-year reviews are the perfect way to hold employees accountable while investing in and growing your existing talent. And importantly, they ensure that your staff is on track to hit their annual goals. Here are eight simple steps to streamline this process and make it as successful as possible.
First and foremost, mid-year performance reviews provide an opportunity to formally sit down with an employee and evaluate their performance. While annual reviews aim to reflect on the entire year, mid-year reviews should touch on your employee’s work over the last two business quarters. You’ll want to evaluate how successful your employee has been at meeting or exceeding expectations.
As a manager, in addition to evaluating your employees’ success, it’s also helpful to have them rate their own performance. Instruct employees to fill out a performance review self-assessment prior their mid-year review meeting. The assessment should address performance against goals, strengths, and areas for improvement. This exercise helps employees reflect on their performance and think critically about opportunities for improvement and growth.
While 96% of employees say receiving regular feedback is a good thing, 35% say they have to wait more than three months to get formal feedback from their manager. It’s important to take time during the review to tell employees how much you appreciate their contributions, and share constructive criticism about how they can become a better teammate or improve their skills. Giving and receiving feedback can be a difficult skill to master, especially if you’re a new manager, so see if your organization offers or can recommend any training on this subject. Even if you've been a manager for a while, everyone could use a refresher on this topic.
When it comes to giving feedback effectively, these steps can guide your conversation. Start by sharing what an employee is doing well and give them a chance to share what they think they could improve on. When the conversation shifts to more constructive feedback, try to remain positive, focus on facts rather than feelings, and stay future-oriented as you deliver your thoughts. Be mindful of balancing the conversation with a mix of both critical feedback and positive comments about what the employee is doing right.
This is probably the part of the conversation your employee is most eager to get to. If they’ve taken on significantly more responsibility, expanded their existing skill set, or consistently met or exceeded goals, they may be expecting a title or compensation change. Anticipate that they’ll broach the subject or be prepared to bring it up yourself. Just be aware of any formal salary review timelines your company has in place, as out-of-cycle salary increases might require a more stringent approval process.
The top two reasons employees leave jobs are salary and career advancement opportunities, according to a Glassdoor survey. Having compensation and title conversations during mid-year reviews could encourage employees to stay with your company longer and continue to work hard and give their all. If an employee knows they have to wait a year to get a raise, promotion, or accolade, they might be more tempted to leave your company in the meantime.
Use mid-year reviews as an opportunity for your employees to share any roadblocks, inefficient policies, or workplace conflicts that may keep them from meeting their goals. This will give you insight as a manager into how you can make their day-to-day work easier and more efficient. Doing this will help you retain top talent and show top performers you care about their experience with the company.
But remember, these conversations should be a part of weekly team or one-on-one meetings so you can address issues as they arise. Waiting until an annual or mid-year performance review often results in a too-little-too-late situation. By then, your employees might be off-track for completing their goals or already have one foot out the door.
Performance reviews should not only touch on an employee’s work, but also address whether or not they’re happy and challenged at work and how as their manager you can help shape their workplace experience. So be sure to ask about this and make space for it in the performance review conversation. And if an employee seems burnt out, encourage them to take time off or discuss shifting responsibilities off their plate or deprioritizing tasks.
This is also the right time to have larger career conversations, ask about employees’ areas of interest, and discuss professional development opportunities. You could help your direct report brainstorm ways to use their professional growth stipend (if offered), or ask if there are any cross-functional projects or areas of the business they would like to learn more about.
If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s that things can change quickly. But when we set employee goals at the beginning of the year, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s around the corner. New information, shifting business priorities, or even a pandemic might make goals outdated or ineffective. Whatever the cause may be, sometimes you need to be willing to pivot and update company goals in times of change.
While employee goals and progress should be evaluated and tracked long before a mid-year performance review, these reviews present an opportunity to review goals and adjust them as necessary. Just be sure to formally write down employee goals or enter them into any HR software your company uses to hold your employees accountable. This will also help you easily track employee progress and see if any further adjustments are needed.
You should always address performance issues as they arise. Don’t wait until a formal performance review to inform an employee they’re not meeting expectations because by then it could be too late. That said, a mid-year review is a good time to review any existing performance plans you have in place. Or, if an employee hasn’t been meeting their goals, you can reassess and set new short- and long-term goals and establish a performance improvement plan.
While companies should continue to hold employees accountable for their performance goals, it’s crucial to lead with compassion. This is especially necessary this year, said Tim Reitsma, HR consultant and cofounder of People Managing People, an online community for people leaders.
“Given employees have been working from home the past few months and dealing with COVID-19, it’s important that managers try to be more understanding when employees aren’t performing,” said Reitsma. “When bringing up missed targets or opportunities for improvement, remember to be compassionate. These have been particularly stressful and uncertain times and some of your employees might be feeling the effects of the pandemic more than others.”
Listen to your employees and encourage them to let you know if they’re struggling. Employees could be dealing with the loss of a loved one, or be juggling a full-time job on top of full-time parenting. Seek to get to the root of their performance issues and work with them to create a realistic, sustainable improvement plan. And make sure to set clear expectations, timelines, and consequences so employees know how and by when they need to change their habits.
Once mid-year reviews are complete, the real work begins. Now your employees need to act on the feedback you shared with them. Additionally, you might have your own action items to attend to from any feedback or requests they shared with you. Whether that’s advocating for a raise on behalf of a top performer or encouraging a direct report to invest in their professional development, you need to continue to address employee performance and satisfaction throughout the year.
One conversation every six months is not enough to keep your employees happy and engaged at work. Incorporate continuous feedback into your weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly check-ins to keep your employees — and yourself — accountable.
While performance reviews can feel like a chore, they play a crucial role in helping your business and employees grow. Building a company culture that values and engages your employees starts with ongoing feedback and recognition.
Whatever your company’s approach to performance management is, take time to not only hold employees accountable, but also invest in their growth and happiness. Performance reviews should benefit your employees just as much as they do the company.