Blog: Performance review survival guide for managers

The quality of the outcomes you are able to achieve are a reflection of both the approach you take and how well you are able to respond to questions or challenges from the person being appraised, writes Karen Gately.

The quality of the outcomes you are able to achieve are a reflection of both the approach you take and how well you are able to respond to questions or challenges from the person being appraised

Performance appraisal meetings are among the most dreaded events on the business calendar. For many managers and staff, they are little more than an imposed process that causes stress and sometimes conflict. 

Do you find yourself stepping up to the task with trepidation? Do you avoid getting appraisals done or fail to regularly appraise your people altogether?

For many of the managers I meet, facilitating performance appraisals is among the most challenging aspects of being a leader. 

The most important question you need to ask yourself is whether the performance appraisal meetings you facilitate add value and enable your team to be more successful.

Manage your approach

The five most important things you need to do as a manager to drive an effective performance review are:

1. Be respectful
Regardless of how they have performed, everyone deserve to be treated with respect. The way you communicate during reviews has an impact on the trust people have in you and ultimately on your ability to influence their performance and engagement.

2. Be Fair
Make sure you are consistent in how you appraise the performance of every member of your team. It’s critical that you avoid favouritism, leniency and inequitably harsh judgment. Make sure you listen to feedback you receive about obstacles and challenges and make fair compensations.

Karen Gately3. No surprises
Never give constructive feedback for the first time in a performance review. There is no justification for waiting until a review and taking someone by surprise. Performance management is an ongoing process and it’s reasonable for people to expect that if something needs to change you will tell them along the way. It's unfair to hold someone accountable for something they didn’t know needed to be done differently.

4. Consider more than your own perspective
You should approach every review with an open mind and a willingness to shift your perceptions if new and valuable insights are offered. To help people accept your final decisions, it’s important that you encourage them to participate in their own review and then consider their perspective before crystallising your own decisions.  

5. Be Courageous
Never back away from your responsibility to provide honest feedback. While constructive feedback can be difficult to deliver, it's a manager’s job to help their team succeed by giving them honest insight into how they are performing. Never allow push-back to too readily influence your decisions. Don't let being challenged undermine your commitment to giving appraisals that are accurate reflections of both the outcomes and the behavioural standards achieved.

Prepare for push-back

Delivering honest feedback and holding people accountable for the standard of contribution they have made can be a challenging thing to do. It can be especially difficult when the people you are dealing with are resistant and closed-minded to honest feedback.

Some people simply avoid accountability and are reluctant to take ownership for the quality of their work. 

Reflect on the self-appraisals you receive from your team and reflect on each person you are dealing with. Anticipate those who may choose to push back and prepare to respond to others just in case.

When faced with someone who is resistant and not willing to take ownership of their performance, confirm your understanding of the team member’s reactions and use these tips to respond:

  • Disagrees with your description of their performance: Provide more accurate or objective observations that include the team member’s experiences, along with other facts the team member may not be keeping in mind. 
  • Agrees, but cites factors that were beyond their control: Ask them to reflect on the things that were in their control and what they could have done differently. Provide suggestions if necessary: identify ways you could have helped had they chosen to seek your support. 
  • Agrees, but does not see why it is important: Describe the importance of the issue – how it affects them or the team. Expect that they work in line with agreed policies and processes. Invite constructive feedback but enforce agreed standards.
  • Agrees, but says their intention was different: Offer observations on the difference between the person’s intention and the actual results of their behaviour or performance. Remind them that they are accountable for the outcome, irrespective of their good will. 

Karen Gately is a leadership and people management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A practical guide to getting the best from people and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people.

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