How to Turn Performance Reviews into High Performers

According to one study, 90 percent of people feel that performance reviews are painful and ineffective. Ouch. On the other hand, 78 percent of employees said the recognition that often occurs during reviews is motivating and 92 percent agreed that when delivered appropriately, negative feedback is effective at improving performance. If so many employees find reviews painful while also considering feedback essential and effective, the disconnect must lie in how the performance review is conducted. 

What Isn’t Working

Employee development and engagement is critical to the success of any business. In an attempt to deliver quality feedback and help people understand what they are doing well and learn what areas need attention, companies routinely turn to the annual performance review.

For many, this experience can be stressful, or even worse, lack the specificity and value that employees (and organizations) need.Over time, employees are called into an office with their supervisor, where they sit and listen to a list of things he or she has done right and wrong over the past year. While the employee listens to feedback, they are rarely engaged in a balanced discussion around their development. 

Most employees stress as their review meeting gets rescheduled around other priorities. They watch as their colleagues walk into their reviews and anxiously await their return in hopes of getting an idea of what their own review might look like based on the experience of others. In most cases, employees take away a few key things to work on; however, in general, most are happy to have simply survived the process and are glad to have it over with.

On the management side, preparing for annual performance reviews is a long, tedious process that requires completing complex assessments to determine how well employees have met vague markers such as “revenue goals,” “client success,” and “leadership.” While these goal posts are essential to the overall success of the company, they are often difficult to explain to workers concretely and are even more troublesome to translate into everyday actions one should or should not take.

It’s time to scrap the old notions of what a performance review should consist of and how they are delivered and instead develop a better way of communicating with your employees so they can effectively improve while also being recognized for a job well done. That’s why the LAK Group believes that focus should be a cadence of performance development discussions, not reviews.

Performance Reviews that Work

The annual review may remain an important part of the employee development process, especially when it is time to consider raises and promotions. However, they should not be the only or even the most important part of an evaluation procedure. Employee performance is not a “set it and forget it” proposition, it should be focused on development and career growth.

Additionally, we suggest that management meets regularly with workers to create an environment of ongoing conversation and support. Every workplace is different, so determining a reasonable time frame for these discussions varies. Weekly meetings may be too frequent and disruptive to the overall workflow, while meeting every six months may be too broad to encompass the finer details that may get lost or forgotten over such a long period of time. That’s why we suggest customizing your approach to performance discussions based on the situation or needs of each individual.

During these development discussions, collaborate with each employee to set goals and expectations for the next three, six, and twelve months. Remember, this isn’t a time to only list the good and the bad; it is a time to focus on achievements, both met and unmet. Along with your desires for employee development, ask each employee what he or she would like to accomplish and how you can be supportive of those ambitions. Be specific and develop a plan that includes what both you and the employee are going to do to meet business demands while maintaining each person’s passion and enthusiasm for their position and career growth.

Lastly, use yearly reviews as a consolidation of a yearlong process of development discussions and performance feedback. In accounting, annual reports are built by aggregating each month’s figures into one that represents the entire year. Do the same with employee performance discussions.

Productive Performance Meetings

Once you change the structure and frequency of employee performance reviews, it’s time to focus on the purpose of these reviews. We recommend shifting the focus from “performance reviews” to “performance development.” Transform the experience by engaging in discussions that demonstrate how leaders and employees can collaborate to harness their capabilities, inspire optimal performance, leverage their strengths and effectively meet business goals.

Performance discussions should be relaxed and conversational. Create an atmosphere that focuses on delivering an engaging dialogue, not a one-sided presentation; you want each individual to feel like he or she is picking up where the last conversation left off and that they have space to share their point-of-view. The objective is for everyone to feel that you are all working together to ensure that the needs of the employees are met along with the goals of the company.

Keeping this in mind, preparing for reviews means taking the time to create an experience for each employee that is as unique to them. Don’t use a cookie-cutter approach; instead, consider the personalities, results and strengths as you prepare to meet with each employee. When each discussion concludes, provide follow up and action plans that employees can review after they leave the meeting.

These action plans should include key points of the meeting and a review of the goals set along with job plans and expectations for the time until the next meeting. Again, make sure these are specific and unique for each person and be sure to include any actions that the company or managers will be taking on the employee’s behalf (i.e., training seminars or other developmental support).

A Continual Process

In one survey, almost every employee stated a preference for addressing learning opportunities in real-time rather than a one-time review process. From immediate supervisors to the executive suite, your entire management team should be engaged in an ongoing process of developing skills and rewarding achievements on a daily basis to avoid anxiety over and surprises during performance reviews. These informal moments are what drive the most success and job satisfaction in virtually every position in any company. Regular performance reviews should be a roundup of these moments rather than a substitution for them.

If you have any questions regarding your organization’s performance reviews, or you would like to review your current process for efficiency and effectiveness, please contact Mike Grubich at 262-786-9200 or via email at