LeaderTips: Easy steps for effective performance discussions

1. Create clear goals
2. Keep notes all year
3. Have frequent discussions

It’s the beginning of the year and you finally finished performance discussions with all of your employees for 2018.  Writing those took forever and was painful!  Thank goodness you don’t have to think about that for another year.  No…wait!  There’s a better way to do performance discussions that is faster, less painful and actually effective, but you have to start now.

Step 1: Create clear goals

Preparation for an effective discussion with your employees starts at the beginning of the year when you create clear, collaborative goals.  No doubt you have been told before to set goals at the beginning of the year.  Some of you may have been told to create the goals for your employees. Rather than just telling your employees the goals, ensure s/he feels part of the process by collaborating with them to create the goals. You will increase buy-in and commitment! It is also important to guarantee you and your employee have a common understanding of the goal.  This is best done by getting really clear on what success of the goal looks like. Don’t worry – the goals don’t have to be written perfectly. But, getting agreement now on what success will look like when the goal is achieved is crucial.

I’m not going to sugar coat it – this first step is the hardest and the one you should spend the most time on.  It sets the foundation for the rest of the year.  There is no better way to ensure you and your employees are clear on expectations, know what the focus is for the year and decrease any debate during the performance review about whether the goal(s) were met or not.        

Step 2: Keep notes all year

At the end of the year, it is nearly impossible to remember an entire year’s worth of positive and constructive feedback for each of your employees. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have trouble remembering details from last week, let alone the previous 12 months.  Help yourself by creating a file or notebook for each of your employees that is easy to access, and jot down notes throughout the year.  This doesn’t have to take long.  Just write down enough to jog your memory about what went well and what didn’t for each employee.  Let your employees and key internal customers know that you are doing this and encourage them to send you quick emails too. Then use your notes as reference when it is time to write his/her performance review.  This step will save you the most time at the end of the year and ensures that you aren’t just including things that happened in the last few months.  

Step 3: Have frequent discussions

Hopefully you have regular one on one discussions with each of your employees – either through a scheduled meeting or informal discussions.  Use this time to move beyond a status update on their work. Periodically provide them an update on their performance and check in on how they are progressing on their goals. These conversations provide an avenue to give your employees feedback throughout the year.  They also reduce anxiety around the performance conversation because nothing being discussed is a surprise.

That’s it!  If you do these three things, your 2019 performance reviews will be more effective, while being faster, easier and producing less anxiety for you and your employees.


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Jennifer is a seasoned leader and executive coach with over 20 years experience including as a Chief Human Resources Officer overseeing the HR and Communications functions. She is an Associate Certified Coach through ICF.