From the Inbox: Advice on performance reviews

From the Inbox, a question from a small business owner:

Hi Adam,

I  think it is time to do a performance review for my staff. 

I know I have asked this once before but wanted to get your thoughts on options for methods on doing it. 

I am pretty keen to get the individual employees ideas on how they have gone against some KPI’s set up last year also. 

Anything you are able to help with appreciated as always.


Performance reviews – the mindset to have is you are the coach sitting down with the player to go over the year with them – what they did well, what was not so good, what they were asked to get better at, how they did (this means you a keep a notebook during the year where you note each piece of feedback…start that now for next year)

The individual employee’s ideas on their performance, while important,  is not the most important thing.  Regardless of how well a player thinks they are performing, what they need to know to get better is the coach’s judgement on how they are doing, and examples as to why the coach came to that conclusion.

This does not mean, however, that it’s a one-way street.  You ask for their own views on their effectiveness, and whether they have a different view to you, in particular any examples you missed or they think you didn’t fully appreciate.  The key here is that you are listening for anything that might change your judgement.  You are not searching for agreement, nor for them being particularly happy.  The goal is that they have clarity on your judgement of their effectiveness, and why you reached that conclusion.  And you get clarity on any gaps between your view and their view.  Agreement is a bonus.

Note the word judgement.  Don’t be scared of that.  It’s about your personal judgement of their effectiveness in achieving their results given the unexpected circumstances they dealt with during the year.

How do you do this? Steps are:

  1. Let everyone know about the entire process below, including dates
  2. For each employee, write them a report on your overall judgement of their effectiveness, with examples.  Use the KPIs as examples or starting points.  If you need a rating system do it in two parts:  1) did they demonstrate capability to do the role (if below, or way above, then it’s a different conversation),  then  2) did they demonstrate the capability of someone in a) first third  b) middle third  c) top third (this method based on that of Elliott Jaques who is a guru that it’s surprising more people don’t know about)
  3. 24 hours before the review, give them your written document, ask them to read it overnight.  Tell them you’ll then explain your judgements in person tomorrow, and then want to hear their own thoughts.  No more than 24 hours before, but must give them overnight to read.  (This is based on a method from Manager Tools, it works well, podcast here:
  4. In the review, explain your judgements, listen to their views, but be aware it’s not about agreement, it’s about understanding each other.  Where there is disagreement, note this down on the document, including their examples as to why.  If you hear something that changes your judgement, note that too.
  5. Finish by scheduling a development discussion for a week’s time, where you will identify how they can get better, and discuss the actions they will be taking to get there.  This needs to be separate.

Any queries, let me know.


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