Best Possible Annual Review Experience?
July 13, 2010 6:54 PM   Subscribe

What could your manager do to make the annual review most productive and effective and least painful? What should your manager ask you to prepare for the annual review?

It has to include last year's review and the job desc. I try to keep the annual review positive; if there are problems, they should have been discussed well before this. It's No Fun for anybody, and I want to minimize that. The annual review meeting should be about an hour.

Specific questions helpful.
posted by theora55 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The manager should discuss nothing that hasn't been brought up already and in other contexts. The process should involve no surprises, other than any announcements of raises or bonuses.

Areas of improvement should be "affirmed" - as in they should be defined firmly as goals. However, they should not be initiated - those conversations should have already taken place in other meetings, one on ones, etc. For example, if you think the employee needs to be more assertive, more relaxed, etc, let them know that earlier. During the performance review, use that time to build metrics and goals around that preexisting feedback.

Beyond this, make sure you cover the successes of the past working period as well. If the employee exceeded expectations, use this time to acknowledge that they met or beat their goals.
posted by fremen at 7:04 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aside from the boilerplate job description, do employees have real, actionable goals? Things that are more than "Do more, do better" or "succeed?" Setting up those sorts of discrete, actionable/achievable things that can actually be monitored, tweaked, and collaboratively arrived at over time gives the employee a stake in what can often be moderately awful at best, and a painful exercise in mutual delusion at worst. Also, ask what they'd do differently, or how they'd perform their appointed roles differently, if they had the means.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:10 PM on July 13, 2010

I've heard recently that the best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. So tell your employees that you're working with each person you manage to help them set 1 or more goals, and use those criteria. Like Emperor SnooKloze says, they should be concrete goals that you can objectively say "yes this was met" or "no this was not met," and have actual timeframes for that reevaluation to happen. Let the employees decide what their goals should be; your role is to help make sure that they're actually specific, measurable, etc. and to check in when the time frame is reached to help the employee self-evaluate.
posted by vytae at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2010

You may already be doing this, but one of the biggest helps for me is to tell me what I'm doing right. I know what I'm doing wrong--I've gotten the lectures and the emails, and I probably don't need to be reminded. Being told "hey, you do this really well, and so-and-so said that you're just fantastic," lets an employee know where their strengths are and, hopefully, encourages them to do more of what they're good at.

Also, consider asking your employees what they need--or would like to see more of--from you. I've found that just asking someone what I can do for them or how I can help them is a really effective tool, and one that people are often embarrassingly grateful for. Ask how they'd like to be informed of problems (email? stopping by their office?), maybe, or if they're prefer you to walk them through something or just hand them the user guide and let them figure it out. Little things like that have made a huge difference both to me as an employee and as someone who manages other people.
posted by MeghanC at 7:48 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Give the employee some time beforehand to come up with improvement ideas. As in, your review's Tuesday, if you have any ideas about improving things or things I could help you with, write them down and bring them along. During the review itself, it may be hard to come up with any original thoughts.
posted by emjaybee at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2010

I'd look at it as a chance to renew their commitment to the organization by refining your understanding of their career goals and ensuring that they are able to continue learning and growing in a direction that interests them:

-- Where do you see yourself career-wise in [X years, where X is far enough out that it's ok to admit they've changed jobs]?

-- What goals do you have for your own professional development for this upcoming year?

Of course, if you sense friction in their relationship with you or others at the organization, you may want to take a different track, but without that, this would be my direction.
posted by salvia at 10:48 PM on July 13, 2010

Have your employees do a formal self assessment. Use their self assessment to write your review and to get a sense of how the employee views their work. The self assessment gives your staff person an opportunity to remind you of the accomplishments that you might have forgotten.
posted by 26.2 at 11:04 PM on July 13, 2010

Nothing should be a surprise. The most painful review I had was when I found out I'd been irritating/disappointing my boss over something for over six months and had no idea because he didn't say anything about it prior to my review. I wasn't upset about being marked down for it (it was only a little bit) but that I'd been letting him down for so long when I would have made immediate changes if he'd brought it up earlier.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:47 AM on July 14, 2010

Specific examples to show that you were really paying attention to the actual work I was doing - not just "good job on the ABC project", but "when you had to break the news that we lost two weeks because the XYZ had to be tested three times, you did a masterful job of managing blah blah blah". Concrete, constructive criticism - not just "needs to improve communication skills", but "we all get justifiably upset when something has to be tested three times, and I've noticed that it seems harder for you to bottle that frustration - perhaps we can try blah blah blah".

My biggest pet peeve with receiving reviews is that they're too often composed of generic corporate speak and don't really give me REAL biscuits (for good work) or actionable goals (for "needs improvement). Just give me a goddamned biscuit already.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:50 AM on July 14, 2010

Unprompted, I bring a list of major tasks I've completed over the course of the year. Most managers have a short-term memory so reminding them of all the things you completed successfully shows initiative and reminds them why they hired you. Plus, there were always things I worked on for others that my manager didn't necessarily know about. This is also tremendously helpful when needing to construct a resume for yourself.

When I became a manager, I would always suggest doing this to my employees during mid-year review. Some employees saw the light and brought me their list at the end of the year (before the sit-down meeting). Half of my team did not and stared at me like lost lambs during the review. Invariably, the employees who showed initiative were given better raises, fun projects, etc.

I find this far more useful and less painful than a self-review.
posted by getmetoSF at 5:50 AM on July 14, 2010

At my company the goals we stated 6 months prior very often have no relation to the work we ended up doing the last 6 months. I think the suggestion you ask employees to bring a list of their accomplishments is a good one.

More important than making the review helpful is to make sure you don't piss off or otherwise discourage your employees. Even a mediocre review can lead to an employee not unreasonably looking for work elsewhere. Wouldn't you consider leaving a company if your manager seemed less than enthused about you?

The discussions are more of an opportunity for you to discover what you're employees have been up to, care about, and any frustrations they have. Beyond that, I would present the ratings of them with Caveats (e.g. we can't give good ratings to everyone and have so many good people on the team, etc.) The ratings themselves will say everything about their perceived value to the company.

Be positive. Affirm their value.
posted by xammerboy at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2010

We give the employee the form ahead of time so they can collect their thoughts and rate themselves and include their lists of accomplishments. Then, as we go through the form together, the employee speaks first about how they think they did in each area. The manager then chimes in with his or her input. I say things like, "Let's talk about [problem area] for a minute. What's happening for you there?" The person might recognize that there is a problem, and talk about it, or I might say "I'm seeing blah blah blah there. I'd like to see such-and-such change on that point over the next time period. What do you need from me to support you in that?" I always ask at the end, "How am I doing? What do you need more of, or less of, from me?"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:54 AM on July 14, 2010

Nothing should be a surprise - it should be a check on an ongoing interaction, rather than the one time you get feedback.

Very often goals seem to be set on the spot out of the desperate desire to come up with something to use as a goal, then forgotten.

I've always hated goals that measure me on other people's performance - they should talk about what the employee will or won't do, not eg measure them on whether someone else assigns them to a good project.

Avoid the meaningless 1-5 ratings where nobody can get 1 or 5, and 2,3,4 are all more or less the same.

Some review meetings are very one way - the manager spends an hour explaining to the employee how much they suck, and that's it. Dissent is viewed as evidence of even greater suck on the part of the employee (they can't even admit their problems!). Feedback and discussion is healthy if you can manage it.
posted by curious_yellow at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2010

Xammer's comment "More important than making the review helpful is to make sure you don't piss off or otherwise discourage your employees" was helpful. Salvia gave sample questions. So both tagged Best.

Googling hasn't turned up really useful sites so far. As a manager, I end up using jargon because it's hard to write a useful review. As a person who is being reviewed, I always come with a list of achievements, and an idea of ways my boss can help me do better. I ask my staff to prepare that, but not all staff are good at that.

Thanks for the answers.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 PM on July 19, 2010

I had to use a specific format. After completing the required format with the staff member, I added a few questions asking how we could do our work better, and got some feedback I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. thanks, everyone.
posted by theora55 at 12:21 PM on August 16, 2010

What could your manager do to make the annual review most productive and effective and least painful?
a) have regular 1on1's with the employee throughout the year so that nothing in the annual review is a surprise.

b) At the company I work at we've got a standard set of sections / questions (that are the same for engineering, HR, finance, sales, support, etc.., ie: they're worthless) that the employee does a self eval against and then you as a manager are supposed to eval against those same criteria. The tendency as a manager is to spend 30 minutes on each employee writing up the same platitudes that you do every year which is a disservice to the company and to your direct report. The best managers (IMHO) are the ones that spend a couple hours on each and every person, looking straight through the annual review and realizing that they're dealing with a human being, someone that has fears, goals, desires, hopes and dreams. Definitely do review their performance relative to what the company needs and measures but then push the review to the side, unfold your arms and ask them what they want, where do they want to be? What kind of job would they like to be doing? And then have a brutally honest but caring discussion about what it would mean to get to that place, which is sometimes going to result in you saying "you're not going to be able to do that here but here are a couple things you can learn while you're here that I'll do everything in my power to help you improve at."

c) Be honest with them over the course of the year and they'll (hopefully) be honest with you.

d) One of the best / most interesting reviews I've ever had was in the lobby of a hotel (I work in the city, my boss met me there), we chatted in big plush chairs in a completely different environment than work... mind you I was getting a good review (if you're going to give a brutal review you probably want to do it in a boring conference room) but it was a nice change of pace and made the review feel like a special event.


posted by ajohnson1200 at 11:20 AM on August 27, 2010

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