As you sit across from your employee during performance review time, you feel uncertain. The meeting has arrived, but you struggle to recall specific examples of their performance amidst the multiple responsibilities and pressing matters you have had at work. You contemplate delivering negative comments and decide to briefly sum it up.
These meetings occur a few times a year and you question if they even deliver any tangible results.
As the meeting concludes, you can’t help but notice that you could have more effectively conveyed the employee’s strengths and areas for improvement. You genuinely want to support their growth, but you did not have the chance to communicate specific suggestions and actionable insights.
The employee, on the other hand, is unclear about what they need to be doing going forward. They leave with disappointment how some of their important milestones and efforts were missed. They are not sure what to make of the vague or unclear performance review comments and begin to feel uncertain about their performance.
Disappointment may gradually lead to frustration as the employee is not receiving the guidance to excel in their role. They will start to feel unvalued, demotivated, and might even be wondering if they should even put in any effort into their work.
These feelings and outcomes, however, are not specific to a single company, employee, or a manager. In fact, only a mere 14% of employees agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve, as revealed in a study by Gallup. Additionally, managers tend to avoid giving negative feedback when employees, on the other hand, crave negative feedback. A survey conducted by a leadership consulting firm called Zenger Folkman revealed that 94% of employees wanted to receive negative feedback to improve their performance, considering that the feedback is delivered appropriately. This data definitely leads us to the question below.
Why do most performance review comments fail to improve performance?
Performance review comments should not be aimed at the person, but at the job. However, companies should note that employees are much more than just their work. Any human being will feel disappointed when their hard work goes unnoticed and cannot find opportunities to be successful.
The 5 major reasons why most performance review comments are ineffective are explained below:
1. Sometimes, it’s the company’s performance practices. Another study by Gallup revealed that 4 in 5 employees agreed that their company’s performance practices do not motivate them.
If you are in an environment where managers are too busy facing quarterly goals, and their ‘feedback’ system is just them making compensation announcements, you are in a culture that promotes underperformance.
2. Lack of regular feedback. The same study also observed that nearly half of the employees receive feedback from their managers only a few times or even less. Without regular feedback, the manager will not have enough specific information to deliver comments.
3. Neither the manager nor the employee knows how to have more meaningful conversations. How often do you have conversations with your employees that leave them feeling uplifted and committed to improving their performance? Ineffective performance comments are vaguer, more generic, and lack context.
Employees, on the other hand, are unsure how to have a meaningful conversation about their career aspirations. This challenge, however, can be majorly overcome by preparing a strong self-evaluation periodically.
4. No sufficient training. Adobe’s HR, Donna Morris, suggests that managers need to be trained to give action-oriented feedback. This training includes setting and measuring goals, conducting check-in meetings, and delivering accurate feedback.
Donna Morris also suggests employees the following:
It is emphasized to employees that they are their own career managers, and they should come to the Check-In conversations with their own ideas for growth rather than expecting the manager to chart a course for them.”
– Donna Morris
5. No clear performance standards. As a manager, you have most likely heard employees say, “I did not know I was supposed to do it that way! I never knew this was not what you expected.”
The only way to avoid such frustration is to set performance standards with the employee. Once they are set in place, performance review comments are much more effective.
While these are the most common reasons, there are specific challenges faced by managers. Let’s explore them in detail.
What are the challenges faced by managers to give effective performance comments? How to overcome?
As a manager, you face several challenges when it comes to crafting performance comments. These include obstacles that are outside your control. The following are the challenges you may be facing, along with what you can do to overcome them.
1. You do not have a conversation at the start of the year.
When performance goals are initially established, you should have open conversations with the employees. Misalignment can occur as it may unintentionally lead to both the parties having different interpretations of the goals and objectives. Make sure to align expectations early on.
2. You just copy-paste the organization’s objectives into the Performance Management Plan of the employee.
Break down the company’s objectives into actionable and measurable targets. This ensures that the comments delivered are relevant, specific, measurable, and aligned. Don’t forget to set and define objectives with the employee.
3. You do not adjust and update objectives.
You should realize that objectives that were once relevant may become less impactful and outdated. These do not reflect the employee’s achievements and responsibilities accurately. Maintain continuous communication with your employees and adjust them when necessary.
4. You are not clear on the intentions and what to achieve with the performance review.
The purpose and objective of this meeting could be feedback, development, goal alignment, performance improvement, or recognition. Establish clear objectives and craft your comment.
5. You do not take adequate time to prepare before the review.
This lack of preparation makes you miss opportunities to provide specific examples and areas for improvement. This challenge, however, can be addressed by taking time to thoroughly review performance notes, achievements, and records.
6. You do not compile any notes or document employee performance.
You can only prepare before the review when you have an accurate record of the employee’s progress and specific instances of the employees’ performance. Be diligent and compile notes, capturing:
- Skills and behaviors that are working and not working
- Areas for improvement
- Noteworthy achievements
- Challenges overcome
- New skills and behaviors built over time
- Progress and growth
Employees should also actively participate in the note-taking process to make sure no critical information is overlooked.
7. You are not ready to provide feedback.
A new Interact survey by Harris Poll shows that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees to provide direct feedback.
As revealed in the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, you are ready to provide feedback by reflecting on 10 necessary questions. She recommends using these as a checklist.
- I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
- I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you)
- I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue
- I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes
- I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges
- I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you
- I’m willing to own my part
- I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings
- I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity
- I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you
8. You have trouble being honest and specific.
Don’t hold back on uncomfortable conversations as it deprives employees of valuable insights and may hinder their growth. As the above study revealed, 94% of employees crave negative feedback, when delivered appropriately.
9. There are insufficient developmental opportunities in your company.
This outcome is not your fault, but it still poses a challenge. You may need to think creatively and explore other options, both for yourself and your team members. Some common ways are:
- Knowledge sharing sessions
- Online learning platforms and books
Lastly, reach out to HR and emphasize the importance of investing in employee development.
10. Do you follow-up after the performance review?
Performance comments have a lasting impact, influencing their job satisfaction and engagement. Without a proper follow-up, the insights delivered via the performance comment may not bring out changes in performance or behavior. Conduct follow-up discussions and provide additional support and resources.
Now that we have explored what you should not do when delivering or writing performance comments, let’s delve into the actual crafting.
A 3-step model to provide more effective performance review comments
As you prepare to provide performance review comments to your employees, take a moment to recall the time when you received feedback that was motivating and uplifting. What made the feedback stand out? And how do you incorporate these elements into your own performance comments?
Whether you remember or not, this easy-to-follow model will greatly benefit you. It involves three main steps where you gather relevant information, learn how to structure and form effectively, and craft the actual performance review comments.
1. Identify key areas of evaluation
Before you deliver the actual comment, list down the key areas that you wish to evaluate. These could be anything from attendance to actual performance. Avoid basing performance comments only on individual achievements. One single key area is not enough to review an employee’s performance and behavior.
For example, a company called Men’s Wearhouse fired its top-performing salesperson. Consequently, the store’s sales rose by 30%. Why? Because the top-performing employee had been dominating an enormous number of sales in the store. The company would have been encouraging such behavior had they only assessed and considered his achievements and performance. This example demonstrates that a holistic assessment is necessary.
Here are some key areas you need to consider:
- Creativity and innovation
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Problem-solving ability
- Learning ability
- Time management & multitasking
- Skills, abilities, achievements
Don’t forget to take into account how other team members would assess the employee in these areas. You may rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 or choose other performance review methods.
2. Apply context and action
Once you gather relevant information and data about the employee, you can start structuring the performance comment effectively. Add context and positivity to the data. There are two highly recognized frameworks you can use individually or in combination.
The SBI-I™ (Situation-Behavior-Impact-Intent) Model
This is a simple framework developed by The Center for Creative Leadership to deliver feedback or performance comments.
In this framework, you:
- Discuss the when and where of the situation. This helps put the comment into context and provide specific examples.
- Describe the specific behaviors you want to address. Don’t rely on hearsay or make assumptions about the employee’s behaviors, but state only what you have observed directly.
- Explain how their actions and behavior impacted you, their teammates, and performance.
- Encourage the employee to share the intent behind their behavior and actions. This ensures communication is two-way.
You may use this framework to structure both positive and negative performance review comments.
The start-stop-continue framework
Some employees are not particularly good at receiving feedback. Make sure to maintain a positive tone when structuring your performance comments. This framework is divided into three short sections. You let the employee know:
- Three things they are not doing yet but should start doing. This could be anything from the key areas for evaluation you have listed in the first step of this model.
- Three things they should stop doing.
- Things that are valuable and good, which should be continued.
3. Craft effective performance review comments
After you structure your comment, remember to give a holistic recap of the employee’s performance. Include strengths, developmental opportunities, areas for improvement, and career goals. Regardless of whether the feedback you are trying to give is positive or negative, deliver the comment in a positive tone. There are two major things you should incorporate for overall effectiveness:
- 360-degree feedback
- Using a performance management solution
A few examples of effective performance review comments
The following are the examples of how performance comments look like when the SBI-I model and start-stop-continue framework are leveraged.
1. Not effective: “You are never punctual, and everyone says you are always late. You need to be on time!”
Effective: “Your attendance has been a concern lately. On three occasions last week, you arrived late without prior notice. This has impacted team workflow and deliverables. I request you to communicate any challenges you may be facing and address this issue. On a positive note, I highly appreciate your commitment to timely and high-quality work! Please continue this, and make sure to keep me and other stakeholders informed about anything that may affect your schedule.”
2. Not effective: “Allen collaborates with his team very well and possesses excellent teamwork skills.”
Effective: “Allen significantly impacts the team’s performance. On two instances, when the team faced challenges in projects, he stepped up and supported them with creative ideas. This boosted the team’s morale during tough times. Moving forward, I encourage him to keep track of his contributions to ensure transparency and better coordination.”
3. Not effective: “I’ve noticed your efforts to acquire new skills, and I appreciate your commitment. Keep up the good work!”
Effective: “I’ve observed your active engagement in various online platforms and knowledge-sharing sessions. It’s inspiring to see how you involve and encourage others to do the same. I have no doubt that your efforts to develop new skills are paying off, and I can already notice how the quality of your work has improved. Keep up the amazing work and continue to be committed to self-improvement!”
Start Crafting Effective Performance Comments with Keka
Keka’s Performance Management System offers a suite of tools that you can use to revolutionize the way you conduct feedback or deliver performance comments. Start elevating your workforce’s potential to new heights by leveraging these tools. Keka empowers managers and employees with features, such as:
- SMART goal setting
- Productive one-on-one meetings
- Continuous feedback
- 360-degree feedback
- Performance reports and analytics, and many more.
Don’t Leave Your Employees in the Dust!
It’s time to start taking action. The next time you sit across from your employee in a performance review session, make sure you have conveyed their strengths, areas for improvement, and career path. Even if you can’t control the employee’s reaction, you are always in control of how effective your performance review comments are.