Over the past five years, I’ve seen a surge of companies trying to improve the effectiveness of their performance reviews. And considering the distaste for traditional performance management methods, it’s not hard to see why this is still a major goal for many organizations in 2020. 

The traditional performance review practices of the previous 30+ years degrade morale, leave employees clueless about how to improve, and are hated by every party included in the process — managers, HR, and employees alike. 

performance review best practices

Fortunately for everyone involved, change is on the horizon. The performance review is officially open for tinkering and companies that work in skill development and knowledge transfer, like Steve Trautman Co., are working hard to improve what has been a painful process. 

This blog post will focus on the skill development portion of performance reviews and share examples and tips on how to improve the effectiveness of the reviews your company gives. But first, let’s review some of the outdated performance review practices that may be sabotaging your team’s morale. 


What’s Wrong With Traditional Performance Reviews? 

Performance reviews don’t need to be painful. In fact, most employees would like to look forward to their performance review sessions — a study referenced in performance management expert Tamara Chandler’s book, Feedback (And Other Dirty Words), found that “62 percent of employees want more feedback from their colleagues, and 83 percent said they appreciate feedback, be it positive or negative.” 

So if employees want feedback, why do they (and management) hate performance reviews so much? 

In the introduction to her book, How Performance Management Is Killing Performance, Chandler attributes it to how the traditional performance review is a “cookie-cutter, fear-based, top-down approach that emphasizes negatives over positives and stifles healthy career conversations.” 

Another key area where performance reviews have failed is in giving employees direction. If a review doesn’t tell an employee how they’re performing, what they can do to add value to their current role, and who they can learn from, then that performance review has failed. 


A Fresh Take on the Performance Review Goals Process: Best Practices and Examples for 2020

During the skill development portion of the review, the manager and employee need to answer the following questions: 

  • How is the employee performing in their current position?
  • What needs to be learned next? 
  • Who will teach the employee these skills? 
  • How can they measure their improvement going forward? 

Here are some best practices your management can use to effectively answer these four questions.


1. Mirror These Examples of Winning Performance Review Feedback

A key component of a successful performance appraisal is the feedback portion, where the manager answers the question, “How is the employee currently performing?”

Examples of bad performance review feedback include: 

  • You need to get better at communication. 
  • You need to improve your problem-solving skills. 
  • Your performance is poor and you need to step up. 

Why are these counterproductive? Because they’re vague and don’t empower the employee by giving steps on how to improve. 

So instead of just saying, “Your communication needs to improve,” a manager needs to provide specific examples of tasks where improvement needs to be made. For example: 

  • The way you lead meetings is not up to par. Here’s why.
  • The method you’ve been using to present month-end data to the rest of your team isn’t working. Here are some examples of what I expect.
  • The way you give feedback on your colleague’s product ideas isn’t helping the team. Here are three ways you can improve. 

Feedback like this is effective because it addresses specific tasks in which an employee can take action to improve their skill. 


2. Follow a skill development plan

After giving feedback on how an employee is performing in their current role, a manager should also answer the question, “What needs to be learned next?”

For maximum effectiveness, each position within your organization should have a skill development plan attached to it. This plan should show the blocks of work that employees need to progress through to achieve fluency in that role. Having a skill development plan makes it easy to show the employee where their skills currently are and where they need to go. 

If an employee has already maxed out the learning necessary for their current role, a manager can leverage the performance review to help motivate the employee to begin preparing for a future role. This is done by sharing the skill development plans of future roles with the employee and enabling them to begin learning these skills. 


3. Use effective knowledge transfer techniques to promote training

Once an employee knows how they are performing and what they need to learn next, the next step is to direct them to the appropriate training. This could be a mentor within the company (like an expert or manager) or training resources (like books or DVDs).

An employee should walk out of a performance review having clearly defined learning goals and knowing who/what to go to for lessons. 


4. Schedule a follow-up meeting to review growth

Now that the employee knows what to learn and from who to learn it, the final thing to do is schedule a follow-up meeting to measure growth. Whether this is next year’s performance review or a quarterly check-in, the important thing is to let the employee know that a date is on the calendar and that they are expected to have learned or improved the assigned tasks by that deadline. 


How These Performance Review Best Practices Stimulate Growth and Morale

These best practices promote development and morale by giving employees the feedback they crave in a constructive and actionable way. Performance reviews that follow steps like the ones outlined above help every kind of employee, for example:

  • Rockstar employees
    • These methods will help them continue to grow and prevent them from plateauing if there aren’t new things to learn within their current role. 
  • Moderately-performing employees
    • Performance reviews like this will help them continue to grow and turn into rockstar employees. 
  • Poor-performing employees
    • These best practices will empower struggling employees by giving them a road map to success and structured learning steps. Having clearly defined expectations also empowers managers by enabling them to ask, “During our last review you said you would do X, but you didn’t. What happened?”

For many companies, performance reviews are a painful process, but by modernizing your review methods you can make these appraisals rewarding for everyone involved. 


If you’d like to learn more about how you can improve your performance reviews, read my book, Teach What You Know. Chapter 4 will teach you everything you need to know about skill development plans and how to put them into practice in your organization.