Melbourne Business School News Performance reviews – top five tips to getting it right

Performance reviews – top five tips to getting it right

Whether you’re new to managing people or are a seasoned manager with a few years under your belt, the thought of delivering formal performance review feedback to your staff can seem like a daunting task.


Melbourne Business School’s Dr Carol Gill, Assistant Professor of Organisational Psychology has five top tips for the task.

“People, whether they’re giving feedback to someone as a manager or are being performance reviewed themselves, can sometimes feel as though they’re going into combat almost, they want to be prepared for every ‘what if’ scenario and be able to defend themselves,” said  Dr Gill.

“Perhaps someone won’t take a colleagues promotion well. Maybe they could threaten to leave if they’re not happy with their feedback or break down in tears mid performance review from a personal adversity that you didn’t know about – these are the types of scenarios managers can ruminate in their minds before a performance meeting.” 

1. Delivery is key

While nervousness or anxiety around performance reviews can point to a manager’s lack of confidence, it’s often the perception around the annual performance review process itself that can be to blame. 

“It’s important for managers to understand that annual performance reviews aren’t really about the forms – it’s about the way the conversation comes across to the employee.

“You can praise an employee to no end but if you’re showing no expression on your face and reading from a notebook, you’re going to come across as disingenuous and the employee is going to be more concerned about the mixed messages you’re sending than the feedback you’re giving. By the same token, if you rely on technology and phone based performance review software you can run the risk of misunderstandings – face to face is optimum,” said Dr Gill.

2. Be transparent

Managers should be transparent about the process they will be using and invite the employee to get involved.

“What works best is when managers are upfront with their employees and give them the option of whether they would like you to talk about them about their strengths first or their opportunities for development second – or vice versa.”

“By giving them the option they know what is coming and will be less likely to anticipate ‘the negative’ during the conversation.”

3. Have frequent conversations

“The annual review process has revolved around this idea that you have one performance conversation, and it’s the be all and end all – which is, naturally, where all the anxiety has stemmed from over the years for both managers and employees.

“What we’re seeing now in organisations however, is a move to more frequent, informal performance feedback conversations throughout the year, where managers give continuous, ‘real time’ feedback to their employees about how they’re going, and also give their employees time to improve or adjust their behaviours before their end of year review.

“More frequent conversations not only build trust and rapport but also enables managers to get better at giving feedback.”

4. Be authentic

According to Dr Gill, managers can never be too authentic. 

“I like to say to executive education participants: say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't say it meanly.”

“When I was a HR manager there were often conversations about having to ‘get rid of someone’.  I'd look at their performance review report and the person would have had a satisfactory performance management rating because it was all just ‘too hard’ to communicate the truth to a particular employee and give them the opportunity to make some changes. 

“If managers are authentic, transparent and are perceived to be someone who ‘walks their talk,’ they will not only be more skilful in delivering performance reviews themselves but build their employees strengths as well.”

5. Talk seriously about professional development

Meaningful and proactive professional development conversations are they key to boosting the performance of your team and your relationship with employees. 

“Authentic managers take the professional development of their employees seriously and look for courses or opportunities that specifically target the areas for improvement in their people,” Dr Gill said. 

“A great thing managers can do before an annual performance review is take stock and really think about the areas your employee needs to work on.

“Talk to or research institutions like Melbourne Business School, who specialise in those topics and discuss specific programs for example, marketing strategyor leading change.”

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