The words, “can I have a word in my office?” strike more fear and anxiety into workplace hearts than any other.

Have you been caught taking a sneaky peek at your Facebook page during working hours? Were you spotted ‘borrowing’ that pack of post-it notes for your kid’s school project? Or are you just about to be offered an excellent promotion and pay increase?

This sense of apprehension is only magnified when it comes to performance reviews and evaluations.

Ultimately, this is a meeting when one human being casts judgment over another, which can be a hugely fearful and apprehensive experience for any employee – its human nature to fear the worst, and expect to be criticised for the duration of the meeting.

Help is at hand, however. Follow this guide for five suggestions as to how you can banish those misconceptions, and you’ll make performance reviews a positive experience to be embraced rather than dreaded.

Make an Appointment, and Stick to It

Very few employees relish the idea of their performance evaluation, but that doesn’t mean that they want to see it cancelled or postponed.

If they’re already nervous, the employee feels as though they are living with the Sword of Damocles swinging over their heads just waiting to come down upon them.

Perhaps more importantly, it also sends a message to the employee that their time – and career development – is less important than your own.

Sometimes things happen that make rescheduling unavoidable such as sickness, but don’t make a habit of moving the appointment because you’re busy, or have another meeting to attend.

This behaviour will only re-enforce negative viewpoints surrounding performance reviews.

Review the Year, Not the Week

Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is an annual review – and consequently, you will be expected to appraise an employee’s performance over the entire year.

Keep an eye on their productivity throughout this period, and make them feel valued by bringing up examples of this they did well several months ago.

Moments of initiative, attending training courses, praise from clients and colleagues … all these things will have meant a great deal to the employee, and by proving that you have been paying attention, you’ll set them at ease.

This is particularly important if your employee has had a rough few days or weeks, as that will make them even more nervous about their evaluation. Offer reassurance that you’re assessing everything they have to offer, not berating them for a recent mistake.

Encourage, Don’t Criticise

One of the ways to avoid a fear-based culture in the workplace is to look for opportunities to inspire and encourage, as well as educate and correct. What every employee fears about their performance evaluation is they’ll simply be given a laundry list of things that they could have done better over the course of the year, so avoid falling into this trap.

Ask the employee how they feel the year has gone for them at work, and give them an opportunity to speak first.

You may find that they are tough on themselves, potentially unreasonably so! Be honest but supportive throughout the process – bring up things that went well, and gently encourage the employee to learn from any mistakes they may have made.

Also, consider adopting the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach. Open with praise, discuss what could have been done better during the middle of the meeting, and then close with more positive language with a view to moving forward.

Determine performance evaluation feedback. This will prevent the employee from leaving disheartened.

Focus on Goal Setting

It’s easy to forget a performance evaluation is an opportunity for an employee to have their say, too.

This meeting is a perfect opportunity to discuss their career aims and ambitions and to work together on getting some targets set for the year ahead that benefit both the individual and the business.

Use the SMART principles (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound) to devise a list of targets the employee should look to obtain by their following year’s review.

Determine performance evaluators. Make sure that performance evaluations have clearly determined what needs to be covered – and avoid covering things not decisively relevant to the employee, their role or their responsibility.

This means they’ll look forward to the meeting secure in the knowledge that they have achieved what they set out to do.

Don’t Get Hung Up on the Numbers

Scoring is a big part of the employee evaluation process, but try to avoid spending too much time focussing on these. Figures don’t always tell the full story, and you could unwittingly make an employee feel undervalued by reducing them to a number on a sheet of A4.

Talk to your employee, and explain why they have been scored the way they have – whether that’s for good or ill! You may find that the employee agrees or disagrees with what you have said, and the opportunity to have an open, supportive dialogue could be the difference between retaining and losing a staff member.

After all, everybody loves to feel their voice is being heard!

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