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It’s no secret that performance reviews can be challenging – both from the employee being reviewed and the manager. This process can trigger off a range of responses and questions from managers. 

“How can I better manage difficult conversations? What are some of the biggest problems that arise during the goal setting process, and how do I overcome these? How do I ensure that I’m well-prepared to conduct the review meeting?” These are the topics that we’ll dive into below, sharing tips and strategies that we’ve found to be effective, based on insights from our colleagues and managers. 

But first, a quick overview on performance reviews [and dialogues]

Performance reviews are an essential component of a company’s people management process - it facilitates open communication between managers and employees, help motivate and point employees in the right direction, enable a company to better attract and retain talent and boost an organization’s business performance. 

Simply put, it’s a process in which an employee’s work performance and behavior are evaluated against predetermined goals, as well as the organization’s objectives. These results are documented, and are used to provide feedback to the employee. There are various types of performance reviews and many would incorporate a mixture of the following elements. For example, reviews often take place half-annually or annually, with an employee completing a self-appraisal and having a 360-view from stakeholders and team mates. 

That said, it should be seen as a dialogue. While many companies have a formalized time and process in which performance reviews take place, it may be worthwhile for teams to look into more frequent dialogues in which two-way feedback can be communicated more timely, in between the official performance reviews. 

  • Traditional: In a traditional performance review, an employee’s performance is solely evaluated by his or her manager. The review is typically conducted on an annual basis, with a focus placed on outcomes and goals that the individual achieved.
  • Self-appraisal: With the self-appraisal, employees take ownership over the review process. Instead of a top-down approach, employees assess their own performance, and are encouraged to take the initiative in managing their goals. This is typically used in conjunction with other performance review processes.
  • Peer review: A peer review involves gathering input from peers, team members and colleagues that an employee works with, in order to gain a more accurate insight into the individual’s interpersonal and teamwork skills. 
  • 360-degree review: As its name suggests, employees are assessed from multiple perspectives in a 360-degree review. The manager, direct reports, peers from different teams or departments and sometimes, external customers may be involved in the process.

The above is just intended to provide an overview of common reviews and does not include many other formats and platforms. 
    5 Strategies to effective performance reviews 1. Effective goal setting requires alignment, clarity and a two-way exchange
    With comprehensive, tried-and-tested performance review processes being implemented at the workplace, it’s easy to assume that these are sufficient in ensuring clarity and alignment during the goal setting phase. 
    • Alignment: According to a Mercer study around 2018 Global Talent Trends, many employees seek purpose in their work – be it contributing towards a greater purpose or having a clear understanding on how their work can make an impact towards the employer’s success. When employees fail to see the bigger picture, there is a tendency for them to focus on the minutiae, and to overlook activities that can produce greater value for the organization. During the goal setting, one would then identify how they would work towards the common goal and the goals will need to be agreed upon by parties.  
    • Clarity: With detailed job descriptions being provided, as well as meetings and reviews conducted on a regular basis, it’s readily assumed that employees have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them at work. Yet, a Gallup research shows that only half of the employees surveyed strongly indicated that they have clarity on what’s being expected of them at work. This lack of clarity can have far-reaching impacts on various aspects of the organization, affecting productivity, employee engagement and retention.
    The first step towards creating greater clarity and alignment in your goal setting process is to go beyond explaining the organizational goals to your employee, to discussing how the individual’s job responsibilities relate and contribute to these objectives. 

    Additionally, effective goal setting requires a participative, two-way exchange. Team members should be encouraged to take ownership in setting those goals and also to include more challenging ones, based on one’s capabilities. 

    Beyond goals that tie in with an employee’s immediate job responsibilities, it’s important to take into consideration his or her personal aspirations. Yukiko Hiizumi, Head of Campus Recruitment, Asia at Philips shares: “It is a bit unrealistic to think that each employee will continue to stay in the same team or in the same role, so the review should serve as an opportunity to share what he or she wants to do next, as well as the gaps we need to address to enable them to reach their goal.” 

    Philips encourages each employee to own their careers. The Talent Card is an internal resume in which the employee is able to indicate their career interests, and be notified about available opportunities by in-house recruiters and hiring managers around the world. It’s one of the components in our internal mobility program, which has seen employees move across the globe, as well as across job functions to pursue their aspirations.

    For employees, it can be difficult taking a step back to assess one’s longer term career objectives or personal aspirations when one is focused on day-to-day tasks and goals. Managers can help employees get around this problem by sharing about the different career progression initiatives that the organization offers, as well as discussing about courses and training activities that are available. Philips University, is an online resource for employees which offers a range of courses and learning materials based on different needs and requirements. 
    2. Preparation is key
    With sufficient preparation, managers and employees alike can feel more at ease going through an individual’s past performance and laying out plans for the upcoming year.  

    Your first step is to compile results and notes for each individual gathered over the year. This notes that you’ve taken during meetings and qualitative feedback provided by other co-workers or customers. 

    Once this is complete, you’ll need to map out an outline or a list of objectives for the meeting. It can be helpful to structure your discussion around goals that you’ve established at the start of the year, or by key projects that’ve been undertaken throughout the year. 

    Regardless of how you plan to structure your conversation, you’ll need to pick out aspects in which your employee have performed well, along with specific areas of concern to discuss. Make sure you’ve prepared constructive feedback to address these points, along with questions that would encourage your employee to provide their input. 

    Preparation doesn’t only take place on the part of the manager; for the review to be effective, both parties need to be well-prepared. It can be helpful to have your employees complete a written self-evaluation; the objective here is to engage them in a reflective thought process, so that they can be more involved in the discussion. The self-evaluation doesn’t need to be complex and some organizations do already provide the templates to guide the process - it can comprise of just a few questions that would help them identify and sum up their achievements, setbacks and potential areas for growth.  

    3. Approach difficult conversations strategically
    As managers, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in situations where the need for holding difficult conversations arises - whether that’s having to address underperformance, manage personal problems at the workplace or provide constructive feedback. We’ve outlined a few strategies that will help you navigate these conversations more effectively: 

    • Plan the conversation: While you won’t be able to plan for the conversation fully, it can be helpful to have an outline or key points listed out, so that you’ll have a reference to help you steer the discussion back on track should it veer off topic. Key factors you may want to structure your conversation around include your perspective on the problem, the employee’s point of view and how both parties can communicate openly to arrive at an agreed outcome.
    • Location and setting play a role: Privacy is key, so it’s best to steer clear of venues where you may be overheard. If you’re holding your meeting in a private office or conference room, pay attention to the seating arrangements. Will you seat across from your employee, or would it work better to sit side by side? A change of scenery can help lighten the mood too, so consider taking a walk outdoors or a coffee break at a cafe.  
    • Timely communication is vital: Dealing with sensitive issues can feel incredibly challenging, and as such, there is a tendency for managers to put off having the conversation. Yet, “timely dialog is critical”, shares Hiizumi. “This ensures that the employee isn’t caught by surprise during the performance conversation, and that the situation can be eased before it worsens.”

    4. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to performance reviews; you’ll need to identify your needs and adapt accordingly
    There isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all approach to performance reviews that works across the company and teams; managers and organizations need to assess their own unique needs, and adopt strategies that work for them. For example, certain organizations may find that implementing a combination of different types of reviews to be a good fit with their needs. As mentioned earlier in the article, some teams could also look at having more frequent dialogue sessions outside of the official review process. 

    At Philips, reviews take place twice a year in a process known as the “People Performance Management”. During the review, the manager will reflect on how the employee has lived up to Philips’ organizational values and behaviors, and evaluate an employee’s accomplishments against his or her Key Areas of Responsibilities (KAR). The KARs are established earlier on at the start of the year, during the goal setting phase. ​​​​​​

    5. Performance review is an ongoing effort
    Keep in mind that performance review isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing process that takes place across the year. With open and consistent communication, managers will be in a better position to provide up-to-date feedback on an employee’s performance, and immediately address issues that arise. 

    And even if your organization doesn’t have a formal mid-year review in place, it can be beneficial to take the initiative to schedule check-in sessions with your team. These sessions may be conducted once every quarter, or even as shorter, informal discussions that take place on a bi-monthly basis. 
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