Let’s look at what a well-conducted annual review looks like

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I’ve recently published a series of articles that describe how annual reviews reveal more about the manager than the employee. The examples I’ve provided focus on examples of bad management practices that could cause damage and general resentment in the manager/employee relationship. But of course not all annual reviews are conducted poorly.

I know that for some of you out there this might be hard to believe. Just as it is easy to recognize poor management practices in action on an annual review, there’s the ability to identify when a review is done well. Here are some examples of markers of a well-conducted employee performance review:

Marker #1: Level of detail

A well-conducted annual review will show that both the manager and the employee have a mastery of the details of the role being reviewed. The details should include specific actions that the employee performed. The manager can demonstrate involvement in the actual work by discussing how she actually reviewed the work and found it at the desired performance level and what the impact of the work is, or is anticipated to be.

Marker #2: Agreement of metrics

First, let’s assume that there are success metrics (yes, numbers) that are documented somewhere on the review. That is a good sign. Second, let’s say that the manager and the employee BOTH refer to the same numbers on the review. That’s another good sign. So then we know that both the manager and the employee seem to be striving for the same numbers. That’s a third good sign. (We’re taking baby steps here. I would also be great if the metrics were tied to drivers of business/organization success – but let’s start really basic and have the employee and manager agree on a few metrics first.)

Marker #3: Referencing performance feedback/strategy sessions

When either the manager or the employee reference in the review actual feedback conversations (or what I also refer to as “employee strategy sessions”) that happened external to the review context, this is a good sign. That means that the manager has taken an active interest in the employee’s ability to perform the job well, and has taken the time to coach the employee. Also imagine the employee referencing in the review having been coached, taking the feedback and applying it, and then getting better results. That would be even a better sign.

Marker #4: The performance feedback/strategy sessions are related to the job functions and results

It’s one thing to have feedback discussions throughout the year, but it’s another to have feedback discussions that actually revolve around performing the job better. Many times managers stick to things that are closest to the manager, but are at best indirectly associated with doing the job:

“Jeff is late for our team meetings”

“Anne didn’t attend the all-team meeting

“Isabelle needs to speak up during the team meetings”

“Mark brings up problems during 1:1 meetings”

OK, so those seem to be things revealing a lot about the employee/manager logistics, but nothing about the job. How about instead:

“Jeff created a strategic business plan that researched the competitive landscape. We identified some new tools he can use to create deeper understanding of our competitors, and he introduced to them to the organization.”

“When we found errors coming from our vendor, Anne identified the top issues and worked with the vendor to reduce errors and costs.”

“In looking at the contracts Isabelle writes, they are consistent, keep the company’s interests at the forefront, and delivered on time.”

“Mark is skilled at finding issues in the organization, and raising them such that they help the team run. One example is our outreach efforts to our partner teams. He identified that this was an issue, and he proposed that he and I meet with them to better understand how we work together. The result was that the partner teams have included us in key decisions that we wouldn’t have been involved with otherwise.”

Marker #5: An outside party can actually identify what the job is by reading the review

If you look at the above examples, you can actually start to guess what the employee actually does. This should be the focus of a review – most of the commentary should be on what the employee did, and how well, and whether they met the goals or improved things.

These are some (not all) of the markers of a well-conducted annual review. If you have managers that display these markers, perhaps you should praise them for doing this well?

Have you seen these markers on an annual review? Or is it more common to see the markers of poorly conducted reviews?

 Related Articles:

The annual review reveals more about the manager’s performance than the employee’s performance (part 1)

The annual review reveals more about the manager’s performance than the employee’s performance (part 2)

The annual review reveals more about the manager’s performance than the employee’s performance (part 3)

The annual review reveals more about the manager’s performance than the employee’s performance (part 4)

Why the annual performance review is often toxic



How to neutralize in advance the annual toxic performance review

The myth of “one good thing, one bad thing” on a performance review





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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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  1. […] on Monday, October 3, 2011 · Leave a Comment  In my previous article, I provided five markers of what a well-conducted annual review looks like. Let’s look at some more. It is possible to actually conduct an annual review well, but this is […]

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