For many small businesses, peak performance review time is January - February... just as other priorities pick up -- new strategies, new goals, etc. Add writing, reading, and giving reviews to your plate, and work can get overwhelming. Performance reviews can be drudgery for even the best managers.

Reviews at FreeLogoServices came at an extremely busy time. We experienced huge growth in 2017, doubling our full-time headcount. Needless to say, reviews took many more hours than previous years. There's no other way to say it: it was a burden to get through them all.    

I recently talked about this with Sam Zales, COO of CarGurus, an automotive research and shopping site providing reviews and photos from real people. After giving hundreds of reviews, Zales has learned a thing or two about the performance management process.

He reminisced about his early career days at American Express, where he learned the value of staff development as a central driver of creating business success.

"Performance management process was at the forefront of the business leadership activity," he explained. This process translates effectively to startup and early-stage businesses because it's "both applicable and essential to every stage and size of business."

So when you're knee-deep in reviews, remember these four things.

1. You'll open up a transparent channel of communication.

According to Zales, the performance management process begins with aligning business plans with strategic projects to achieve goals. These goals should translate into individual expectations at every staff level. That way, if organizations implement the review process effectively, "every team member will know exactly where they stand in performance on a regular basis to guide career development."

Reviews also provide "an opportunity to create a two-way street for both staff member and manager to hear each other on things that can be improved in working relationships," Zales added.

When done well, he concluded, "hiring, development, management, and retention of employees should be maximized."

2. You'll reiterate big-picture goals.

It starts at the top: Set strategic company initiatives and objectives. Cascade those goals down to business units and individual working teams. Then measure both overall and individual performance against those objectives. That way, you can ensure you maximize outputs against the most important strategic initiatives for the company.

In performance evaluations, you'll review these goals.

When all team members understand your goals -- and how their individual work contributes to attaining that goal -- they're more motivated to achieve it. Performance reviews are a fantastic opportunity to take a step back and see the big picture.

3. You'll identify gaps and opportunities for your staff members.

Reviews open the opportunity for transparency, enabling each staff member to know exactly where they stand on a quarterly or annual basis. When done well, you also learn their personal goals for career development.

Ask them what they really want in their career. You may be able to find ways to align their goals with company needs in their business area. Zales attributes this transparency as the reason why he's been able to promote many staff members to more senior roles within CarGurus.

This becomes a clear win-win situation.

4. You'll strengthen your own business.

Performance reviews work the other way, too. Since they clarify goals and objectives from the top of an organization down to all staff levels, you'll be able to see how each business area is performing against expectations. What's working, and what isn't?

This knowledge enables you to either continue or change directions to maximize business results. Most importantly, Zales added, it provides "the most effective means of rewarding high-performing staff members, and guiding improvement or alternative careers paths for those not performing to expectation."

When you reward top employees, they'll make an ever greater impact on the business. And by guiding under-performers, you'll prevent further results degradation.

So as you power through reviews, remember: it's worth it.