The research on year-end reviews isn't very encouraging. Studies show the annual ritual of check-ins and goal setting is pretty close to useless. Managers shy away from giving negative feedback, employees resist hearing it, and the stilted format makes everyone uncomfortable. For most, the result is a chat that's as awkward as it is worthless.  

All of which you've probably sensed already. So what should you do? 

One possibility is to scrap the annual sit down in favor of more frequent, informal conversations. Science suggests that's probably your best option, but if that's not a possibility in your organization (or you're simply not sold on scrapping reviews entirely), the next best idea is to get smarter about how you conduct annual reviews.  

Performance reviews aren't just about performance. 

How do you do that? Claire Lew is well placed to know. As CEO of Know Your Team, which makes software that helps leaders solicit and provide feedback to their teams, she's swimming in data about what works and what doesn't when it comes to employee communications. Recently on her blog she shared her exact template for productive year-end reviews

In the post, Lew argues back against those who think performance reviews are only about performance. Instead, she claims, the conversation "sets the tone" for the relationship between manager and report for the year to come. 

For that reason, the year-end one-on-one shouldn't be a formal, dry meeting "where you're asking someone to evaluate themselves or rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. No, no, no," she insists. Instead, leaders need to encourage real conversation about last year's setbacks and triumphs as well as those expected in the year to come. 

To accomplish this Lew offers 16 questions broken into four sections to structure your chat. You need not hit every question in your allotted time, but with them in hand you should have all the inspiration you need to make your reviews actually meaningful this year. 

Catching up (10 - 15 minutes):

  • What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?

  • How has the workflow with the end of the year crunch been feeling?

Reflections on the past year (30 - 45 minutes):

  • When you consider this past year in full, how do you feel about the progress you personally made? How about the progress your team made?

  • How did the pace of work, and the pace of progress feel across the year?

  • When did you feel most proud to be a part of the company this past year?

  • When did you feel most discouraged last year?

  • Who's help or support on the team have you been most appreciative of?

  • What do you think has been the biggest area of growth for you? A time where you thought, "Woah, I really got better at this" or "I really learned something?"

  • Are there any ways that you've seen me grow as a leader?

  • In what ways has our work relationship changed over time? In what ways have we made positive progress? What are the areas we both need to work on how we work together?

Looking ahead (30 minutes):

  • What can I do better in the upcoming year to be the best manager to you, as possible?

  • In what ways do you want to stretch and grow in the upcoming year?

  • What about work, culture, or how the team is run do I need to pay closer attention to as a leader?

  • How can we better challenge and support each other in the upcoming year?

Takeaways and next steps (10 minutes):

  • What are we both taking away from this conversation?

  • Are there any next steps each of us needs to take for the upcoming year?

Do you think performance reviews generally accomplish something meaningful or should they be scrapped entirely?