Performance reviews are sometimes dreaded by both managers and employees alike. Many managers struggle with what feedback to include in the review, and employees often grow nervous wondering what negative critique they will be given in response to their performance. I have found that the discomfort surrounding performance reviews is unnecessary when the process is done with honesty and encouragement.

A performance review is a time to highlight your employee's strengths, as well as to work on developmental goals to build the employee's knowledge and skills in other areas. The one fault of many managers is they tend to 'wing it,' especially when it comes to high performers. When someone is doing a great job, the focus often turns to employee retention, which may cause you to miss key opportunities for talking about how the employee can improve and grow. 

Here are a few key things to remember as you approach the performance review process:

1. It's a conversation not a speech

Before you get into the heart of the review, it is important to set the tone of the meeting in order to cultivate a positive atmosphere of collaboration. I like to look at the performance review as a time for open dialogue. If I am doing all the talking, that means I'm not listening to the employee's views and concerns. For example, I always strive to let employees talk more than half the time to allow for them to give feedback on the challenges they had in meeting specific goals or on what goals they are excited about achieving in the coming year.  

2. Hold the sugar

I use clear, direct language that is phrased positively but without sugarcoating the information I am providing. Telling someone they need to work on their "people skills" would be doing them a disservice if what you really mean is they need to do a better job collaborating with colleagues on group projects. The point is that constructive feedback is only good (and actionable) if it's explicitly clear. I've found that this type of honest conversation fosters an environment of truthfulness and sharing rather than giving the impression that I am holding something back.

3. Avoid nitpicking 

Nobody is perfect. Highlighting a single instance of a mistake, especially if it happened months prior to the review, can make the employee defensive of all of their actions. This destroys the mood of collaboration on goals and improvement. If a 'dropped ball' was not enough to terminate the employee when it happened, then don't dwell on it during the performance review. Instead, focus on recurring challenges the employee has been facing or skills they have struggled to master.  

4. Everyone has room for improvement

It's important to recognize the achievements the employee has made. However, no matter who you are and how successfully you have performed, you need to keep improving. When employees are provided opportunities to grow both personally and professionally, they will be motivated to give 110 percent to the company. Creating a culture of continuous improvement will help drive long-term success. 

The number one thing most managers will want to see after a performance review is initiative - employees who are willing to raise their hand and sign up for new opportunities. This behavior is a clear sign your employees are on board with the new objectives you have mutually agreed upon for the coming year. And, as a manager, you too need to show initiative and show your employees that you are doing what you can do to support their professional development. Showing that you are invested in the employee's personal and professional growth will help the employee thrive. 

Whether you are a new manager, or you've been conducting performance reviews for years, there is always room for improvement in the management process. How you present the performance review will greatly affect how the employee feels about their work and how they will perform in the future.