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Many employers take the time and effort to follow through with employee reviews, while others let this annual tradition slide. Annual performance reviews can be excruciating, productive or somewhere in between. So what makes the difference? What makes an annual review effective and how can both employers and employees can prepare to get the best possible outcome?

What’s the goal?

The best employee reviews are a collaboration between a supportive employer and an employee who is interested in improvement. Yes, it’s a chance for an employer to give honest criticism and to measure performance, but it shouldn’t be a gotcha situation for the employee. The goal is to work together to take an honest inventory of how the employee has grown and things they need to work on and then make a concrete plan for moving forward and measuring progress towards improvement goals.

For employers…

Make sure you have data and questions ready for the person you’re evaluating especially if you anticipate it will be a difficult conversation. Be kind, but direct, and stay open to listening throughout the meeting. Give feedback that is timely, specific and actionable. Don’t comment on rumors, gossip or things you have heard about the employee; instead, focus on evidence and concrete examples of their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, make sure to let them know what they are doing well.

How to prepare if you’re an employee…

Get the most out of your evaluation and one-on-one time with your higher ups by preparing ahead of time. Write down any questions or concerns you have, but keep the focus on yourself: steer clear of complaining about other employees, unless they are compromising your ability to do your job. Make a good impression by having some goals and areas you would like to improve ready to discuss, and ideas for how to make progress. Even if you are unhappy in your work, try to find something specific to express gratitude for.

What do you do about a bad review?

The honest truth is that, for employers, reviews sometimes serve as a chance to document an employee’s bad behavior and attempts to correct it, in case they decide to fire the employee later on. Ideally, employees should know where they stand especially if their performance is unsatisfactory well before it becomes a major issue. But if you are an employee who has gotten a bad review, it’s not necessarily the end of the world. As long as you are truly open to hearing difficult feedback and making positive changes, a bad review could be the beginning of a great turnaround.

In between reviews…

Evaluations are the most effective when they’re part of an ongoing conversation between employer and employee. If you’re an employer, don’t wait for the annual review to give your charges both positive and negative feedback on their performance. If you’re an employee, seek out feedback and mentorship and find a way to stay engaged with your goals all year long. This is the best way to ensure that the annual employee review is just a checkpoint on the larger journey and nothing to be worried about.

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