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A good performance review isn’t about a better form or a new rating scale, it’s about having a meaningful conversation.

Good performance review examples, ones that actually improve performance, are not as easy to find as you might think. Search for them online and you might wind up with something like this performance review example. Intended as part of an annual appraisal, it is a written form containing ratings and annual goals.

This is a bad performance review example. Here’s why.

Why is it a bad performance review example?

The annual appraisal doesn’t work and it never has. It is an example of a bad performance review using outdated practices, of which just 2% of employees see the value. As such, the reason the performance review example above is bad is that it includes many of the worst hallmarks of an annual appraisal.

First of all, it focuses on a whole year. One of the many issues with annual appraisals is exactly that; they are annual. The idea of setting goals once a year is extremely problematic. It’s for this reason that New Year’s resolutions fail so badly — with the vast majority of people abandoning them in the first few months of the year.

The problem is that a year is an arbitrary period which has been shaped by ancient cultures. Businesses and priorities move fast and having annual goals are simply not appropriate for most people’s jobs today, except perhaps at very the most senior levels of the organisation. A better way to set a SMART goal is to think of goals as a ‘priorities’ for the next 1-4 months. This will make them easier to set and relevant to employee’s roles.  

The other issue with annual appraisals is that they are just not frequent enough to improve performance and maintain engagement. If an employee has an issue that is affecting their motivation in say August, by the time the appraisal comes around in December, they may have left, or their performance may have significantly tailed off.  In short, a lot can happen in the 11 months between one annual appraisal and the next. A good a performance review example is much more regular.

The third issue with the example appraisal form above is its use of ratings. Ratings are inherently prone to bias and are too subjective to provide any genuine insight into actual performance levels. Managers also avoid giving poor ratings as they do not want to risk damaging their relationships with their team members.

This particular example also rates the achievement of objectives. When you do this, evidence has found that performance can actually decrease as employees set easier goals that they know they will be able to hit. This helps no-one.

Instead, we need to put in place performance reviews which focus on – well – improving performance…

This is a good performance review example

First of all, a good performance review is regular. It should take place as often as it needs to but at least once a quarter. Whenever a manager and employee need to check in with each other, it should be able to happen quickly and easily without any bureaucracy getting in the way. Employees should feel like they can talk to their manager about their future and address their concerns at any point and vice versa. This should ideally be part of a continuous performance management approach that includes real-time feedback and near-term goals.

For some organisations, this might seem a big shift, but it can be done successfully. It’s exactly what leading companies like Microsoft, General Electric and Adobe did, whose shares soared by 65% as a direct result.

A good performance management review also doesn’t use past-focused ratings. Instead, it is future focused and looks at how employees can replicate past successes again, how they can better leverage their strengths, and what development they need to help them improve. When employees don’t feel like they’re being judged, it’s easier for them to open up about how they can improve, and both sides can air their concerns in an environment of honesty and trust.

Of course, we can’t expect managers to be able to hold these type of performance reviews without guidance or having a suggested structure. So here’s a best practice check-in conversation template that has recommended discussion prompts that will lead to a meaningful, performance improving conversation.

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