Stop! You’re Demoralizing Employees With Reviews!

TS Associates knows performance reviews can be difficult to execute. We found this article to help you and your small business through performance reviews, in particular, how to avoid demoralizing your employees with reviews.

One place to start is to learn the difference between “situational” and “dispositional” feedback.

The annual employee review is antiquated. While some companies are making changes and conducting them on a regular basis, many employees still say they’re deeply flawed.

In fact, a January survey by Adobe found that 72 percent of the 1,500 U.S. office workers polled called performance reviews time-consuming. Additionally, some 59 percent said performance reviews had no impact on how they do their jobs.

So, the takeaway here is that the review process is not only a waste of time, but it’s ineffective as well as demoralizing for employees. Here are five ways to change this scenario, using lessons from real companies:

Teach the difference between situational and dispositional feedback

Didier Elzinga, the CEO and founder of Melbourne, Australia-based Culture Amp, a culture-analytics platform, argues that the average employee isn’t good at receiving feedback, especially if he or she receives dispositional feedback.

The term refers to a situation where leaders label employees based on a single occurrence, which immediately makes them defensive. Let’s say that an employee was temperamental during a meeting. If the employee receives feedback calling him or her angry, the individual usually shuts down.

“Traditionally, the approach has been a bit of a ‘You need to get better at receiving harsh feedback,’ but what we are realizing is that the brain isn’t really wired that way,” Elzinga said via email. “Teaching people how to give feedback in certain ways can massively improve any type of feedback process.”

Rather than make assumptions based on a single case (e.g., Tom is an angry person), Elzinga recommended focusing on the instance itself (e.g., Tom was angry during the meeting). This is called situational feedback.

So, instead of telling an employee he has an anger issue, recall how he seemed angry during a particular meeting and underscore that impression by describing his tone and body language. Then, explain how that behavior impacted others nearby. In this way, the employee will seek to understand why he (or she) was perceived a certain way, versus feeling personally insulted.

Offer communication training to leaders so they know how to describe situational behavior to employees. Suggest actionable solutions, and role-play how to ask open-ended questions.

Look ahead, get human and prepare.

Austin, Texas-based Steve Semelsberger, president of the Individual Transformation Practice at consulting firm SYPartners, said he follows a simple plan for each review.

He said he encourages the employee to focus on two things: what she wants to learn and what she wants to lead. From there, he asks more “human” questions centered on emotions; an example might be an inquiry into what scared her the most during the year. This helps both of them make sense of obstacles that may be hurting the employee’s performance or preventing her from attaining her professional goals.

To make the most out of this process, as Semelsberger pointed out, preparation is key. “I make sure that I’ve collected lots of input, am bringing multiple perspectives into the conversation and have clear and constructive feedback for people to take away,” he said in an email.

Schedule time for leaders to prepare before each employee review. To make it easier for them to gather information, host manager meetings on a weekly basis. This way, managers can share their input with one another about each employee.

Remove any threat centering on compensation.

There’s no reason to make employees stress about their pay when they head into their review. Jeff Weber, a senior vice president at Salt Lake City, Utah-based educational technology company Instructure, said to remove that threat entirely.

“All good feedback is based on helping people progress in their job or skills mastery,” Weber said via email. “Review discussions with useful feedback and dialogue should actually be something to look forward to, without the threat of negatively impacting compensation.”

Encourage your company’s leadership to share agendas with each employee that highlight what the review will focus on, like specific goals and performance progress. This way, they’re not worrying about losing their job or being skipped over for a promotion and are coming in with a positive, forward-thinking mindset.

Shift from reviewer to coach.

Vancouver-based Trevor Throness, author of The Power of People Skills, said that leaders need to become coaches, focusing on improving each employee’s game going forward, not reviewing the past.

“The coach should begin by asking questions to understand where their player is currently at,” Throness said in an email. “For the coachee to make progress, she must believe that the coach really does want her to win, and that the coach fully understands her perspective on the good and bad parts of her job.”

Start building this relationship from the get-go. Assign leaders to each employee and host coaching sessions, where employees get one-on-one time with their coach.

Throness calls this “coach and connect,” letting coachees share what’s going well, learn where they can improve and score themselves in effectiveness. Then, the coach asks questions and shares his or her thoughts on how the employee can improve.

Once it’s scheduled, stick to it.

San Francisco-based Dara Blumenthal, head of strategy and culture at team-development services company Live Grey, said she went through an emotional roller coaster at her first job when her annual review kept getting rescheduled.

While the review eventually occurred, and went well, the damage was already done. “I still felt wrung out by the stress, uncertainty and doubts that came up,” she said via email. “The implicit power dynamic of a review is always magnified even when there are normal hiccups.”

To avoid causing unnecessary uncertainty and discomfort for employees, keep a strict schedule for reviews. Encourage management to send employees scheduled reminders leading up to the review time. Each message should confirm the date and time and include a “shout out” of recognition for a recent accomplishment.

This keeps the review top of mind for employees and shows them they’re being noticed for their contributions. Plus, it sets a positive tone for the upcoming review.


This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.