Managers' tips for evaluating employees

Performance reviews don’t have to be awful. Try these tricks to improve the process.

Managers' tips for evaluating employees

Performance reviews don’t have to be awful.

It’s the start of a new year—time to evaluate how you’re doing and set goals for the future. For many companies, it’s also performance review time. If the thought makes you want to hide in your coat closet, there’s good news: Evaluations don’t have to be painful.

You can structure the review process a variety of ways, but the key to making everything easier is to treat it like a rolling conversation. “Companies are moving away from an annual performance review, [going] to regular check-ins and ongoing feedback conversations throughout the year,” says Todd Cherches, CEO and co-founder of executive coaching firm BigBlueGumball.

The beginning of the year is a great time to set this process in motion, if you haven’t already. Keep the following advice in mind as you’re thinking about the year ahead:

Set clear goals

Above all, employees need to understand what you want from them. “Throughout the time that I’m working for you, I need to be totally aware of two things: the expectations and whether I’m meeting them,” says Laura MacLeod, an HR expert and consultant with From The Inside Out Project, an employee-morale company.

Managers often let their employees toil in the trenches without meaningful feedback on what they’re doing right or wrong. “A manager may feel like, ‘This report is late, and I’m going to say it’s late, but I’m not going to tell you that that’s going to be on your evaluation and that it’s going to take you down two notches,’” MacLeod says. “That can be communicated very simply in a conversation.”

When you’ve done this well, no one gets blindsided at the official performance review.

Have regular meetings

At the very least, you should be meeting with employees quarterly to make sure the goals you set at the beginning of the year still make sense and to gauge their progress overall.

“Develop a culture of performance management throughout the year that is structured, that consists of frequent feedback and touch points,” says Ivelices Thomas, founder and CEO of human resources advisory firm HR & Beyond. “Schedule these like you would any other meeting. You may have to move them as work dictates, but at least it’s already on your schedule and you become accustomed to this.”

These meetings don’t have to be lengthy. “It could be 10 minutes,” MacLeod says. “It’s a conversation. It’s a routine thing that keeps people accountable, and it also demonstrates that upper management is invested in progress and not just the bottom line.”

In fact, some experts feel you should have a quick check-in with employees daily. “Every manager should be able to find one minute in their day to connect with each person on their team, just to say, ‘I acknowledge your existence and I appreciate what you’re doing,’” Cherches says. “That will make your job easier when you get to performance reviews at the end of the year, if you’ve built up this reservoir of good will and rapport with your people.”

Develop an agenda

When you sit down with an employee, make sure you have a plan for your talk. “One trap that happens is that a manager and employee talk about everything that’s undone, that’s on the to-do list, and it becomes a tactical meeting instead of a strategic meeting,” says Darcy Eikenberg, an executive and leadership coach at Red Cape Revolution.

An agenda can help ensure you hit other topics that matter, like how that employee is doing, how your relationship with them is going, what they need in order to grow, and how they might improve their performance.

Although all this interaction with employees takes time and effort on your part, the end result is a process that actually means something. “If you’re going to move to a system like this, it requires more communication, not less,” Eikenberg says. “It can be better and richer and result in more retention and more engagement, but you don’t get those results from not doing the work.”

Ask your employees how they think they did

When you’re having this conversation with your employees, ask first how they’d rate themselves. Have them complete a self-evaluation before meeting with you.

“You can get an indication of how difficult or easy that conversation is going to be, based on what the other person says [in their self-evaluation],” Cherches says. If they think they did an amazing job, but you think the opposite, you’ll at least have a heads up that they’re going to be surprised.

Cherches recommends a “Start, Stop, Continue” approach in which managers talk to workers about what new things they should start doing, what they should stop doing, and what they’ve been doing well (and should continue). “It’s good to identify some positive things that the person is doing that you’d like to see them continue to do,” he says.

Consult an expert

Managing a team and developing strong communication skills take time and practice. Knowing the best way to be a thoughtful manager often requires expert advice. Join Monster for free and receive weekly emails with advice on career development, management skills, and business trends. As a member, you can also upload up to five versions of your resume so that all your great experience will get noticed by recruiters, who check Monster every day for new management roles as soon as they open up.