The end of the year can have a lot of significance: the holidays. A time for reflection and setting goals. The end of the fiscal year. And for many, many professionals it can also signal the start of performance reviews.
Most managers look forward to writing performance reviews about as much as root canals. But performance reviews don’t have to be a stressful or painful process — if you know how to manage these efforts effectively and efficiently.
- State the criteria for acceptable performance documentation
- Identify documentation that meets and fails to meet these criteria
- Use clear, specific, objective terms to describe performance
- Support conclusions, ratings, recommendations, and actions with descriptions and examples
- Write objectives and standards that meet the criteria
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Let’s start from the beginning, even though we know they’re important and that they serve an organizational purpose, why do supervisors dread doing performance reviews?
Natasha Terk: Managers and supervisors dread the review for a bunch of reasons:
- They have emotions around the employee and/or their work and aren’t sure what to do with their feelings. They also worry about the feelings of the person they are reviewing.
- They sit down without any notes and only a vague memory of what actually happened during the review cycle.
- They don’t always know what they are evaluating – when there are no clear objectives or goals, it’s hard what behaviors, actions, and accomplishments are within scope for the review.
- They have to write about issues that went unchecked or uncommunicated during the review cycle so this will be new news.
JCH: What are the most common mistakes supervisors make when either preparing for or doing performance reviews?
Natasha: The single biggest mistake people make is not keeping any sort of notes throughout the year. If you manage people, you should keep track of the things that they are doing well (and not so well) during the year. It really doesn’t matter how you keep notes (stickies in a folder, emails to yourself, notes in your phone) but if you sit down to write a review and have no examples or data, you have only your opinions and they don’t belong in a review.
That takes me to the second mistake that people make which is that they use subjective information (including opinions) without data to back it up. Oh, and another one? Sometimes they don’t communicate about performance all year except during the review (spoiler alert: that’s not good).
The single biggest mistake people make is not keeping any sort of notes throughout the year.
JCH: Turning the tables just a bit, how can employees better prepare and deal with their own performance reviews?
Natasha: Employees, like the people who manage them, should keep track of their accomplishments against their objectives. So, for example, if an objective was to reduce office supplies, the employee should make sure it’s SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound) and then keep notes about their progress against the goal. We’ll talk more about SMART during the webinar.
JCH: You’re a new presenter with Justice Clearinghouse. Tell us a bit about yourself. What drew you to this line of work? What makes you passionate about helping organizations implement better performance review processes?
Natasha: I used to work in the nonprofit sector as a program officer. I was reviewing grant proposals and making funding recommendations to the board. It was really competitive to win a grant; I saw how organizations and individuals could set themselves apart with clear, persuasive writing. After the foundation role, I worked as a management consultant; that’s where I honed my skills as a facilitator, trainer, and evaluator. Believe me, it’s true that wordy, confusing writing kills your credibility.
I’ve been running Write It Well for fifteen years; it was founded by two forward-thinking women in 1979 when people still used word processors. I brought our materials into the digital age; now we deliver traditional workshops and contemporary webinars!
My clients include nonprofits, corporations, and government and public agencies. I work with a lot of technical people who communicate with non-technical or mixed audiences. I want everyone to have the skills and tools to present a professional image of themselves and their business or agency!
JCH: Without giving the whole webinar away, and understanding that we typically have a range of attendees from across the justice/public safety/government spectrum, what are some key things attendees will learn during your webinar that they can immediately implement?
Natasha: After the webinar, participants will know about the SMART acronym, if they don’t already. And either way, they will know how it applies to writing objectives (what you say you will do or what another person needs to do) and how it applies to the review you write at the conclusion of the review period (how you evaluate yourself or your employee).
Participants will also know why it’s important to use examples, data, and objective language. The most important takeaway is that participants will know how to turn that dreaded task into one that is useful for both the manager and the employee.