A performance review, done well, should not come as a surprise. A good manager provides coaching and feedback throughout the year, so employees consistently know where they stand and what’s needed for improvement. A good manager also asks questions so that every performance discussion is a dialogue. The manager knows the employee’s frustrations and career aspirations, because there is regular, transparent, two-way communication.

What’s between your annual reviews? An information vacuum?

Surprisingly, a number of organizations still deliver once-a-year performance appraisals without providing much interim feedback. The dangers of this approach?

  • Employees do not get the ongoing guidance and correction they need to do their best.
  • Workers wonder whether their boss likes their contribution; being in the dark can create anxiety.
  • Managers may not know the “pulse” of their direct reports—are those employees happy? Frustrated? Adequately challenged? About to resign?
  • The annual-only review gives the manager an excuse to postpone confronting a performance shortcoming. Instead of talking with an employee at the time of the problem, the discussion may occur months later or not at all.

But here is one of the more insidious problems of once-a-year reviews: The manager puts off filling out “the forms” until the last minute and ends up providing top-of-mind feedback regarding only the last few weeks, instead of the whole one-year performance cycle. If an employee made a recent mistake, it can overshadow a year’s worth of good work.

And a related problem? Sometimes, there is no dialogue. The manager is often so harried to get these performance reviews checked off the to-do list that the appraisal goes something like this:

The manager hands the form to the employee to read, or delivers the feedback as a monologue, followed by, “Do you have any questions? If not, go ahead and sign here.”

If the feedback contains any shocking or upsetting information, employees may become flustered. They want more time to think before responding. Instead of saying the “wrong thing,” they choose to say nothing. If they want to refute the evaluation, they must schedule another meeting and end up fretting or stewing (or looking for a new job) in the meantime.

Sure, you may have paid a consulting firm six figures to design your wonderful forms. But consider making this New Year’s resolution: Rename the annual performance appraisal. Instead, call it the “Annual Summary Review.” Commit to having performance discussions with each employee, at least once a quarter (if not more frequently). At the end of the year, the employee thinks, “O.K. You’ve complimented me on this. You’ve coached me on that. But how am I doing overall?” The annual form answers this question. It’s a culmination of a year’s worth of coaching and dialogue—not a once a year event.

Do you agree?

Leigh Steere
Co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC—a management research firm/think tank. Professional kettle-stirrer. Writer. Curriculum developer. Connect with Leigh on her LeadChange profile, website, or Twitter and check out the Managing People Better assessment where you can get some feedback on your management style and help with a research project.
Leigh Steere