5 Steps for Managers to Crush the Mid-Year Performance Review

Performance evaluations are stressful times for employees, who often view approaching reviews with dread — especially if they only meet with managers once or twice a year. Mid-year performance reviews can be equally stressful for managers, who may struggle to balance the need to provide constructive criticism with the natural desire to avoid conflict with their team.

Performance reviews don’t have to be nerve-wracking. Below are five performance review tips for managers to help employees and managers alike leave review meetings feeling confident their needs and concerns are being addressed. 

Become a Coach, Not a Judge

Performance evaluations can make employees feel as if managers are judging their performance, with the unspoken assumption that a poor review will negatively affect the employee’s career aspirations or trajectory at the company. When employees see performance reviews as judgments, they often withdraw from the conversation or become defensive. They can become unwilling to discuss vulnerability or their own concerns about their work to avoid having those concerns used against them — whether or not the manager intends to.

Switching from the role of an evaluator to that of a coach is a subtle but important shift. As your employee’s coach, your role in a performance review is to help him or her succeed — which ultimately helps your organization succeed. 

Being a coach requires you to listen to your employees without judgement. Managers who coach can gauge their employees’ emotions in addition to their words. They ask probing questions to ensure they really understand their employees’ concerns and are willing to discuss uncomfortable topics. 

Coaching requires an understanding of your employees as people. Ask about their personal goals and motivators, and work together to align employee goals with those of the company. Ask what they feel their greatest accomplishment has been at work over the past six months, what they hope to accomplish, and whether they have everything they need to do their job successfully. Guiding employees to self-realization regarding where they need to improve motivates them to change in a way that simply pointing out their shortcomings cannot match.  

Integrate Performance Reviews with Regular 1:1 Meetings

If you only meet with an employee for performance reviews, you’re both going to be nervous come review time. Neither of you are used to or comfortable with the situation, and annual/mid-year reviews don’t provide enough time to build personal connections. 

Performance reviews tend to focus on past performance rather than future opportunities, which limits how much you can discuss employee goals. The simplest way to resolve these issues is to schedule a series of 1:1 meetings with employees between performance reviews. 

Monthly 1:1 meetings provide opportunities to coach and motivate employees while providing real-time feedback. Goals can be discussed without the specter of performance reviews hanging over the employee’s head. Perhaps more importantly, 1:1 meetings provide a venue in which managers and employees can make personal connections, build trust, and grow accustomed to regular interactions, making performance reviews less awkward and more productive. 

Implement 360-Degree Feedback

An employee’s work ethic, strengths, and weaknesses are often more apparent to their peers than to managers. Adding 360-degree feedback to your mid-year performance reviews takes advantage of this fact and paints a more complete picture of an employee’s performance.
Prior to performance reviews, have your team fill out anonymous feedback forms for each other (for large teams, break them down into smaller groups). Using a rating system that makes sense within your organization, ask employees to evaluate each other’s core competencies while providing room for written comments. 

Each person being evaluated also fills in a self-rating survey. Answers can then be compared to those of his or her peers. Use any differences between the self-reported and peer-reported surveys as opportunities for discussion, with an emphasis on helping the employee thrive in his or her work environment. 

Document Employee Performance

Even if you oversee a relatively small team, you’ll be hard-pressed to memorize every employee’s performance milestones and challenges. Too often, a reliance on memory leads to performance reviews focusing on the employee’s most recent actions, potentially neglecting important issues which occured earlier in the review cycle. This is known as recency bias, and it can be minimized by implementing real-time feedback and documentation.

Instead, document — in writing — each employee’s performance on an ongoing basis. You can do so most easily by using a performance management tool like Reflektive. Alternatively, you can create a performance folder for each employee and update it after every 1:1 meeting. Record employee achievements, examples of exemplary or poor performance, attendance, customer or peer feedback, short summaries of meetings and action plans, and anything else related to employee performance. Review the folder’s contents before the mid-year review to refresh yourself on the full picture of the employee’s performance and progress.

Cultivate Transparency

The last of our performance review tips for managers is to cultivate a sense of openness and transparency about reviews. Your employees should understand how their performance is measured and how their contributions are viewed (and valued) by the organization. Share the metrics and ratings you use for performance reviews; the better employees understand the process, the more they’ll get out of it.
For more suggestions on how to get the most out of your mid-year reviews, check out 4 Tips to Help Managers Prepare for Performance Reviews.