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Even in an uncertain job market, a December 2011 survey by human resources software maker Cornerstone OnDemand and Harris Interactive found that 21 million U.S. workers planned to change jobs this year, costing companies an estimated $2 trillion. The survey also found that the solution to keeping employees might lie in better performance management, including employee performance reviews. Only 37 percent of respondents felt that they were given useful feedback by their managers during their reviews.
Being consistent in giving performance reviews can be tough when you're delivering a not-so-great review. Sharon Armstrong, founder of Sharon Armstrong and Associates, a Washington, DC-based human resources consultancy and author of The Essential HR Handbook (Career Press, 2008), helps companies of all sizes improve their human resources functions. Here are her tips to help you make poor performance reviews less difficult and more effective.
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1. Come out from behind the desk. Lecturing from behind a desk isn't an effective way to deliver a difficult performance appraisal, says Armstrong. Instead, come out from behind the desk and sit face-to-face at eye level with the employee. Better yet, get a conference room, which is relatively neutral space, as long as it provides privacy. Such changes in location can help facilitate conversation instead of making the employee feel like he or she is being scolded.
2. Consider your employees' communication style. Good managers should understand their employees' individual communication styles. Some employees respond to ice-breakers and chit-chat about families while others find that more nerve-wracking and prefer to dive right into the review. Some employees are extroverted interested in discussing how to do better while others might be shy and internalize criticism.
Tailoring your bad-news delivery based on the employee instead of using a cookie-cutter approach make it more likely the employee hears what you're saying, says Armstrong.
3. Avoid sandbagging. "There's a wonderful supervisor's mantra and it's six words: When you see it, say it.' Make your feedback an ongoing workplace discussion," says Armstrong. In other words, don't keep a running list of everything the employee has done wrong throughout the course of the year and then use the review to unload grievances.
Instead, if you see behavior that needs correcting, do so at the time you observe it and reinforce any positive changes that have been made. In addition to delivering the bad news in a poor performance review, keep track of any good behaviors and discuss those, as well.
4. Make it a two-way conversation. While you don't want to go so far as to ask for employee feedback on your performance during the review, you should use it as an opportunity to get information about the challenges or triumphs he or she has had on the job. Armstrong suggests giving an employee some "homework" prior to the meeting so they can prepare for the review.
Related: 3 Secrets of Happy Employees
For example, ask the employee to think about six accomplishments of which he or she is proud or to discuss a difficult work situation that he or she solved during the course of the year. This helps you better understand how the employee thinks about his or her work, challenges, and priorities, she says. In addition, it gives you some positive material to discuss during a tough performance appraisal, which can help the employee from feeling demoralized.