Workplace Rights

Weekly (3/7/11)

Topic of the Week  The Adjustment Bureau: Conducting a Performance Review

Talk to most bosses and you'll quickly discover that there is one thing that they dread: conducting performance reviews of employees. However, performance reviews are still one of the most effective ways to improve employee performance and productivity. Which reminds me of the Taiwanese factory owner who accidently dropped 200 $1,000 bills into an industrial shredder, turning them into confetti. Luckily for him, Taiwan's Justice Ministry employs a forensic handwriting analyst who excels at jigsaw puzzles on the side. Ms. Liu Hui-fen worked around the clock for a week to piece together the 75 percent of each bill sufficient to make them legally exchangeable.

Like piecing together those bills, most performance reviews require forensic help to piece together what the employee must do to improve their performance. There must be a better way. And there is, that's why I've included three Do's and one Don't for improving employee performance through effective performance reviews. For more, check out Paul Falcone's book, "2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews" (Amacom, 2005).

Don't surprise them. Drama works in the theater, on the TV show Entourage and for many of your workplaces, according to my email. But it's a colossal failure when it comes to performance reviews. Employees should understand where they stand long before a performance review. A review should confirm, not inform, where an employee stands. That's why it's so important to schedule regular check-in sessions with everyone who reports to you. Who can afford to tolerate subpar performance for a year? Conversations about performance, and how it should be adjusted, should be help regularly.

Do give people a range of scores. Many bosses grade everyone similarly, either too tough or too easy. That's why it's so important to not to get stuck as an evaluator, but to look at each employee's contribution and challenges on an individual basis. Another trap to avoid is for a boss to do his Garrison Keillor impersonation, by ranking all employees as average. Take a hard look at each employee and then communicate strategies to improve their performance.

Do get employees involved. A performance review should be a conversation not an intervention. That's why it's important to ask employees why they made certain decisions and then to actually listen to their answers. Heck, there might be details that you weren't aware of. The learning should not be limited to the person being evaluated, the boss or evaluator can also learn a lot during this conversation too.

Do be specific. There is no place in a performance review for phrases like, "You always do it." No, performance reviews should be a series of specific observations. The more you can base your observations on concrete data, the better. Percentage increases or decreases are a great place to start the dialogue. And don't just harp of their deficiencies, also put energy into keeping track of the places where they excel.

Follow these tips and working for you won't seem like falling into an industrial shredder, it will actually be a place where people are supported.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination."

–Jimmy Dean

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