Helping Your Employees Actually Learn from Performance Reviews

Human Resources
by Guest Columnist

By Ron DeCamella

In yesterday’s Advisor, Bridget Miller shared 7 best practices for employee performance reviews. Today we present more performance review tips from Ron DeCamella, the director of Learning for Namely, the HR, payroll, and benefits platform built for today’s workplace.

The performance review—what was once a staple of the workplace has become a heated debate in HR. While some stand by them as the traditional way to measure performance, others argue that they’re not effective at all.

The truth is somewhere in the middle—performance reviews are effective, but only with one big caveat: HR professionals must help employees apply that feedback. And managers must help employees use that information to improve and to set new goals.

Performance reviews shouldn’t exist in their own bubble. They should connect to learning, development, and other workplace initiatives. Here are the best ways to help employees actually learn from performance reviews:

Make It One-On-One

Performance reviews are essential, but they have to be honest and relevant. But more often than not, they’re conducted under a time crunch, and managers are tasked with reviewing many employees at once. As a result, performance reviews have become more of a mandatory task rather than an initiative to help your employees grow.

After all, a survey conducted by Workplace Trends found that 52% of all companies still conduct annual performance reviews. Yet research shows that frequent one-on-one communication with employees is more effective. A recent study conducted by Gallup found that 44% of Millennials who meet regularly with their managers are engaged at work, compared to just 20% of those who don’t.

Performance reviews shouldn’t be an afterthought. They should be individual, personalized conversations throughout the year. Encourage managers to take the time to think through the feedback given to make it meaningful and useful for each employee.

Be Direct and Honest

Once you devote the time to regular performance reviews, ensure that these conversations include a discussion of what employees are doing right and which areas they can improve on. Although critical feedback seems like a fundamental part of the performance review, many managers still shy away from delivering it to employees.

In fact, a 2015 report from Interact found that 37% of the 616 managers surveyed said they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback and criticism about their employee’s performance that the employee might respond badly to. But while managers may dread giving negative feedback to their team, employees find it helpful.

Zenger Folkman’s 2014 Feedback: The Powerful Paradox study found that 72% of employees said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. Additionally, 92% of the respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”

If performance reviews are going to be worth the time investment, they need to be direct and honest. That doesn’t mean the entire conversation needs to be negative. Recognize their good work, but also point out what they can do to improve their performance.

Show, Don’t Just Tell

Telling employees what they need to improve on in the performance review is a start, but to really learn from the experience, they need more. Take it one step further by showing them how they can do better.

For each piece of constructive feedback, give examples of how employees can improve. Then help them create an action plan to get there. Suggest strategies they can use to improve their performance, and offer the tips and tricks to help them complete work more efficiently. It’s not enough to pass out judgment and tell employees what they’re doing wrong. For performance reviews to really have an impact, you need to guide them toward improvement.

Provide Resources

After showing employees how they can improve, give them the resources they need to do so. Provide customized learning and development opportunities to help each individual strengthen their weaknesses.

Learning and development shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. To be as effective as possible, use performance reviews to direct which opportunities are offered to which employees. For example, while some employees will benefit from courses that target communication skills, those who excel in communication might benefit more from learning opportunities that focus on project management, research, or other skills they need to improve.

Offering learning opportunities specific to what employees need will have greater benefits than just improving a certain skill. In a survey conducted by Udemy, 80% of employees said learning new skills will make them more engaged at work.

Performance reviews have been criticized a lot lately, but the problem doesn’t lie with the review itself—it’s in how organizations use the review. Connect your organization’s performance reviews to learning and development initiatives to maximize their impact.

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