Thinking about the “Why” and “How” of Delivering and Preparing Annual Performance Reviews
By Caroline Rossi

It doesn’t matter whether you are a supervisor or a staff member, most people dread the thought of the annual performance review. From the manager’s perspective, it can be time-consuming to prepare. The task is made even more daunting if a supervisor has a large staff to review. Whereas staff members can become anxious wondering if they are doing something wrong. They may even distrust the entire review process if they suspect bias, don’t have a sense of psychological safety with their supervisor, or feel the review process is too rigid to support a constructive conversation and instead mainly benefits the organization by serving as a means for documentation (SHRM, “ Performance Management that Makes a Difference ,” p. 9).

Despite these doubts, research has shown that there is a real benefit to well-executed performance reviews. Those benefits include: recognizing specific accomplishments over the year and how they align with organizational goals; tracking a staff member’s development; informing compensation decisions; boosting staff morale by opening a dialogue specifically on their professional development and interests, particularly if the organization isn’t able to provide a yearly raise; and raising areas where improvement is needed.

Ongoing dialogue throughout the year, not just at annual review time, is key to a successful performance evaluation. Performance issues can be raised and hopefully resolved prior to the review and if not, won’t come as a surprise during the review. Alternatively, hearing positive feedback throughout the year can boost a person’s morale and sense of purpose.

“Why are we doing performance reviews? What’s the goal?”

As far as the format of the annual review, there is no right or wrong answer. Throughout your career, you may have seen various formats used, depending on the organizations’ objectives. An organization that is using the annual review to evaluate performance might use a “ranking” or “scale” system where competencies and skills are listed and then the staff member is ranked on a scale from “exceptional” to “poor.” Whereas an organization that may be interested in performance development might choose a format with open-ended questions that promotes more dialogue and requires more input from the staff member.

Even well-established organizations may change the formats they use based on trial and error, so don’t be afraid to choose a format and modify or replace it if it’s not working for you. (You can search for various template formats online.)

Points to Keep in Mind When Preparing the Review

When evaluating a staff member’s performance, keep these points in mind:

  • If ranking performance, determine what constitutes “exceptional” or “poor” performance, for example, and apply it consistently to all staff. Include definitions on the review of the various levels of performance so that staff members understand what is needed to achieve a certain level.
  • Each staff member should be evaluated on their own merit; avoid basing rank on a comparison to another staff member.
  • If summarizing performance in written form, be sure to not just focus on the last few months or weeks of the year (also called the “recency effect”), but consider the entire year’s work. Keep a folder for each staff member and, during the year, if you receive an email about that person or want to note a specific event, print out the email or write up a brief (dated) note to yourself and put it in the staff member’s folder.
  • Be specific when providing feedback; cite specific examples, noting how well a particular case was handled or an event was planned, for instance. Staff members will appreciate that you recognized a specific accomplishment versus simply saying, “Sally has excellent organizational skills.”
  • Don’t surprise someone with significant, critical feedback on their job performance that they have never heard before. Note that this is different from “areas for further development.” Even top performers have areas that they could develop further, but continued poor job performance could, if not corrected, lead to probation or dismissal.
  • Unacceptable or poor performance issues should be addressed immediately and are best managed outside of the annual review process. However, if poor job performance has been discussed before and has not been corrected, definitely include it in the review but cite specific examples and note previous discussions and/or documentation.

Points to Keep in Mind When Delivering the Review

  • The best discussions can occur when there is psychological safety within the organization. This allows feedback to be discussed openly and a level of disagreement to safely occur.
  • Allow for the staff member to do most of the talking; use open-ended questions to keep the discussion going. Sometimes staff members can be shy when discussing their interests or determining next steps as far as professional development.
  • If you are open to suggestions, also ask for feedback on what you and/or the organization can do to support the staff member. Supervisors who model receiving feedback well help establish a mutually supportive work environment.
  • While delivering the review, if the conversation becomes contentious because the staff member doesn’t agree with the feedback, stop the meeting and reschedule as soon as possible on another day. (Depending on the level of disagreement, you may suggest that an HR rep—if you have one—sit in on the next meeting to act as a potential mediator.)
  • Finally, be sure to come away with measurable, realistic goals for the coming year that reflect both the needs of the organization and the interests and strengths of the staff member.

The information presented here is far from exhaustive. There are entire publications devoted to how to develop and deliver an effective performance management system from the ground up. This article mainly focuses on the broad points to consider when preparing and delivering performance feedback regardless of the format you use.

SRCAC Program Manager Caroline Rossi has over 13 years’ supervisory experience at both for-profit and non-profit organizations, including SRCAC, Pearson Education and Harvard Business School where among her management duties she wrote and delivered performance reviews, set goals, and developed performance improvement plans. 

Welcome to Alabama's New Chapter Director
Lynn Bius is the new State Executive Director for the Alabama Network of Children's Advocacy Centers in Montgomery, AL. She has worked with children and families since 1996 and has a B.S. in Education. She has spent more than eleven years in Education Administration with HeadStart serving as a Preschool Director and Education Coordinator. She moved to Montgomery, AL in 2008, and worked as the Administrator for a premiere lobbying firm and as a Business Consultant for an international accounting firm. While attending Leadership Autauga, Lynn made the decision to return to working in the non-profit world as an advocate for children and families. Within weeks, the opportunity at ANCAC opened, and the rest is history. She likes to say she traded in commission for a mission by returning to her first love – helping  children and making a difference in the world. She currently lives in Millbrook, AL with her two teenage boys and looks forward to serving the CACs and children and families of Alabama.

Registration Is Now Open!

July 10-11, 2019
Huntsville, AL
$49.00 per person

Over the course of this two-day training, led by SRCAC Senior Program Manager and Team Facilitator 2.0 trainer Greg Flett, participants will do the following:

  • Re-visit the MDT model and explore the role of Team Facilitator as an integral component of a healthy team
  • Learn practical approaches to team facilitation and techniques for cultivating a positive team climate
  • Discuss strategies for enhancing team collaboration, improved communication and sustaining an effective MDT
  • Examine opportunities for team development through cross training, relationship building, and re-thinking case review
Connect With Us
Spotlight is a newsletter prepared by Southern Regional CAC that focuses on current topics, ideas, trainings, and conferences which are designed to further the knowledge and practice of CAC professionals within the region. We hope you find the information helpful! Let us know if you have specific topics you’d like to see in future newsletters.
This publication is funded through grant #2016-CI-FX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components, operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this publication (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).
Southern Regional CAC | #justtryingtohelpsomekids | Vol. 2 No. 5: May 2019