The performance review is an administrative ritual that most businesses participate in once a year — and one that is often dreaded and reviled. For busy managers, reviews can be time-consuming to prepare for and often difficult to deliver. Employees endure them, hoping for good news of a raise while fearing bad news about their performance.

Is such an awkward, stressful and demanding process really worth all the time and trouble?

Before you give in to the temptation to let performance reviews slide, understand that they are indeed a critical personnel function and an investment in your employees. Why? Because your employees need feedback. Feedback is the only way for them to know what they're doing well, what skills they need to develop and in what areas they need to improve. Feedback can help improve performance and productivity — and positive feedback can help boost morale.

Performance Reviews Dos and Don'ts

So, you see, it's not a question of if performance reviews are necessary, but rather a question of how they are delivered. These dos and don'ts can make reviews a productive and rewarding experience all around.

1. Don't Wait for the End of the Year

The norm among businesses of all sizes is to meet with employees annually (as Investor's Business Daily notes) for a combined discussion of performance and pay. But when feedback is reserved for a one-time conversation at the end of the year, it may not make much of a difference to an employee's performance. You also risk catching your employees off guard with feedback they didn't anticipate, and that's the last thing an evaluation should do.

2. Do Adopt a System of Regular Feedback

Rather than keeping reviews as an annual event, make feedback a regular part of running your business. Offer immediate, on-the-spot feedback as circumstances warrant — whether praise for a job well-done or coaching to improve performance or remedy a problem area. Meet one-on-one with your employees on a weekly or monthly basis to discuss work activities and progress toward goals. Think in terms of coaching and ongoing development, not one-and-done performance reviews. Whatever approach you decide to take — whether weekly or monthly — be sure to apply it consistently to all your employees.

3. Don't Do All the Talking

In traditional performance management, the manager delivers a one-sided, top-down evaluation that can be difficult for employees to hear and receive. This approach also discourages open and honest dialogue, which means you miss out on an opportunity to better understand the employee's perspective as well as the chance to receive any constructive feedback they may have for you. When planning the performance review meeting, build in time throughout for employee questions and comments.

4. Do Make It Collaborative

Two-way conversations build trust and can make the review process less threatening. To get your employees talking, ask them to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, and use this as the basis for your discussion. Ask questions and encourage them to share their thoughts and suggestions. Look for ways to bolster each employee's growth based on what you hear — especially if it involves professional development goals.

5. Don't Focus on the Negative

No one likes negative feedback, not even the most committed employees who are driven by the desire to learn. The consistent human response is to feel judged and defensive in the face of criticism, as if one's personal worth is being questioned. Negative feedback can also take a toll on motivation, commitment and performance.

6. Do Bring Out the Positive — and Keep It Constructive

Rather than make each evaluation an exercise in criticism and negativity, discuss the employee's positive contributions and talk through (with an open mind) any challenges they might face. Identify strengths and how they can be developed to further the employee's career and contribute to your business. Lead your employee through growth or developmental opportunities and, together, problem solve ways to reach better outcomes. This encourages new understanding and genuine learning that can help lead to lasting improvements in the employee's ability to excel on the job. As a best practice, you should also consider checking in with the employee periodically to track his or her progress toward meeting these goals or opportunities

7. Do Plan for a Formal Meeting

Once you've integrated coaching and feedback into your ongoing communications with employees, the annual performance review becomes a formality. You can recap the past year, citing the ongoing feedback discussions you've had along the way, while focusing on the employee's goals and objectives for the upcoming year.

In summary, keep the review process simple, flexible, continuous and interactive. By doing so, rather than face an annual event with fear and loathing, both you and your employees can reap the rewards of ongoing connection, greater understanding and improved performance.

This article provides general information, and should not be construed as specific legal, HR, financial, insurance, tax or accounting advice. As with all matters of a legal or human resources nature, you should consult with your own legal counsel and human resources professionals. The Hartford and ADP shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, punitive or exemplary damages in connection with the use by you or anyone of the information provided herein.

Tags: employee management