How to Design an Effective Performance Review

Michelle Benjamin – CEO of Benjamin Enterprises


Michelle Benjamin’s Article Featured on

As the U.S. manufacturing industry struggles to find fresh talent, retaining and rewarding existing workers becomes increasingly important. While there are many ways to keep staff engaged and happy, one often-neglected method is the performance review process.

Most employers can better optimize their approach to conducting performance evaluations. Consider the following tips to make performance reviews easier and more meaningful for both the supervisor and the staff.

Six months before reviews:

• Make sure you have set SMART Goals – When defining the areas where each employee will be measured, make sure the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). Instead of making the goal to “increase quality”, make it “reduce out-of-tolerance product by 15 percent compared to the end of year totals of last year”. By documenting the goal in detail as well as how it will be measure, there is no area of ambiguity on either your part as the manager or on the employee’s part.

• Remove the surprise element out of the review process – In advance of any reviews, and preferably as close to the start of the measurement period as possible, communicate out the goals to each employee through brief one-on-one sessions. Individual goals should roll up into department goals which can be reinforced through department meetings. Make sure everyone reporting to you clearly understands his/her goals. You should also report on the goals on a regular basis so that all employees are aware of where they stand and what needs to be done to achieve the goals.

Two weeks before reviews:

• Go back to previous reviews for reference – Prior to beginning this period’s review, go back and read through the employee’s reviews from previous periods. Were there items to improve upon? Was there training that needed to happen? This is an excellent starting point when it comes to documenting their performance for the current period.

• Schedule reviews beginning of the week – Effective managers know that the proper timing of effective communication is critical. Schedule your employees’ performance reviews at least 30 minutes before the beginning of the shift and at the beginning of the week when people are more likely to be fresh from the weekend.

During the review week:

• Start with your high performers – If there is a low performer on the team, many managers think it is easier to have that discussion first to get it out of the way. If you give the low reviews first, it allows those employees to spread negativity amongst their co-workers. Instead, start with your high performers and work your way down to any low performers. This will show your high performers that their efforts are appreciated and valued while also building anticipation amongst the lower performing staff.

• Avoid your office when giving reviews – Each employee review should be conducted individually and in a neutral location like a small, private conference room. This makes both the manager and the employee feel more comfortable.

• Listen first before speaking – Give your employees a chance to open up their individual reviews with something positive to share about their accomplishments. It can be anything. Allow your employees to share what’s positive and ask: Why is that important to you? The answer will help you to get to know them better.

• Take your time – Since the outcome of the review can have a financial or career impact to the employee, take your time and really put some thought into your observations and documentation. It is a good idea throughout the review period to make notes or file away documentation from yourself, your peers, or other employees as it pertains to the employee being reviewed. This reminds you of performance throughout the review period that you might have forgotten.

• Ask for feedback – Once you have completed the review, ask the employee for their feedback on both the overall review and on your performance as a manager. This should be an open and engaging dialogue which can occur at the conclusion of the review. Depending on your comfort level, feedback information can be received via email or through anonymous comments in a suggestion box.

There are not many managers that look forward to creating and conducting performance reviews. The overall goal of the review process is to recognize areas where employees are performing well and identifying areas for improvement. By doing this in a well-defined, documented manner, the process can be informative, educational, and minimize unnecessary drama or injured egos.