How to Give a Meaningful Performance Review, According to 2 Team Leaders

by Janey Zitomer
February 11, 2020

According to a TriNet study on performance reviews, 22 percent of full-time, U.S. employees surveyed said they’ve called in sick because they were anxious about receiving their reviews. Furthermore, a whopping 62 percents of respondents said they felt “blindsided” by the feedback they got from their managers.

Understandably, a meeting discussing an employee’s performance can be daunting. But performance reviews should be designed to serve team members, not scare them. And they don’t exclude positive feedback. 

How can managers turn negative assumptions around? Funding Circle’s Katrina Kilella and Billtrust’s Christy Green shared tangible ways leaders might approach reviews differently. For example, Kilella and Green recommended addressing an employee’s success from the previous quarter first and foremost, and using one-on-ones as progress metrics. 

“Talking through successes sets a positive tone and is a great reminder of how far we’ve come,” said Green. 

 

Billtrust
Billtrust

Feedback is regularly exchanged at Billtrust, where employees participate in a quarterly review cycle. Vice President of Professional Services Christy Green said that she asks direct reports to come to performance evaluations prepared with challenges they’ve recently faced and personal accomplishments they’re proud of. 

Once they identify areas of development together, she focuses on how the team members can continue to improve the following quarter. 

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

We are fortunate that Billtrust’s formal review cycle is quarterly, so our “look back” period is much shorter than companies with annual reviews. To prepare, I consider three things: metrics that we track around specific performance related to our jobs, customer survey feedback we receive for each of our projects and empirical evidence around how I see the individual doing in areas such as interacting with other team members and contributions to the greater good. These three things are equally important and will factor into any performance discussion.

 

What about during the review? How do you format these meetings and why?

These are items we also discuss less formally in our weekly one-on-one conversations, so the formal performance meeting is not a surprise. The employee will schedule a review meeting where they are asked to have put some thought into their performance over the last three months and bring examples of things done well and specific challenges faced. We discuss how they plan on progressing toward specific goals documented in our human resource management system, what successes they achieved during the quarter and what areas of development they have identified. We then wrap up with a conversation about new items that we’ll focus on in the coming quarter. 

This is typically the natural flow of the conversation, as talking through successes sets a positive tone and is a great reminder of how far we’ve come. This naturally flows into the “what’s next” conversation. Even your rock stars want things to work on. So it’s not a hard conversation to have if you frame it correctly. 

Even your rock stars want things to work on.’’ 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

I believe the most important thing when providing constructive feedback is to remember your audience. Not everyone will receive feedback the same way. Some people handle blunt conversations well and need the message to be delivered that way in order to really hear what you are saying. Others’ feelings will be hurt, so they will stop listening. It’s not always easy, but it is important to adapt your style to the individual if you really want the conversation to result in change.

 

Funding Circle
Funding circle

Performance reviews don’t exist in a vacuum. People Partner Katrina Bilella said that in addition to annual check-ins, Funding Circle offers training sessions managers can take throughout the year. Bilella shared how she provides constructive criticism rooted in mutual respect.  

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

Throughout the year, we hold several different training sessions around feedback, such as “Delivering and Receiving Feedback” and “Managing the FC Way.” In addition, we coach managers on how to have productive one-on-ones, including quarterly deep-dives focused on individual employee development.  

 

What about during the review? 

Since managers are already conducting quarterly development-focused one-on-ones, the beginning of the year allows us to look back, summarize and provide annual feedback. These annual check-ins are simple by design, consisting of just three main areas: what the employee achieved, how they achieved it (using Funding Circle values to drive their goals) and an overall performance descriptor.

In order for feedback to be constructive, it must involve solutions.’’ 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

In order for feedback to be constructive, it must involve solutions. Therefore, we encourage and empower managers to offer at least one solution when providing employees with feedback. We also encourage managers to have employees come up with their own solutions. Collaborative problem-solving can unlock potential.

 

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