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Advice For New Managers On Writing Their First Performance Review

November 28th, 2017

performance reviewWhen you opened your email this morning you found a reminder from HR to all managers that performance reviews were due by December 15th. Now you're wondering two things: Why didn't anyone tell me about this when I got promoted to manager? and How do I write one of these things?

Welcome to the world of the new manager, where training is minimal, if there's any at all, and pretty much you learn as you go.

If that's you, don't think you're alone. The most authoritative research on management training found the typical manager was 42 years old and 10 years into management before they got any training. It's a mistake and a shame it happens that way, but if you're intent on being a great manager, invest in yourself and enroll in management program at a local college or university. Or enlist the help of a professional coach.

In the meantime, you've now got a deadline facing you for reviewing the performance of each member of your team, so here's some advice to get you through this.

The first thing to know is that annual performance reviews are pretty much old school, even if too many employers still require them. Using a once-a-year review to give feedback to employees -- and using it to determine raises, bonuses and promotability -- is a mistake. There are plenty of articles explaining why this is, so we won't get into it here, other than to say if you determine in May that someone is not performing up to standards, waiting until December to tell them is good for no one. Regular feedback -- weekly even -- is the way to go.

The second thing to know before you start writing is that the annual performance review is not a naughty list. It's as important to let people know what they are doing well as it is to identify areas where the need work. You want to be specific and clear regarding the good and the less so.

Let's say you've got an employee who does good work, meets deadlines and when a problem arises, lets you know and also offers effective solutions. These are excellent points to make in the review, using an example to illustrate each. But this same employee rarely contributes to discussions at staff meetings and when she does, it's often to say why something won't work.

Some managers might therefore say in the review that "Mary needs to improve her communication skills." That is hardly helpful to Mary. Instead, let her know what she is doing well and what she should work on. Something like this: "One-on-one, Mary, you have great ideas and excellent insight into problem solving. But in a group meeting, you tend to hold back on your ideas. When you do speak, it's to identify the problem without offering the solutions I know you have. I'm not sure why you do it that way, but your way of communicating is counterproductive. People tune you out because they feel you're only being critical and not helpful. Instead, try an approach that begins by crediting them for their idea or their approach or even just identifying the problem, then saying something like, 'What if we ...'"

Indeed, it is a lot more work. But the trade-off is that it will help Mary improve and your team will be more of a team and more productive as a result.

This is just one example; yet it illustrates the positive approach to performance reviews. If you keep in mind that you want to help everyone grow and be as great in their job as you want them to be, then writing that review won't necessarily be easy or quick, but it will make you shine as a manager.

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