I’ve interviewed and worked with thousands of managers – low to executive level – over the past twenty years. Many of them are successful and many are not. The successful ones are hard-working, smart, loyal and get along well with people. That goes without saying. But there is something else – a character trait that successful managers all seem to share. This trait is important to remember for any manager evaluating an employee because it is the basis for good business management. It’s this: successful managers work very, very hard to avoid surprises.

Sure, surprises are fun in our personal lives. But not in business. Managers and employees are being paid to execute their jobs as productively as possible. The best ones are always looking ahead. They are evaluating risks. They’re thinking of alternative plans if things don’t go according to plan. They are forecasting, researching, thinking and plotting to make sure that no one gets the best of them and that they’re prepared for anything that comes down the road.

So now you know this: When it comes time to evaluate them, are you surprising them? If you are, then you’re doing your performance reviews all wrong.

The last thing that a performance review should be is surprising. The best ones are boring.

Managing people is an art. Good managers become good executives and the best become chief executives. Some CEOs get paid huge amounts of money because they are expert at leading and managing tens of thousands of people. When I look at those managers and executives who are really good at their jobs, they don’t rely on an annual performance review to give feedback to their employees. To them, their relationship with their people is built around ongoing communications.

These managers walk around. They know everyone who reports to them and they know them well. They watch them as they perform their jobs. They ask others about them. They’re monitoring how they get along with others and how they manage those subordinate to them. And they provide immediate feedback. They are honest and transparent. They let their people know right away if there’s a problem. They tell them without hesitation when something good was done. They warn them if they’re heading down the wrong track. They make themselves available to meet whenever an employee wants. They act as coach, mentor and boss all at once.

When you have a relationship like that, then getting together with someone who reports to you do to a “performance evaluation” is just a formality. There should be nothing said that you or your subordinate don’t already know. Sure, you can sum up your thoughts and recap some of the good and the bad from the prior year which should be shared beforehand. Of course, it’s good to do a formal meeting because there is something to be said about process and formality in any organization. The time should be spent less on recapping what you already know but instead discussing goals and objectives for the future and the obstacles in the way of achieving them.

The best performance reviews have no surprises at all. If yours have surprises then you are doing them wrong – or you’re not managing your people very well.

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2 Responses to "If You’re Doing This at Your Small Business, Then You’re Doing Your Performance Reviews All Wrong"

    • Tina Hahn | January 10, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      My employees, both managers and regular staff, fill out a self evaluation form which is identical to the form that I fill out. We then sit down (in private) at a preplanned time to go over the forms comparing notes. I always ask the employee how they evaluate themselves first and then I add my own evaluation. This always results in a very productive conversation and allows me to clarify policies in a non-threatening way.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | January 10, 2017 at 7:05 pm

        Sounds like you have a great system. Elizabeth

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