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Performance Reviews

Connect because you can.


Everyone knows performance reviews can be stressful, but when you connect with an employee on a personal level, the stress can easily melt away.  It’s for this reason that we encourage those conducting performance reviews to begin these meetings with meaningful dialogue before moving into the more traditional issues that need to be addressed.  Making this effort will build trust, promote transparency and invite a greater openness from that employee when you eventually provide feedback on their performance.  Below, you will find helpful tips that will help you incorporate human connection into your next performance review. 

How does it work?

Tip #1 - Get Comfortable


There is a significant amount of research that supports the role our surroundings play in the way we interact with others.  This is why choosing the right location for your performance review is so important.  We understand that not all managers have the luxury of being able to conduct these meetings wherever they want, but if you do have choices, we encourage you to pick a place that matches the mood you want to evoke.  Places that are bright with natural light, have comfortable seating and have a positive vibe are great places to choose if you can. 


Tip #2 - Don't Keep Them Guessing

When someone is asked personal questions about their life, they may wonder why another person is showing that kind of interest.  Sadly, they often make the mistake of assuming the other person has ill intentions, and is only asking because they want to glean information they will one day use against them.  Simply put, instead of assuming the best, they assume the worst.  


For that reason, it’s a good idea to get ahead of things by clearly communicating your intentions upfront.  Tell them that during their performance review, you would like to check in with them personally before checking in with them professionally.  Making this effort will calm anxieties that employees may be having about having a meaningful conversation with the person they report to, and will increase the likelihood of establishing a human connection.


Tip #3 - Go First

Nothing opens the door to creating meaningful connections better than showing a little vulnerability first before asking someone else to do the same.  It puts the other person at ease, and invites them to join you in a real life exchange knowing they are not alone in their experiences.  


To offer an example of what we’re talking about here, let’s say you wanted to ask the question, “What has frustrated you the most professionally over the past year?”  Consider changing that question to, “I’d be curious to know what has frustrated you the most professionally over the past year, but before that, here’s how I’d answer that question.”  


When you share your own truth, you give the employee permission to meet you in the middle.  Instead of feeling alienated, or alone in their thoughts, you show them that it’s ok to feel the way they do, and that you are the type of manager who values honesty and vulnerability.

Tip #4 - What Does Everyone Else Think?


As was mentioned above about the importance of going first, people think they know what others are thinking, but often the story they create in their mind doesn’t match the reality of what’s happening.  A good example of that occurs when employees think they know how their colleagues feel about them, but often can be wrong.  To avoid that, why not get everyone on the same page by asking?


With today's technology, you don’t have to search very far to find an online tool that allows you to send out an anonymous survey for free.  These tools are the perfect way to check in and see how everyone is feeling about each other.  Ask your team to take a few minutes to answer a handful of questions, and remind them that even you the manager will not know how people responded individually.  


Most free survey tools don’t allow for more than ten questions to be asked before charging, but that’s more than enough to see how people feel about their colleagues.  Below, we have offered a few example questions that you can use, but feel free to choose your own.  Send out the survey at least a week in advance asking colleagues to offer feedback on the employee you will soon be reviewing in order to have those responses in time for your meeting.


When the meeting arrives, remember that it’s not always easy to receive honest feedback, so be gentle in your approach.  Instead of saying, “This is what people think of you”, try something more like, “These are areas where people think you can improve”, “This is a spot others saw an opportunity for growth”, or “The team was hoping you could make the effort to be a little more approachable”. Once the feedback is offered, ask questions like, “How does it feel to hear that”, “Based on what I’ve just shared, does it feel like there might be some truth behind it”, or “How did that land”.  


And if based on the feedback from the survey there is a chance for you to share ways you too had to deal with these issues in your own career, remember that you can invite others in by sharing your own story.

Example Questions:


Note: We recommend using a five point scale with 1 being “strongly disagree”, and 5 being “strongly agree”. 


1. This person is making an equal effort as other members of the team.

2. This person communicates well.

3. This person collaborates well with others.

4. This person participates well in meetings.

5. When asked for help, this person actively pitches in.

Tip #5 - Don't Leave Them Hanging!


When people open up, share personal feelings and get a little vulnerable, they can often begin questioning whether or not it was a mistake to get real with the person they report to.  Knowing that, follow the steps below to ensure that the employee feels supported and cared for.



At the end of the meeting, be sure to address any major highlights that came out of your conversation by letting them know you will be following up on what they said.  For example, if they mentioned that they don’t feel like they are supported by one of their colleagues, tell them that you will be following up with that team member to address the situation.  And the more specific you can be, the better.  Instead of saying that you will simply follow up, instead say that you will follow up by the end of day Friday, and that you will circle back to them by Monday of the following week.   




Send them an email within 24 hours of their performance review applauding their willingness to engage in a meaningful conversation that went beyond the confines of talking about work.  Tell them how much you enjoyed connecting with them on a personal level, and assure them that your dialogue will be kept confidential. As well, remind them that you have an open door policy, and that they should feel safe knowing they can come to you with any concerns they may have in the future.




If they did share concerns, frustrations or anything difficult that they were facing personally, make a note in your calendar to do a check in with them at an appropriate time in the future.  Whether it’s in a week, or in a month, choose an amount of time that should pass where it would make sense to circle back to see how they are feeling.  


Remind them of what they told you during their performance review, and ask them how they are feeling about it, whether the situation has changed and what you can do to add value.  It’s easy for employees to assume that their manager forgot about what they said, and the personal connection you will make with them by following up is priceless.

Wrapping up

Performance reviews should be an opportunity for growth, reflection, and yes connection.  Knowing that one on one moments with a team member can often be hard to come by, why not take advantage of the opportunity by establishing a meaningful dialogue.  Just follow the tips above and that’s exactly what will happen.

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