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Get the most out of quarterly staff reviews

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Most companies acknowledge that performance reviews are important tools for success, yet they are often rushed, postponed, and, in some cases, cancelled altogether. When this happens, the company misses out on a great opportunity to improve the overall performance of the team, which could have several negative long-term effects.
When staff reviews are carried out correctly, they are not only tools to ensure that everyone is on the same page, or to bring employees back in line with what is expected from them; they also become a retention tool.
“Star employees want to know that their efforts and talents are appreciated, and that the company takes their career paths seriously. If employees do not feel valued and heard, they are bound to take their sought-after skills elsewhere,” explains Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of Manpower SA.
“For quarterly reviews to achieve the best possible results, these reviews should follow a clear structure. Providing employees with forms where they are able to self-evaluate and rate their performance across their key performance areas is a good starting point. This can then be used in the review meeting to provide a clear structure and flow to the meeting, and ensure that the employee is also able to express their concerns or opinions. This will ensure that the review is seen as a positive experience, rather than an intimidating one,” she says.
Van den Barselaar highlights that reviews should be both forward and backward looking. “Firstly, employees should be informed on how their performance for the review period was viewed by the company, and then clear and realistic goals for the future should be discussed. This ensures that that staff members remain motivated and involved.”
Through the use of an evaluation form and a structured review, goals in each area of performance are easy to set for the coming months, and easy to review against past performance. It may also be a good time to remind employees about the company’s goals, to reiterate how their efforts contribute to the overall picture.
At the end of the review, both the manager and the employee should keep a copy of the review form, and employees should be reminded to refer back to the previous form as a basis for completing their new review forms each quarter. “This makes the review less of a once-off event, and more of a step in an ongoing process of improving employees’ chances of promotion and progressing along their career paths,” says van den Barselaar.
“An important pitfall to avoid is to refrain from being too general during the review. It may cover a quarter, but managers should not just say that performance in a certain area was good or bad. Instead, clear guidance should be given around what skills need to be addressed, which habits should be adopted, and which behaviours need to stop.”
To ensure that attention is not divided, it is also a good idea to separate performance reviews from meetings about pay increases and promotions. These issues can be addressed at a separate annual meeting.
“It is important to keep in mind that performance reviews can never replace daily talks with employees. Good managers use everyday interactions to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction, important deadlines are met, and that employee morale remains high,” states van den Barselaar.
“There should be no surprises for employees at performance reviews. Both good and bad performance areas should be addressed at more regular intervals. The purpose of the review is to look at both the positive and negative aspects in conjunction, to display a performance pattern, where weak areas can be addressed, and strong areas commended. The sum total of this information can be invaluable to managers for future planning, to ensure that each employee is tasked with contributing to the whole by maximising their strengths, and supporting their weaknesses through extra training, up-skilling or farming out that area of work to another colleague.”
Finally, it is a good idea to keep in mind that, even when there is good communication with staff members, one or two might be hanging on to something that they would like to address at the meeting.
“The manager should listen carefully to the input of the employee, to show that their opinions are valued. However, complaints are in the nature of most people, so managers have to develop the skill of sifting through the reservations of employees to know which are legitimate, which are everyday realities of working life, and which may be excuses for poor performance,” says van den Barselaar, adding that this soft skill determines what the appropriate response to the employee should be, and ensures that the review is concluded with a positive outcome, leaving no doubt about what is expected in the future.