Here’s How to Turn Performance Reviews From a Negative to a Positive

Performance reviews. Are there any two other words in the English language that cause more anxiety and resentment on the part of employees, and more fear and loathing on the part of managers?

I admit it; I hate performance reviews mostly because they tend to take place only when there are performance issues. That casts the manager as the bad guy who’s delivering bad news.

One of the biggest traps we fall into in the recruiting industry is that the immediate always takes precedence. We react quickly, because it is in our nature, and a part of our business; a hot new job order, a great new lead. Gotta close the deal now, now, now! But that can lead to now, now, POW, if we manage reviews the same way. If we are to be effective managers and owners, we must revisit the entire concept of performance reviews, understand their value, and recast these otherwise unpleasant formalities as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Now I know that sounds all marshmallows and lollipops, but stay with me.

Employees appreciate and even thrive on regular feedback. The employee who has a clear and accurate assessment of where he stands with his immediate supervisor and in the overall company spectrum is noticeably happier and more productive than the employee who is unsure or has to guess. For employees who are experiencing performance issues and are failing to meet company goals and quotas, it is important to have a clear paper trail from an HR and legal perspective. No employee should ever be blindsided by termination. If corrective feedback has been clearly communicated verbally and in written form, the terminated employee will have had plenty of fair warning and not be caught off guard. Often they will just leave on their own.

Feedback at Regular Intervals

Performance feedback must become a priority at regular intervals. I suggest posting team and company stats and performance metrics, along with special recognition in a visible location. Your employees will enjoy the recognition and competition. Each month we have a company accountability meeting to review the progress with within teams and among individual workers. During that meeting individuals address their commitments and goals from the previous the last month, share their victories and defeats, and offer insights for success the next month.

Open Accountability

This open accountability is very positive as we all celebrate victories and learn valuable lessons from each other. We also have an annual planning meeting which begins with each employee’s self-evaluation covering the past year (often they’re much harder on themselves than I would ever be). We then move forward positively to plan for success in the upcoming year. It is always exciting when I hear their goals and commitments for their immediate future. I always challenge them to improve and grow in specific areas and in new ways. Lifelong learners thrive in our office. If there are areas that are negatively impacting them personally, or in their work, we address the problem and discuss solutions. It is vital that each person understands the impact they can have when they assume responsibility and take control of their own path to success.

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Progress, Analysis and Review

For our new hires and “rookies,” I provide feedback on their PAR report — a weekly Progress, Analysis and Review report. It gives me an opportunity to actively coach and mentor them, discussing their needs and any weaknesses we uncover. This way there is regular accountability.

Clearly define what you consider to be exceptional, average and unacceptable performance. Make sure you provide rewards for exceptional work. If they are performing in the unacceptable range, set clear consequences and follow through. Above all, teach new employees to make commitments both to you and to themselves. Teach them to set clear goals and paint a landscape of success. They must embrace an “I will not leave until it’s done” mentality regarding their commitments. Doing so forces them to take responsibility for their own success. Some new employees struggle with this model and have difficulty learning that they have control over their destiny and success. When the light finally goes on and they grasp the concept, it is very motivational for everyone.

They say no news is good news. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to your employees. They need your feedback, your direction and your support. It is up to you and your management team to shift the way we all look at performance and how we review results. Leave behind the notion that this is an exercise of dread and embrace an active leadership role. It will build a great culture of energy and excitement through your firm.

When employees see progress reports and reviews as a time to celebrate hard work and success, coupled with constructive retooling and encouragement for future progress, you will have accomplished an important and positive change in your culture. So dump the old performance review and start your next quarter with a different perspective that will free and empower your team to have the best year ever!

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Debby Millhouse is the Owner and President of CEO Inc. Founded in Charlotte, NC in 1994, CEO Inc. is a full service recruiting firm providing direct hire placement, temp staffing and human capital services for clients nationwide. Millhouse has been honored as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women by The Mecklenburg Times, inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame as one of the top entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area, and given the Women in Business Achievement Award winner by the Charlotte Business Journal. CEO Inc. has also been honored with the Charlotte Ethics in Business Award, Charlotte Best Places to Work Award, and recognized as one of the top 50 diversity-owned businesses in the state of North Carolina. She is a Certified Staffing Professional (CSP) as designated by the American Staffing Association, Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and Certified Temporary Staffing Specialist (CTS) as designated by the National Association of Personnel Services. She can be reached at 704-372-4701 or visit for more information.