How to give the best feedback on annual reviews

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For many companies, this is the season for annual reviews. Whether you’re providing a company-wide assessment, a team assessment, or a one-on-one assessment, you need to be prepared. After all, the feedback you provide can determine the performance of your company in 2023.

I’ve seen some leaders fear the drill almost as much as their employees. That’s usually because the reviews seem more like a visit to the CEO’s office than a time to celebrate wins and figure out ways to make up for losses.

Performance interviews provide you with a wealth of qualitative information. They help you understand what works and what doesn’t and what individuals, including you, need to do to make good things happen.

As with everything else in business, you need to make annual reviews productive and valuable. Otherwise, they will be a big waste of time for everyone involved. Here are some ways to give, receive and use feedback as a formula for future success.

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Show them the data

The context of annual statements is simple. How did we do this year and how can we do better next year? At the end of the day, that’s the point, so don’t miss out.

You must be able to demonstrate how you performed against key indicators. And I don’t mean in vague and subjective ways. You must collect concrete facts by department and present them as evidence as part of the review process. Sales should be judged based on metrics such as conversion rates and average deal size; for HR you could look at factors like time to hire and employee turnover.

There are two main issues here. First you have to hire performance analytics to retrieve this data. Second, you should share what you learn from the analysis widely, not hide it in the C-suite.

The data will show what happened last year. When meeting with teams or individuals, brainstorm why goals were or were not met. Then spend time talking about changes they can make to improve performance in the future.

There are times when gut decisions are the way to go, but an annual review is not one of them. Let the analytics tell the beginning of the story, then empower your talent to write the next chapter. When it comes to the success of your business, fact is infinitely better than fiction.

Be a coach, not a critic

Most people know the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, annual reviews are not about being nice, nor about being silent. They are about being honest with your team members without sounding like harsh criticism. The exchange can be motivating and even inspiring if handled properly.

Your employees form a team and that makes you their coach. As such, it’s your job to help your team understand their strengths and improve on their weaknesses using strategies that achieve goals. If you’re just yelling at your team from the sidelines about their shortcomings and mistakes, you’re a critic, not a coach.

Feedback is as much about listening as it is talking and as much about receiving as it is about giving. Feedback is a joint responsibility shared by both the manager and the employee. So when you sit down to talk to a member of your team about their performance, acknowledge that both of you are skin in the game. That will encourage an open dialogue that should motivate both of you to improve.

Always make sure to sprinkle some praise in every review. Then be supportive, lead employees who are struggling and raise the bar for top employees. Everyone can improve their performance – and don’t forget that you are too.

Make feedback business as usual

While feedback is the primary focus of annual reviews, it should be standard procedure throughout the year. If you make it part of the company culture, you may no longer have to fear the annual review process. In fact, your employees may approach such reviews with enthusiasm and anticipation rather than fear and sweaty palms.

I’m talking about creating a culture where feedback flows freely all the time, not just once or twice a year. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

If the purpose of feedback in performance reviews is to improve performance, why not run a continuous loop in the background? Ask a team member why they are struggling and kindly accept the feedback that you may be part of the reason. Employees feel comfortable giving feedback because they are not threatened by your reaction to their honesty. You discuss with them ways you can both do your job better, and voila! Better performance is the result.

When their annual review rolls around, your team members won’t feel intimidated because they’re used to the process. They will understand that you are trying to make them better at what they do and that you work diligently every day to improve your own performance as well.

Get in the loop

Feedback, whether objective performance data or subjective opinion, is essential to achieving individual, team and company goals. If you don’t use it to your advantage in annual reports, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity. Give it and get it with equal grace, and no one need fear the annual review.