Performance reviews often get a bad rap. Employees dread them, and leaders hate giving them. Even under the best circumstances, reviews can be tense and time-intensive, so the thought of conducting annual reviews in 2020, an already stressful year, can be daunting.

But the fact is, your employees want feedback, and they don’t get enough of it. As we continue to navigate the unpredictability that the COVID-19 crisis has brought on, it’s important to continue having regular conversations about performance.

What are Performance Reviews?

Performance reviews are an opportunity to share feedback and information with your employees to help them develop professionally or to let them know they’re not meeting expectations. Often, performance reviews are seen as a time to discuss poor performance, but positive feedback is just as important. Many employees are looking for feedback regularly, and 69% say they would work harder if recognized.

Although things have shifted, and goals have moved back, you shouldn’t skip performance reviews this year. These meetings are an opportunity to connect with your employees, provide feedback, and celebrate success. They’re a time to come together to support an individual’s career and professional development. More importantly, these meetings are an opportunity to help individuals feel supported, so they remain productive and moving forward through this challenging time.

How to Tackle Performance Meetings in 2020

Entrepreneur prepping for performance review

During a year when most of our annual plans changed, it can be hard to know what “success” looks like. Unlike years past, when you had specific goals and metrics to evaluate, 2020 will be a little unusual. So before you plan your meetings this year, there are three things you must consider:

1) Reflect on the purpose

Think about why you’re conducting these reviews. This year has been a year of adaptation. For some, that meant working extra hours as an essential worker; for others, it meant learning to work from home while managing childcare and homeschooling, and for others, it could be just learning to navigate the day-to-day stress of an unpredictable year. With so much left unknown, think of your performance reviews not as an opportunity to weed out poor performers; instead, think of them as an opportunity to strengthen your company culture. Providing clear feedback will help your top performers thrive and can help get poor performers back on track.

2) Identify what you are choosing to evaluate

As previously mentioned, many of the metrics and goals set at the beginning of the year went out the window. So before you meet with your employees, you should be clear on how you plan to measure performance. Perhaps consider evaluating your employee’s performance on their individual growth and learning.

3) Reevaluate the structure and cadence of your reviews

Since many employees will continue working from home well into the foreseeable future, it’s important to consider how you want to structure performance reviews moving forward. Working from home has many benefits; however, some disadvantages include not always feeling the same support an office environment provides. For this reason, you might want to consider more frequent evaluations. If you think of performance in terms of trajectory, it makes sense to have multiple meetings during a year. By allowing yourself time to have an open conversation semi-annually, or even quarterly, you’ll ensure small performance problems don’t manifest into larger problems, requiring much larger course corrections.

As much as performance reviews are about past performance, they are just as important for impacting future performance. These evaluations provide recognition, set a benchmark, and open a feedback loop to drive future performance. If employees are unaware of how they are doing, they won’t know if they have areas to continue or improve. Having a comprehensive review program allows for more transparency, so your employees know where they stand and helps your company thrive long-term.

Performance Meetings Help Companies Thrive

Successful team working together in office

Performance meetings aren’t just for employees; these meetings help ensure you’re keeping the company on track. Done correctly, performance meetings can drive stronger culture by highlighting good performance and providing opportunities for idea-sharing.

The key to a performance meeting is preparation. If you’re conducting an annual review, you should be reflecting on what the individual did in the last year, not in the past few weeks. You will want to focus on highs or lows in performance, contributions, skills, challenges. Below is an easy 4-step process you can follow to conduct a performance review with your employee.

Performance Review Process for 2020

1) Employee Prep

Performance reviews shouldn’t be one-sided. Before you meet with your employee, ask them to conduct a self-evaluation. Ahead of your meeting, identify and share the 2 to 3 areas your employee should continue practicing and 2 to 3 areas where they should improve and ask them to rate their performance. Ask that they rate themselves both numerically (1-5) and ask them to explain why they gave themselves that rating. In addition to having them rate themselves, there should also be a section for them to evaluate you, their leader. Allowing them to share their experience on your working relationship will give you insight into their feelings and buy-in and identify areas where you can provide more support in the future.

2) Supervisor Prep

Before your meeting, you should review your employee’s self-appraisal and conduct your evaluation. With your assessment, you will want to rate your employees on their performance numerically (1-5) and bring in data and results to explain your review. The key here is to focus your feedback on the same 2-3 topics shared with your employee so that you can keep your meeting structured and focused on the most important items.

3) Meeting

Performance review meetings should have three primary outcomes: accountability, feedback, and goal alignment.

1) Accountability

When evaluating your employees, it’s important to hold them accountable to the performance metrics agreed upon by both you and your employee at the beginning of the cycle. (Since goals for the year have likely shifted, this would be where you bring in the new metrics you’ve identified.) During this phase, you want to address both good and poor performance. In addition to their quantitative goals, key areas of performance can include skill development, employee behavior, and overall attitude. If the employee is a manager, they may also have a performance focus around others’ development.

2) Feedback

Once you have benchmarked performance, you can identify the employee’s strengths and weaknesses.

Phrased as areas to continue performance and areas to improve performance, this is a key element of the meeting. It bridges the past performance to future goals and overall development. Here you will discuss the 2 or 3 items for both categories and share the feedback you gathered from your preparation. You will also discuss the evaluation of your working relationship.

3) Future Goal Alignment

As the meeting looks toward future performance, the meeting shifts focus on aligning both the organization’s future needs with the employee’s needs. By aligning future direction, you help the organization achieve its goals while positioning your employee to succeed personally and professionally.

4) Next Steps

Working together, you and your employee will develop an action plan to improve performance and work towards new goals. At the end of your meeting, identify steps to reach the new objectives. Ask your employee to validate what they heard and how they plan to proceed into the next cycle. If there is time, you can break down future goals and assign responsibility for each phase with targeted completion dates for each step. You can also set up meetings to hold each other accountable to those goals throughout the year.

Performance reviews play an important role in both employee development and organizational growth. Despite the rollercoaster of a year we have had, performance reviews shouldn’t be skipped this year; they should be approached differently. Taking this approach can help you highlight your employee’s achievements from the past year, and more importantly, get them realigned and excited for next year.

Whether you’re just starting to grow, or you’ve had a large team for years, it is never too late to start working on your culture. This post provides actionable tips on how small businesses can begin implementing this framework.

If you need more help with your leadership and don’t know where to start, you don’t have to go alone. Schedule a free two-hour session to dig into your business and develop a plan.

Have any more tips for conducting performance reviews in 2020? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.