Employee Reviews: Perilous or Productive?

7 Jun 2016

When the time rolls around to do your employees’ annual reviews, are your team quaking in their boots or chomping at the bit to get going?

Ideally, employee reviews should be a time when you and individual members of your team are able to chat about their performance, talk about how you can work together on their advancement within the company, and resolve any outstanding concerns.

Too often, however, this isn’t what happens.

In the days and maybe weeks leading up to reviews, people start to get nervous that their KPIs haven’t been high enough or that they will somehow be scolded instead of listened to over their concerns. Management, on the other hand, can start to feel stretched to the breaking point with seeing so many people over a short period of time, not to mention feeling overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork involved.

So what can you do to make your annual review process smooth and productive?



The first thing to do is to ensure you’ve adequate spaced out your reviews.

If you try and pack too many reviews into a given week, the people conducting the reviews will start to burn out. They’ll end up with glazed eyes and buzzing in their ears—rendering them incapable of really listening to individual members of their team and stopping them seeing a potential star employee who just needs a bit of encouragement.

By the same token, your employees will feel that management isn’t taking their concerns seriously, that the review process is just a formality that mostly involves getting through as many as they can in a given day.

Maybe try to see all the members of one department over the course of a month, rather than a week?

At the end of the day, the goal is for employees and managers to feel that they know where they stand in your company and that their concerns are heard.


Too often in a review setting, positive KPIs are glossed over as just a tick in the box, while the negative ones are discussed and analysed until the original goal of the indicator is forgotten in the haze of accusaation and defensiveness.

Of course you want to discuss areas where a person could improve, but it is equally important to praise someone for exceeding or even just reaching their target.

It may feel as though you’re rewarding mediocrity for praising someone for achieving the baseline of their KPI, but step back and ask yourself: Is this the first time they’ve managed it? If so, this might be a huge accomplishment for them, by brushing over it, they will feel as though their hard work isn’t really being appreciated.

Alternatively, even if they consistently “just” hit their target, hearing that you see and appreciate the work it took to do that will encourage them to aim a little higher next time.


This is probably the single most important thing you can do in an employee review.

Whether someone is raising a concern about a colleague, manager, or their own work, listen to what they are saying. Ask them questions to show that you are really trying to understand the situation.

It may be that they have an idea of how to address a lingering problem or it might be that they are bringing a potential HR nightmare to your attention before disaster strikes. Or they might be just a complainer.

Regardless of the nature of their concern, spending a few extra minutes listening to what they have to say will help put it to bed in their mind. You’ll be taking away some of their stress about it, leaving them more energy and focus in their day-to-day role.


Annual reviews can be stressful days and weeks for both employees and managers. By being liberal with your scheduling and taking the time to listen and praise your team, however, that stress will morph into something far more productive.