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Nothing produces anxiety in managers and employees quite like a performance review. Unless everything is perfect and there is no room for improvement, you have to provide constructive criticism and your employee has to listen. Quality of work is especially difficult because you want to help your employee improve without causing her to become defensive. Planning and organization on your part in developing and presenting the review can lead to improved performance and a stronger working relationship.
Approach the interview with a focused plan. Prepare a list of strengths and weaknesses, including examples, if needed, and strategies for growth to discuss with your employee. Prioritize your concerns so that the most important issues can be resolved first.
Discuss examples of especially strong performance. Starting with your employee’s strengths helps her relax and be more open to feedback concerning weaker areas. In addition, it helps her focus on what you like, enabling her to continue developing those skills.
Organize areas of weakness into themes. For example, your employee may struggle with customer service. Instead of discussing phone calls, returns and follow-up separately, group them together into “customer service.” A few themed areas of improvement are easier to absorb than a laundry list of specific problems.
Ask your employee to comment on areas of concern. Prompt her to discuss both what she enjoys most about those tasks and what she struggles with. This approach sets up a dialogue that you can use to work together to help her improve her performance. For example, if she acknowledges avoiding follow-up phone calls, use the discussion to find out why and then work with her to strategize a better response.
Follow your employee’s comments with observations of your own. Keep the conversation constructive and proactive to reduce her defensiveness. Only use specific examples, if needed. Focus on improving her performance by using her weaknesses as learning opportunities. For example, if you are unhappy with how she sets up displays, offer to spend a few minutes after hours explaining your approach or suggest a seminar on merchandising.
Emphasize your employee’s job performance in relation to her personal goals. Helping her recognize the connection between the skills she is learning and her goals will motivate her to address areas of weakness. For example, an employee who wants to go into marketing, but has weak organizational skills, might not realize the effect her disorganized presentation has. Show her that customers often perceive disorganization as amateurish, resulting in a poor image presentation and a negative marketing effect.
Focus on a poor fit, or your inability to provide sufficient training, if you have to terminate the employee. Emphasize the positive aspects of her performance, and suggest jobs that might be a better match for her skills or additional training from which she might benefit. Keeping the conversation proactive when the review becomes an exit interview reduces defensiveness and might help your employee find a more satisfying position.