The end of the year is quickly approaching, which means it’s the season of annual reviews for many. It’s that time when you reflect on the year that’s passed and plan for the year ahead.


Whether you refer to it as an end of year review or annual performance review, the purpose remains the same. It’s an invaluable tool to help employees evaluate their accomplishments, set new goals and ultimately help both your people and business grow.


Despite all the benefits these reviews offer, they can also be a source of dread and apprehension for many.


Some employees feel these types of reviews fail to capture their true contribution and performance. While others may fear judgement, criticism or even the loss of their job. Unfortunately this is because some companies have relied on reviews as a cost-cutting measure. An infamous example is Tesla in 2007 when they fired hundreds of employees for poor annual reviews after missing 84% of sales goals; despite employees arguing all reviews had been sterling up until that point.


On the other hand, managers might be worried about delivering negative feedback or conducting a structured and formal review.


With that hanging over their heads, many team members spend all year anxious about their annual performance review. However, when done right, they are an invaluable tool for both the employee and the business.


For the manager, the annual performance review is a prime coaching and feedback opportunity (though it shouldn’t be the only one). For the team members, it provides an opportunity to learn more about their performance and gain strategies for continuous improvement, as well as giving them space to ask questions and give their own feedback or suggestions.


To make sure you’re having end of year reviews that keep your people thriving and ensure your business will continue to grow and improve in 2024, here’s 5 things you should be doing – and 5 mistakes you want to avoid!


What you shouldn’t be doing in your end of year review


1. Make it up as you go


End of reviews shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision, with no clear preparation or plan in place. Before you schedule them with your team, you need to set aside time in your calendar to set a clear structure for your meeting and gather feedback alongside your own observations so that you have a comprehensive view of the entire year.


These meetings are often used to discuss serious topics like potential salary, compensation or benefit changes, so you need to treat them accordingly. Rather than make it up as you go, you need to follow a formal agenda, document the discussion, and outline any outcomes or actions for going forward.


2. Use it as an opportunity to berate

Although you might have some negative feedback or performance issues to raise, these reviews are not an opportunity to unload everything at once. You’re not using this time to berate, punish or judge people, reviews are a chance to inspire change and work on a plan to improve.


Listing off everything a person does wrong or highlighting negative traits about the person (rather than negative results from their behaviour) is only going to overwhelm and possibly disengage your team members. After all, if you’re only focused on the bad, they may feel like improvement is hopeless or a lost cause; or you may just give them a reason to look for a new job.


3. Lack specificity


For these reviews to be effective, you need to be specific. Using vague feedback and generalisations in your reviews will only lead to more questions and leave your team members wondering what it is they actually need to fix.


As often as possible, try to rely on quantitative data or examples backed up by dates or projects. For example, rather than saying “Your communication needs improvement,” you should specify, “During [project] on [date], you had challenges clearly articulating your ideas which led to confusion among the team.”  This helps team members get a better understanding of the areas they need to work on and provides actionable insights for improvement.


4. Focus on just business goals and development


These end of year reviews are not just about the business and how your employee contributes to that. Think about the person you’re talking to and consider their overall development, including skills acquisition, education, and career advancement.


For instance, as well as discussing project achievements, ask about their aspirations and how the business can support their growth. Find out if they’re facing any challenges or obstacles in their role and if there’s anything you can do to make their job easier.


5. Wait for the next review to roll around


Although valuable tools for reflection, planning and improvement, end of year reviews shouldn’t be taken literally and only carried out once a year. You need to make sure you have regular check-ins with your people to provide – and receive – feedback.


During your review, you should make a plan for steps going forward including any follow up actions and discussions. This approach ensures that any issues are addressed promptly, improvements happen when they’re needed and you’re on track until your next review does roll around.


What you should be doing in your End of Year Review


1. Set a clear agenda and make it non-negotiable


You should be scheduling these end of reviews as non-negotiables and book them in the calendar way in advance. This not only signals the importance of the meeting but also gives everybody the time to prepare and gather any relevant information.


Although creating a formal agenda may feel awkward or excessive for a chat with your team, the performance review process is one place where structure and formality create major value. Even if you aren’t worried about legal ramifications, relying on a form, script, or template keeps you on track and ensures all key points are covered. By doing this, you will ensure that your end of year reviews are serving their purpose effectively.


2. Acknowledge accomplishments and celebrate wins


End of year reviews shouldn’t be all doom and gloom that only focus on the negatives. One of the most motivating aspects of these meetings is acknowledging and celebrating accomplishments. You need to be recognising each person’s hard work and the dedication they put into their role.


Providing recognition in this way shows your team that their efforts are valued, boosts morale and motivates your team members to continue the good work in the year ahead.


3. Set clear goals


Deciding on actionable outcomes is just as important as identifying areas for improvement during reviews. After all, it doesn’t help a person much to know about a problem if they don’t know how to fix it.


Team members need to be leaving these meetings with a clear plan and set of goals. Following a framework like SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) makes the goals more effective and easier to reach.


4. Make sure it’s a two-way conversation


While you use these reviews to provide feedback, set expectations and plan goals, it’s equally important to listen to your team members. You need to foster open communication and encourage them to share their thoughts, concerns and aspirations.


This is a chance for team members to share their perspective, ask questions, and provide feedback from their point of view. Not only does this create a sense of collaboration and shared ownership, but it can also provide you with valuable insight into areas of improvement or opportunities for growth.


5. Keep checking in and offering support


The review process doesn’t end with the meeting. It’s crucial to create a system for ongoing support and follow up to track progress, provide assistance, and make adjustments when necessary.


Consistent communication is key to achieving the goals set during reviews, otherwise the whole meeting was a waste of time.


Are you prepared for 2024?


The workplace looks to hold a lot of change in the new year (what’s new?) and it’s important you have a clear plan in place for your people.


At Penny Jones HR, we offer proactive HR support to help you create a people-focused strategy that aligns with your business goals and drives growth.


Whether you need ongoing support with individual people issues, team building, leadership development, or implementing HR policies and procedures, we have the expertise and experience to help.


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