Your Ultimate Guide To Hosting a Productive Employee Performance Review Remotely
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Few people tend to look forward to annual employee performance reviews. The idea of them can feel uncomfortable for managers and employees alike.
They’re conversations that tend to be forced or awkward, but nonetheless provide important value for the employees, managers, and the company itself.
Performance reviews are important communication tools that measure job performance, identify needs for employee training and development, and provide both employees and managers with important feedback.
This is also an important tool as it helps remind employees of what managers expect from them and produces improved work performance along with opportunity for growth within the company.
So, how do we transform this annual meeting that is typically full of anxiety into something inspiring and motivating for everyone involved?
Below I walk you through an easy to follow guide on how to make your next remote performance evaluation meeting a guaranteed success.
Specifically, I’ll share:
- How to prepare for performance evaluations
- Biases to avoid when conducting employee evaluations
- A comprehensive meeting agenda
- The Dos and Don’ts of successful communication
- What you can do to properly manage negative emotions
- How to utilize SMART goals to improve performance
- How you can end the meeting on a high note
We have a lot to cover! So, let’s begin!
7 Tips to Help You Prepare for a Performance Review
1. Block off the proper amount of time in advance.
It’s important to acknowledge performance evaluations take longer than an average meeting. I suggest blocking off two hours to conduct the meeting.
Due to the amount of prep work involved when it comes to conducting performance evaluations, it’s important to schedule the meeting at least 2 weeks in advance to give both yourself and your employee an adequate amount of time to assemble the necessary data.
For remote teams, the best practice is to discuss employee availability ahead of time (i.e. via daily stand-up meeting, or through work messaging apps) and then send an email invite to your online performance review.
2. Gather feedback colleagues.
Ask for feedback from colleagues of the employee being evaluated. This is also referred to as the 360-degree feedback method which is a professional feedback system that asks coworkers (led by their manager) to provide constructive feedback on an individual team member’s performance.
When you collect 360-degree feedback, it’s essential to review the assessments in advance of your performance evaluation with your employee. Clarify any concerns with the evaluator and look for patterns in their responses to discuss during the meeting.
To collect feedback, send out an email to a set of three to five colleagues asking them to evaluate the employee. You can ask specific questions like the ones provided below, or you can do the Start-Stop-Continue feedback approach.
When asking for feedback, set a deadline in your request that gives them plenty of time to fit the additional task into their schedule. Don’t be afraid to send them a reminder a few days before the deadline.
3. Ask the employee to evaluate themselves.
In preparation for the performance review, ask your employee to do their own self evaluation.
Self-evaluations allow you to see their side of the story and shows that you care about what they have to say. It also allows them to feel that they’ve been heard which will ultimately make them more receptive to constructive feedback.
We’ve designed our online performance evaluation tool to include a self-evaluation component you can share with your employee prior to complete before your meeting.
4. Review and compare your evaluation with their self-evaluation.
Review the job description of the employee’s role. What tasks are they held responsible for and what expectations should they be meeting?
Then review the employee’s job performance over the past year and make use of a quick compare and contrast table. See where the employee has been meeting or exceeding expectations and then decide where they have been falling short of expected responsibilities.
By comparing an employee’s performance to their job description, you are able to objectively gauge how effectively this employee reaches their objectives and what areas of their work need improvement.
5. Be ready with specific examples.
It’s important to ensure that you have facts to back up your arguments, especially when giving feedback.
If you feel your employee is under-performing in a specific area, be ready to have examples of their work that shows this.
For example, if you have an employee who consistently struggles to end a sale with customers, show them what their expected commission should be and how they have fallen short.
At the same time it is vital that you’re able to provide positive feedback for your employees as well. Be ready with some specific examples of positive performance outcomes. This can be anything from a successful bug fix in a line of code to a positive review from a customer.
If your organization works remotely, your employee’s communications are logged. If they are in tech support, for example, listen to a few of their calls prior to the meeting and provide specific feedback on their customer service. Alternatively, you can create a folder of screenshots where you capture their “all-star” moments throughout the year. These could include going above and beyond to help a colleague, or fixing a bug before it came to a customer’s attention.
6. Guide your employees towards professional development.
Although an employee may not be perfect, they can always get better.
Improvements to their work performance can often be addressed through training, education, and/or special projects.
Don’t be afraid to have employees take time to learn on the job or help support them in taking classes to improve their skills. This will not only help your employee develop their skills, but it will also be beneficial to your business as you will see their professional skill development show up in their ability to produce higher quality work.
If your organization works remotely, suggest webinars and online classes your employee can attend. Udutu is a great example of an online training platform that you can use for your remote employees.
7. Prepare for compensation and promotion conversations in advance.
This is a topic that is bound to arise during your performance evaluation meeting so it’s best to prepare for it in advance.
For this step, start by asking your own supervisor what options you can offer your employee so you can respond to their requests in real time.
While it may be tempting to have this discussion through email on a remote team, remember it is always best to meet face-to-face when discussing money.
Use these seven tips when conducting your next online performance review meeting for the best results.
7 Common Cognitive Biases and How to Avoid Them
To get the most out of employee performance reviews it’s important to be as objective as possible when conducting them. The best way to do that is to avoid biases that cloud our judgement and yield inaccurate results. Below I provided you a list of the seven most common biases, examples of what they may look like, and simple strategies you can use to avoid them.
In remote work, it’s especially important to be aware of these biases because they become more prominent when there is a lack of non-verbal cues.
1. Horns effect 👿
This basis occurs when you form a negative assumption based off of very little information.
In the case of the ‘horns effect’ you base your judgement off of someone from one single negative trait and continue to assume the worst of them. A good example of this is assuming that someone who is overweight is also lazy.
This kind of bias causes you to rate your employees in a worse light based on a singular negative trait.
One method of avoiding the horn effect is to review the notes you have taken regarding the employee’s job performance throughout the year so that you can compare both positive and negative aspects of performance.
2. Halo effect 😇
Similar to the horn effect, the halo effect is also an assumption reached with very little information, but instead of being overly negative, it’s overly positive.
Rather than assuming the worst of someone, you put them on a pedestal that they don’t deserve to be on and end up over rating an employee that hasn’t earned it.
An example of the halo effect would be assuming that a good looking person is also incredibly intelligent.
When trying to avoid the halo effect look to see how much variation in feedback there is among colleagues of this employee and ask yourself why that might be? The key is to keep an eye out for reviews that may be skewed in the wrong direction. Again, also be sure to compare past negative and positive performance to see how the two balance each other out.
3. Overly critical 🧐
While it’s important to hold your teammates to a high standard, it’s also important that you don’t set the bar so high it’s impossible to reach.
Assuming that your employees are going to be absolutely perfect in every task they take on is both unrealistic and unfair.
You need to understand and accept that your teammates are human and that they’re going to make mistakes. Don’t act like this is the end of the world, instead take the moment as a chance to help them learn and develop as an employee.
One example of when a manager may be overly critical is getting upset at a new hire that made a data entry mistake because they don’t fully understand the system’s programming yet.
You can avoid being overly critical by acting compassionate instead. Try to understand where your employee is coming from and what might have got in the way of their success. You can tell them what went wrong, but also t explain you’re there to help them improve.
4. Overly lenient 🤷
Although it’s important not to be too critical of your employees, it’s also important to ensure they live up to their responsibilities and objectives within your company, otherwise why are they still on your team?
An example of being too lenient is letting an employee repeatedly get away with missing deadlines.
Sometimes giving feedback can feel like you’re being rude or disrespectful, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. By giving your employee proper feedback and constructive criticism you’re helping develop their professional skills and helping them grow within the company.
5. Cookie Cutter 🍪
Management isn’t a cookie cutter position. By that, I mean you can’t adhere to the practice of ‘one size fits all’ to how you manage individual members of your team.
The thing about people is that we’re all different in our own quirky way which means you can’t expect to treat everyone the same and get the same result.
Certain people are going to require support in ways that others don’t. As a manager it’s essential you don’t treat all of your employees the exact same way, otherwise, you fall into the trap of the cookie cutter bias.
Reminding yourself that different employees need different things from you based on their personality and capabilities is the best way to avoid the cookie cutter bias.
Remember, as a manager it’s your job to help your people thrive by accommodating what they need while also using their strengths to help propel them forward.
6. Recency Error ❌
Recency error is the tendency to let recent events (whether they be positive or negative) cloud the judgement of an employee’s performance.
These errors tend to happen when a big project finishes with great success or crashes and burns just before an employee's performance review.
For this reason it’s essential to keep accurate records of employee performance throughout the year as it will help give you a realistic view of the employee’s overall performance over the entire year.
7. Middle of the Road 🛣️
Otherwise known as the central tendency bias, the ‘middle of the road’ bias occurs when managers avoid rating employees on extreme ends of the scales (i.e. negative or positive).
This commonly happens when managers are asked to perform an internal survey rating of their employees. The reason behind giving a ‘middle of the road review’ is to avoid showing extreme emotion or due to lack of full understanding of the survey question(s).
The best way to avoid this bias is to ensure that survey questions are properly worded and have clear options in the given answers. It’s also important to remind managers to be honest about their reviews, even if that honesty rates someone at an extreme end of the scales.
Being aware of these seven common biases is the best way to avoid falling into the trap of making them. Due to the nature of remote work, it’s much easier for these biases to occur because of lack of non-verbal communication. As a manager of a remote team, it’s important to take special care and attention to avoid committing these biases when reviewing your employees.
Your Go-To Agenda: A Performance Review Template
Steal this template … copy, paste, and fill out this agenda to meet your needs at your next performance review meeting.
Template for Performance Meeting Agenda
I. Explain what a performance evaluation is and its purpose.
II. Review the employee’s job description.
- Emphasize their strengths (where they have met or exceed expectations).
- Identify areas of improvement. Stress that you want to help and support them in their development and discuss strategies for how they can improve (i.e. taking a course)
- Come ready with specific examples for each.
III. Ask your employee to share their own self evaluation
- Discuss areas where you and your employee agree/disagree
- TIP: remember to focus on job performance, not personality.
IV. Ask your employee for ideas on how to resolve problems
- Work together with your employee to help them set appropriate goals, expectations, and objectives for the upcoming year (see the sections on SMART goals for further expansion.)
- Thank your employee for their participation in the evaluation
- Summarize what has been discussed and ask if there are any final questions.
- End on a positive note (for more tips on how to properly conclude a performance evaluation meeting see below).
Once you’ve completed customizing this agenda to your own needs, email it to your employee the day/night before the meeting so they know what to expect.
The Dos and Don'ts of Communication Practices During Performance Reviews:
Below is an easy to use table with examples of common phrases reworded to promote healthier and more positive communication between you and your employee during a performance review meeting.
REMEMBER: There is no such thing as over-communication. In the remote world, communication is the life-blood of your business. Don’t be afraid to make the extra effort in your communication practices to ensure your professional interactions are as flawless as they can be.
Best Practices for Managing Emotional Reactions
Not every performance evaluation you conduct will be full of shining reviews. The reality is in some evaluations you will have to share some harsh realities and employees are not always going to take kindly to hearing unsatisfactory feedback.
In remote work, these poor reactions can become even more prominent because the two of you will not be present in the same physical space when conducting the review.
Due to poor reactions from negative reviews you’re going to have to learn to navigate negative emotional reactions. Below I provide examples of the three most common negative reactions you will see and tactics to help you smoothly work through them with your employee.
Defensive behaviour manifests itself in many different ways, it can take the form of sarcasm, endless explanations, personalizing everything, blaming, and the list goes on.
One thing to remember about defensive behaviour is that it comes from a place of protection. Often this reaction happens in an attempt to help the individual feel better about what is happening.
When dealing with defensive behaviour it’s important to remain neutral and show that you’re listening to your employee. A good way to show that you’re listening to someone is to take their own words and paraphrase it back to them.
When you’re talking to a defensive individual it’s essential that you don’t try to solve the problem or attempt to solve the problem as this will cause them to feel incapable which is the exact feeling they’re trying to protect themselves from. Instead, try to determine the cause of the problem by asking open ended questions like, “Can you tell me more?..” or, “Would you be willing to explain to me how you reached that conclusion, so I’m able to better understand.”
Ask them how they intended to solve the problem.
This reaction is often identified by a raised voice, micro-aggression, change in tone and/or facial expression, etc. When dealing with someone who reacts with anger the best thing you can do for yourself and the other individual is to remain calm and centered.
Show you’re listening to what they have to say by rewording what they say. Be patient and allow them to “run down” for as long as they need until they are calm enough to listen to what you have to say.
Do your best to avoid arguments and keep the discussion focused on performance.
Withdrawal occurs when another individual begins to disengage from the conversation at hand. This can look like passive compliance, minimal effort, or absence in creativity.
When an individual begins to withdraw one of the best things you can do is show concern. Say you feel like they’re not responding and remind them that you want to hear their input and care about their feedback.
Be patient and friendly, and don’t be afraid to embrace the silence. Wait for them to engage and try using open ended questions to prompt engagement.
Create Better Employee Performance with SMART Goals
SMART goals are a framework for effective goal setting proposed by George T. Doran in 1981. Strong goal setting is important in the workplace as it boosts performance by motivating employees, helping them set priorities, and increasing their efforts and overall productivity. The SMART goal acronym stands for, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
In the remote work world, setting proper goals is especially relevant due to greater employee autonomy. Working remotely makes it much harder to track employee productivity. A great way to overcome this challenge is to change your perspective.
Instead of viewing employee productivity based on hours spent, look at it through objectives met. Rather than making productivity about clocking in and clocking out, make it about following through on deliverables.Let consistent project output in accordance to set goals become your gold standard of employee performance.
Below I will define each letter of the SMART goal setting method and why it is important to your team’s success at work.
🎯 Specific - A goal must be specific so that employees understand exactly what they are working towards. This will make it easy for employees to remember and keep track of their goals. It will also help motivate employees as they will know what objectives they need to accomplish in effort to obtain their overall goal.
📏 Measurable - A goal must be measured so that progress can easily be tracked by both you and the employee. This helps employees keep track of their goals and makes it easier for them to meet larger goals as it helps break down large goals into manageable chunks.
📈 Attainable - While goals should challenge employees, they must also be attainable. Goals that are set too high become un-motivating and demoralizing as it saddles the employee with constant feelings of failure which reduce overall productivity.
📅 Realistic - Goals must be achievable at the employee’s current skill level. Don’t force goals upon your team members that you know they are not capable of. For example, it is unrealistic to expect a junior employee in their first year at your company to run systems and processes as smoothly as a senior employee.
🕐 Timely- There must be clear start and end dates, as well as established milestones along the way. This helps to keep track of progress and gives one a chance to check in and reassess the goal if needed.
How to Conclude a Performance Review with Feelings of Positivity and Productivity
Now that your meeting has come to an end you want to ensure that both you and your employee walk away feeling good about the discussion that just transpired. Below I provide you with four quick tips to ensure that you end your performance review on a high note.
✅ Ensure that both you and the employee sign the review.
👉 TAKE NOTE: just because the employee signed the review doesn’t mean that they agree with it, but it does show that the review has been disclosed to the employee.
✅ Remind your employee that they have the option to include a written response.
✅ Provide a copy to the employee.
👉 REMEMBER: The original copy should be forwarded to HR
✅ Keep the performance review somewhere you have easy access to so you can review it again at any time.
👉 You and your employee should exchange ongoing feedback about performance goals and standards throughout the rest of the upcoming year.
By following the steps in the guideline provided above both you and your employee will feel good about the new performance review meeting and will surely find a renewed spark of motivation in our new remote working reality.
✔️ Prepare First - By taking necessary steps to prepare for your review meeting you are ensuring that there are no unsuspecting surprises that may arise to cause your meeting to go astray.
✔️ Avoid Biases - When you do your best to avoid biases when conducting a review you are establishing a review process that is as objective as possible.
✔️Copy Paste the Agenda Template - Creating an agenda and sharing it with your employee ahead of time will help both you and your employee prepare as well as help the meeting move smoothly, and in a timely fashion.
✔️Communication Dos and Don'ts - By reviewing some quick communication tips and tricks you set the stage for a positive interaction for both you and your employee.
✔️ Managing Emotional Reactions - Preparing to manage negative reactions means that you can feel confident in the fact that you will be able to handle the situation no matter what unexpected emotion arises.
✔️ The Use of SMART Goals - Helping your employee create and implement SMART goals can help ensure they increase their job performance and productivity which is something you can both feel good about.
✔️ Ending on a Positive Note - Ending the meeting on a positive note is important as it helps your employee take the most out of this performance review and also helps to strengthen your working relationship.