You Haven’t Thought about Annual Reviews for 10 Months. Here’s Your Survival Cheat Sheet

Kris Dunn Halogen, Kris Dunn, Performance, Performance Reviews

Let’s face it, you’re a little bit behind as a manager of people this year.

You had the thing in your family, you had to fire Jan for sexting Joan and then you were on the Kramerica Latex acquisition team that cost you a solid month in August. To add insult to injury, the deal didn’t even go through.

In short, you’ve had some things going on. So when HR fires up that pre-Thanksgiving email and tells you it’s time to get annual reviews done in December for January delivery, your first instinct is to take two weeks off and quit.

You could do that and be considered middling in your ability to manage people by the cronies in HR. Or you could play the game better, get your act together on November 1st and jump to the head of the class related to your company’s perception of you in the always important areas of “knows how to manage people” and “feedback whisperer”.

OK, maybe “feedback whisperer” is a little strong. Let’s settle for not looking like a moron when it comes to your handling of annual reviews, which for many of you will hit at the end of this year. Here’s your FOT survival sheet – do these 5 things and you can recover in the annual review game:

  1. Start this week with a private stack ranking of everyone on your team.  I know, lots of people are telling you not to do this, but it’s the best starting point. You really haven’t thought about which team member is the best, the worst or more importantly – how to separate the four in the middle of that group. You think you know, but until you have to rank them via forced choice, you’ve got training wheels on. You’re better than cut and paste, but if you’re going to deliver a meaningful review, you have to be able to compare and contrast the people you have on your team. Nothing says no BS like a personal stack ranking. Pro tip – don’t share this with anyone, it will just be held against you, potentially in a court of law.
  2. Reacquaint yourself with the goals that each member of your team had.  No goals?  No problem!  Think about the five most important areas that each direct report has to handle to make you look good and list them out. This is the list of items you’re going to base the review on. A lot of people think it’s hard to review someone’s performance on goals you haven’t introduced to them. I say they know what they’re supposed to be doing just like you do.  Any suggestion that they don’t is just cover to avoid awkward conversations.
  3. Put a meeting request on your calendar one time a week until the end of the year for “feedback”. I know, I know – you give plenty of feedback. Sure you do, skippy. But we’re going into documentation mode, so with the 7 weeks you have left in 2016 (Let’s take one of the Christmas weeks off, ok?) you’re going to send a quick email note to each person you manage 1X per week (if you have 6 direct reports, that’s 6 brief email notes a week for 7 weeks). Most people have poor documentation on performance. You’re going to use the recency effect and look like manager of the year.
  4. For the 42 pieces of feedback you’re going to give (6 direct reports times 7 weeks), you’re going to hit each of the 5 goal areas for each direct report one time.  Assuming your direct reports are all doing OK to great, each email is going to give them feedback on a recent piece of work for the goal in question. You’re going to write two things you liked about it, and one thing that could have made the work even better. You’re going to write that in 150 words or less and do it in your voice. The more it sounds like you, the more you win.
  5. When it comes to writing the review in late December, the fact you took 30 minutes a week to give feedback in goal areas (umm- for 7 weeks) means you’re in the 95th percentile of all managers related to writing the reviews.  Take those emails, change the wording to something a bit more formal and use the examples as representative samples of their work for the year, think about the rating you want to assign and you’re good to go in most review formats.

I’m going to say once you get in the groove, you can crank out those feedback emails in 30 minutes per week. That means you’ve got 3.5 hours of work to execute on this cheat sheet.

Don’t do it for your employees. Do it for you. You’ll feel better and be perceived as someone who gets it by both HR and the person you report to at your company.

If you do it the right way, your employees might even get something out of it.

Your HR pro can dream, right?

FOT Note: This rant is brought to you by the good folks at Halogen Software who like us enough to be an annual sponsor at FOT for all content in our performance management track (and don’t expect that we run any of this by them ahead of time). Jonesin’ for more than just a cheat sheet? Download Halogen’s FREE Performance Review Survival Kit here