Holding a productive performance review

It comes around once a year: the performance review meeting between employee and superior. In order to make this a positive thing for everyone, both sides should prepare themselves well.

A new, young colleague joins the team. He is highly committed and takes on some of the duties of another colleague who has already been part of the team for some time. The latter feels insecure, and that his superiors are somehow disappointed with him. But neither finds the time to discuss the matter. Instead, a vague disgruntlement settles over the two; they both avoid each other, and the employee’s motivation to work suffers.

“This example outlines a typical situation: disgruntlement turns into a genuine problem, which often can only be resolved through open discussion. This is exactly what the performance review meetings between employees and superiors are for. It gives both sides the chance to appreciate things beyond their normal experience and to receive feedback about their own work,” says Jennifer Schevardo, HZB’s head of “Strategic Personnel development”.

One meeting a year

The managers are obliged to offer a performance review meeting once a year, and employees may either accept or turn down the offer. Employees may also demand a meeting at their own initiative. If they do so, then the superiors must accept.

It’s about atmosphere and courtesy

“The parties should arrange the meeting well in advance and for a family-friendly time,” Schevardo explains. “We recommend setting aside about one and a half hours for the meeting. Maintaining a pleasant and calm atmosphere is especially important. So, make sure there can be no interruptions in the form of phone calls, emails or visitors.”

The feedback meetings are completely confidential. And yet, all agreements should be made in writing and signed by both sides. It is recommended to agree at the beginning on what course the meeting should take and what documents will be needed.  

How to prepare for the meeting

The personnel development officer advises: “Make notes of all matters you want to discuss. Focus on those topics that are especially important to you, and explain your concerns using concrete examples.” Another golden rule is: don’t dwell on past problems or conflicts. Of course, employees and superiors should openly discuss anything that hasn’t gone so well in working together. “But it’s all about both sides looking forward,” says Jennifer Schevardo. There are guidelines provided on the Intranet to help employees and supervisors prepare themselves better for the meeting.

Typical questions for employees include: How was my performance over this last period? What helps my work, and what hinders it? How satisfied am I? How can my superior contribute positively to my work? What are my expectations and goals? What do I need to achieve my goals?

Typical questions for managers include:

How was the employee’s performance over the most recent period? How satisfied is he or she? What has helped, and what has caused problems? What goals should the employee fulfil? Does the employee need support or a change in order to achieve these goals? How does the employee perceive my leadership behaviour?

After the meeting

It is important to conclude the meeting with clear resolutions on how to continue working together in future. The two sides write down clear goals and deadlines for when those goals should be achieved and criteria for determining this, and sign the document. When settling matters of the employee’s work equipment and conditions, the superior must forward the agreement to his/her respective superior. When planning qualification measures, not only the direct superiors need to be informed but also the workgroup “Strategic Personnel Development”.

“Don’t be anxious about the meeting!”

Employees and superiors with little experience in these situations can tend to feel anxious about an upcoming performance review. But Jennifer Schevardo assures “a performance review is not an art. There is no right or wrong; the important thing is that it be held at all. It helps to maintain an open atmosphere and – especially in a scientific organisation – is what makes good work possible in the first place.”

By Silvia Zerbe