Managing Reviews Successfully

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - Performance reviews are a touchy subject that can cause discomfort on both sides of the table. But it doesn't have to be like that. In this first of a two-part series, we look at ways managers can improve the performance review process.

Perfomance reviews should be an anticipated event for your employees, a time to discuss the previous year's achievements, future career directions, and bonuses. They should not be dreaded obligations that hang over IT employees' heads like impending doom. Doug Berg, founder and chief techie at, in Minneapolis, has managed his own recruiting firm and has years of experience in the area of IT career planning. He outlines a few steps that an IT manager can take to facilitate successful and fruitful performance reviews.

1. Focus

Often IT workers are simultaneously involved in several unrelated projects: lending a hand in software development, design, and networking during the course of a day. Performance reviews can be an opportunity to organize and get employees to focus on one area. "Keeping IT employees on a loose leash without direction is a sure way to ensure their departure to another company," Berg says.

2. Make a sandwich

Just prior to the review, take 15 to 20 minutes to think about your employee's accomplishments and achievements since his or her last review. Recognizing these successes at the beginning of the review lets the employee know that you appreciate his or her efforts. Constructive criticism should be in the middle of the interview, with positive reinforcement again at the end. Berg believes the "good, bad, good" sandwich format is a sound outline for conducting your performance reviews.

3. "Golf managing"

This is Berg's terminology for the idea that comparisons always should be based on an employee's past performance, and comparisons never should be made to co-workers. Saying "Why can't you be more like ... " is a surefire way to turn a performance review into a disaster. Instead, encourage your employee to choose a mentor and try to pair them on projects.

4. Look in the mirror

Performance reviews should never be a surprise event. Have your employee prepare further for the review by filling out an informal self-review, complete with future goals. This helps in getting an employee to think about him-or herself objectively, and it also aids you by identifying the skills and tools he or she wants to develop, so you can assign future projects that reflect those desires as much as possible.

Next week: What an employee should know before walking into a performance review.

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