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Preparing for Performance Reviews

Published on March 29, 2024

For many faculty and staff, performance reviews are just around the corner. This is a busy time as managers collect their thoughts to put them into writing. This month’s issue provides a refresher on what works in the performance review process while highlighting the best practices supervisors should consider before the review discussion.

Summarize, Don’t Surprise

If you are having regular check-in conversations the review is not a surprise, but rather a summary of those conversations. The Quick Guide to Performance Reviews outlines steps that supervisors need to take to conduct a meaningful review, today we will focus on what should take place before having a review discussion.

Mitigating Bias

Everyone has biases and we bring them to the table when evaluating ourselves and others. Be mindful when undertaking performance reviews to minimize your biases. Establishing an effective performance management system that includes goal setting, regular and meaningful check-in conversations will help alleviate potential bias in a formal performance evaluation. 

Helpful tip for supervisors. Taking notes during regular check-ins lifts the burden of remembering a year’s worth of work during review time. Notes will also provide depth to the types of work the employee does throughout the year rather than focusing on the most recent project. 

Seeking Input from Others

Ask for input from an employee’s peers, direct reports, and important partners in other departments or units. This type of input is often seen as especially credible and helpful for employees, and done as a simple conversation or through a more formal feedback process (i.e. survey or email – see the sample email template). Note that if you are asking for input about one employee, you need to be asking it for all of your direct reports. Evaluate the relevance and usefulness of that input and compare it to other information about the person’s performance (e.g., your observations, and available metrics). If any input you have received would be surprising to an employee, use it to inform development and coaching conversations, rather than in the current year’s evaluation. Similarly, if you use multi-source feedback, consider ways to expand it to include learning and development insights rather than simply a performance evaluation.

Evaluating How Employees Achieved Results

Identify how the person was expected to achieve results. Including behaviors in the evaluation process is an important way of differentiating between employees who are performing more or less effectively than others. Ask yourself:

  • Did they consistently exceed these expectations?
  • Did they meet the behavioral expectations consistently?
  • Did they perform below expectations much of the time?

Avoid focusing on too many competencies. Focus on those that are most important for achieving results. Typically, evaluating an employee on a couple of competencies is plenty. Need more information on behavioral competencies? Go to z.umn.edu/competencies to learn more about the competency model developed at the University of Minnesota to support talent development discussions.

Focus on the Narrative

Take the time to be thoughtful and specific, as the narrative will be the most useful portion of the review for the employee. In your narrative, highlight the results and accomplishments and the impact of those results. This is where the check-ins can be helpful because it’s difficult to remember a year’s worth of performance. Check-ins give you regular opportunities to revisit and become familiar with their goals and performance. Examples provided in narratives also help identify behavioral competencies that faculty made progress on as well as areas for growth and development over the next year, setting the stage for goal-setting.