It’s about the time of year that managers start to fill up their calendars with year-end reviews. Annual employee reviews can be a great way to reflect on the progress of the last year and also provide an opportunity to look ahead at what’s next. However, for year-end reviews to be useful, it’s important to avoid some of the common pitfalls we’ve highlighted previously, including recency bias that causes the reviewer to overlook achievements from earlier in the year, or rushed, one-sided preparation that results in a one-sided discussion (rather than a two-way conversation.) Setting an agenda and informing your employees ahead of time will help ensure reviews are comprehensive and collaborative.

This is also a good moment for leaders to re-think whether the organisation would be better served with a more agile approach to gauging performance. At Engagement Multiplier, for example, we believe in holding quarterly meetings to check in more frequently than once a year. These check-ins include completing an Experience Transformer (see more on that from Strategic Coach here) to evaluate the last quarter and setting “mountaintops” for the coming quarter. Checking in at this pace allows us to stay on track for the year and celebrate accomplishments along the way. Plus, this makes annual reviews much more straightforward. We can look back at our previous quarterly reviews and get a quick snapshot of the full year rather than relying on memory. If you’re interested in this method, you can use our template here.

On the other hand, if you haven’t had the time to check in regularly, your annual review might be a little more in-depth. If that sounds like you, we recommend focusing on the following topics to ensure successful year-end reviews.

Recognition and appreciation

Employee annual reviews are the perfect place for managers to provide recognition and appreciation for the work that’s been done over the past year. Not only does this help boost employee morale, but according to Gallup, employees who do not feel adequately recognised are actually twice as likely to quit in the coming year. Something no organisation wants in the midst of a labour shortage. Providing recognition and appreciation in your year-end reviews is an easy (and cost-free) way to keep your employees.

Remote workers, in particular, could benefit from a little extra recognition as another hectic year comes to a close. Employees who are working from home are more likely to miss out on face-to-face time with their managers and are at a higher risk of feeling isolated. Managers can use annual reviews to bolster their connection with remote employees by going out of their way to thank them for their contributions.

Employee self-evaluation

Next, it’s important to have employees evaluate their own performance throughout the year. We recommend letting them know about this part ahead of time, so they have ample time to think through their accomplishments and areas of improvement. Having employees fill out the aforementioned Experience Transformer is a great way to do this. Ask them:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • If you could start the year over from the beginning, what would you do differently?

Having your employees appraise their performance, rather than solely sharing your thoughts, will help them feel more engaged in the process. Plus, no one knows an employee’s performance better than the employee themself.

Coaching opportunities & constructive feedback

After you’ve had your employee complete a self-evaluation, you can weigh in to provide constructive feedback based on the information they’ve provided and the performance you’ve observed. Here it’s important to note the difference between constructive and destructive feedback. Constructive feedback comes from a place of positive intent, whereas destructive feedback is used to tear someone down (whether you realise it or not). Delivering the wrong type of feedback can send your employee’s annual review into a negative spiral leaving them unmotivated for the coming year.

You can though provide some coaching to your employee. In their Experience Transformer, if you hear them mention something that didn’t work in the past year, you can use that as a jumping-off point. Provide ways for them to remedy what didn’t work or coach them into a different way of thinking about the problem.

For example, if an employee working in sales noted they didn’t bring on as many clients as they wanted in the past year, you can help them come up with new sales strategies or suggest resources to provide further coaching. After all, employee engagement is about removing barriers to allow employees to perform at their best.

Discussion around the new year and employee growth

One of the most crucial parts of an annual employee review is looking ahead to the new year. This is the perfect time to give a brief of outline any new projects you see your employees taking on in the future, share expectations, and gather input on what your employees are looking to accomplish in the year ahead. Doing this helps employees better understand their roles in the company and with this conversation, you should be able to outline a path for your employees’ growth.

In this discussion, you can also touch on employee development opportunities. For your employees to accomplish their goals, and meet your expectations in the new year, what do they need to succeed? According to a study by Middlesex University, 74% of employees believe they’re not achieving their full potential at work due to a lack of development opportunities. Having this discussion each year will ensure your employees aren’t part of that 74% and they continue to grow and perform within the company.

Conversation on company culture

Lastly, you can use this one-on-one time in your year-end reviews to discuss your company’s culture. In last year, companies everywhere have seen in an increase in turnover and many workforces are split with some employees still working from home and others going into the office. All of this means your company culture may have taken a hit. It’s important to address this and work with employees to explore new ideas to improve culture.

If in this conversation you’re hearing employees are feeling disconnected or are missing time with their colleagues, it could be time to run our Culture Check On-Demand survey. This will allow you to solicit feedback anonymously from your team and understand the best approach to take to turn your company culture around. The end of the year is a great time to evaluate your culture, so you can start the new year with a fresh action plan.

Annual reviews at work shouldn’t get lost in the usual chaos of the end of the year. With a clear agenda, they serve as an essential touchpoint between managers and employees and will set you, your employees, and your organisation up for a successful new year.