One of the most important jobs of any leader is performance management, more specifically offering the type of feedback and guidance that will help employees to improve their weaknesses and build on their strengths.

The problem is that leaders and employees dislike the whole notion of performance management, and more specifically, the annual review. There’s all sorts of research out there that indicates that annual evaluations, plus merit-based salary increases, don’t do anything to improve performance. Furthermore, the age-old idea that if you pinpoint employees’ weaknesses, they’ll improve in those areas may be all wrong too. Studies out of Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M University found that negative feedback actually hurts top performers.

Adding to the challenge, leaders of remote employees must evaluate the performance of employees they rarely, if ever, see. While you may need to adjust your criteria for each area you evaluate, and you likely won’t conduct a performance review in person, follow these eight rules for every review, whether formal or informal, regardless an employee’s location:

  1. Remember the purpose of reviews. The goal isn’t to fill out a form or satisfy HR. The goal is to improve employees work and aid in their growth. When you remember that, and let others know that is your focus, you will improve results immediately.
  2. Make it a review, not an evaluation. Think about your worst reviews and those sit-downs with authority as a kid. Those were evaluations, and how did that work? You can review performance without it feeling punitive or like a report card. When you do that, it will likely be more effective. Scratch the word “evaluation,” and make it a “review.”
  3. Find ways to make reviews less stressful. You want your employees to learn; therefore, you must coach, not lecture. Additionally, the best learning experiences are seldom high stress, so help people relax. Acknowledge that they may be feeling stressed out, and remind them that the purpose of the meeting is to help them learn and grow. If they see it as a positive experience, they’ll feel less anxious.
  4. Look forward, not just backward. Most reviews look at what has already happened, and no one can change what is in the past. To coach employees, you need to put the past in context and focus at least some of your conversation on what they can improve.
  5. Let employees talk first. They have an opinion about their performance and results. They have intimate experience with it, and while their perspective might be different than yours, their perspective matters. When they share that they wish something could have gone better, you don’t have to convince them of that fact, they already own it. This is big-time critical for remote employees, because they’ve been dealing with issues and experiencing “wins” that you may not even be aware of.
  6. Reduce defensiveness to improve results. Once people get defensive, the barriers are up, and they aren’t interested in getting “helpful advice” from others, even the boss. If you let them talk more and sooner in the conversation, you will melt much of the defensiveness that occurs when you speak first and focus only on their weaknesses.
  7. Make it a conversation. Be quiet and talk less. A common thread in people’s poor experiences is that they were talked down to and that they weren’t engaged. When you turn a “review” into a conversation – open to the opinions and views of both parties – you will ensure better results. Beyond that, your remote employees have fewer opportunities to connect with you and share their concerns. Give them a platform to do so, and you will build trust, and surface issues that could be hurting their performance.
  8. Help them own their performance. You may be conducting the review, but it is a review about their performance. It isn’t about you. Keep that in mind, and make the entire exercise about your employees taking accountability for their performance, results and improvement.

To conclude, one more bit of food for thought: Focus on results, not necessarily the process. It’s almost impossible to know when remote employees sit down at their desks each day and how many hours they actually put in, even if you require them to use time-tracking software. You may never know how closely they follow your policies and rules. Rather than try to micromanage every little thing they do, focus on their output and the results of their work. A

Do you have any tricks you use to make your employee reviews a positive experience for both you and your staff? Please share your tips in the comments section! 

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