performance reviews

Tis the season… Relax, this isn’t another “prep for the holidays” blog post. It’s worse. Because while everyone around you goes into holiday mode, you have to prepare for the worst thing about the end of the year—performance reviews and development plans for yourself and your people. If you lead a long-distance or dispersed team, this can be even more stressful.

As with most things, it doesn’t have to be cringe-inducing and insomnia-causing. Doing reviews and helping your team develop plans for the coming year can be effective, with a little planning. Working with your distant team members just takes a little forethought and a few deep breaths.

Some of the basics for doing good performance reviews and planning don’t change regardless of where the person works:

Use SMART Goals.

I know, I know, but the fact is you can’t really turn good intentions into deeds without defining success so that you can build accountability into the process.

Don’t Forget the “M” Part.

The second letter in SMART is “measurable,” and we spend a lot of time establishing metrics for this time next year. But one reason development plans and good intentions fail is that we go from the present state to final goal so we can say we set a goal. But the intention isn’t to set a goal, it’s to achieve it. Especially when working remotely, it’s important to establish short, achievable goals throughout the process so people don’t go, “oh no, it’s October already!”

Hold people accountable for their own goals.

Think of it this way: you have seven other people whose plans you need to work on. The individual person has one–themselves. If people aren’t willing to hold themselves accountable for their development and hitting their goals, what are the odds of achieving them?

So far, these things hold true regardless of whether you’re face to face or on the other side of the country. Working remotely does present other challenges though. In order to overcome them, you should:

Make performance review meetings as “rich” as possible.

That means creating an environment as close to a one-on-one, in-person meeting as possible. Use webcams to transmit facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Make sure the conversations are private, so people can speak freely. And be in a place where both of you can concentrate. Holding them on a staticky cell phone from an airport departure lounge isn’t optimal for anyone.

Include the agenda and specifically what you want to cover in the meeting invitation.

One of the unintended consequences of holding remote meetings is that we often become far more concerned about time than we are in someone’s presence. We become intent on “checking off boxes” and moving on to our next meeting (especially if it’s an uncomfortable conversation.) By creating an agenda for your meeting, you both become responsible for achieving its goals, and both parties will be properly prepared.

If the performance review is the only time you’ve addressed learning and development, you’ve already both blown it.

The items on the performance and development plan should be baked into your coaching conversations year-round. Consider entering them into your calendar when you schedule one on ones or other coaching opportunities.

This time of year we are expressly charged with both the development and the performance of our people. If this hasn’t been a strength, now’s the time to change that and make this process less stressful on you and your remote teammates.

If you want to be a better long-distance teammate in 2020, we’ve got just the learning opportunity for you.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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