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Performance Reviews Done Right: Tips for a First-Time Manager

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Congratulations! Now that you’ve been promoted to manager, you’re probably eager to kick-start your new role. But where do you start? It’s often said that the transition to your first management role is one of the most difficult ones in your entire career.

Above all, in your new role you’re supposed to manage people. Your team will make or break your success. This is a good thing because you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can identify the skills of each member of your team, build upon them and help them to accomplish their tasks. Sounds doable so far, don’t you think?

Well, this “managing people” part is what most newly promoted managers find more difficult than expected. Maybe your team will include former peers or even friends. And most likely, some senior guys in the team will be skeptical about your performance since you’re younger than they are. Somehow as the new manager, you want to be their friend, mentor, inspiration and teacher, but still need set and maintain new boundaries.

One of the most powerful instruments for establishing a solid foundation for the new relationship with your team is the performance review meeting. Don’t think of these meetings as merely must-dos to keep HR busy. Start to see them as a great opportunity to clearly communicate expectations and open up a dialogue.

Based on years of real-life experience of being a manager (and more than a handful of mistakes), here are my seven tips to get most out of these performance review meetings as a first-time manager:

1. Schedule enough time and don’t cancel

Because these meetings can have such a powerful impact on your employee’s engagement at work, schedule enough time — at least one hour, but preferably more. And don’t cancel this meeting.

This might sound crazy to you, but can you remember how it felt when your manager cancelled your one-on-one? The easiest way to communicate to an employee they’re not important is to cancel their performance review meeting. You can be busy doing stuff all day long, but don’t cancel on them for whatever reason.

2. Champion the performance review process

Be professional. Performance reviews are not a joke or a pointless formality. Though this business process might require a more formal approach than you think, show your employees you take it seriously.

Make sure you know exactly how your company deals with the complete cycle. Find out if a performance calibration is part of the process and make sure you know what you need to prepare for that meeting. Also, communicate clearly to your employees what they need to do in order to prepare fully for your discussion.

3. Focus on performance, not personality

The performance review — what’s in a name? — is about performance, not about personality. Train yourself to avoid bias when assessing your employees.

If performance is unsatisfactory, say so. Give recognition for great performance as well. If you’re not prepared to be completely honest with your employees, ask yourself why and get over that before your meeting.

If you’re afraid an employee will become hostile, figure out why they might become that way and schedule a longer meeting to establish credibility and trust before giving any constructive criticism.

4. Be the manager

Don‘t fall into “friends mode.” Even if you and your direct report usually interact informally, this is a conversation between a supervisor and employee.

Show respect to your direct reports. (Click here to tweet this thought.) If you manage employees who are older than you, be sensitive to their feelings without giving in.

5. But don’t lecture. Lead!

Encourage employees to drive the agenda and bring a list of topics they’d like to discuss or want your advice on. You can try to bring these out by simply asking, “What can I help you with?”

Ask open-ended questions about a specific project (“How’s project X going?”) or even more broad questions (“What’s keeping you up at night lately?”). By encouraging your employees to raise real concerns, you may get some tough responses.

If you can’t answer them, tell your employee the truth. If you do choose to answer, answer honestly.

6. Avoid surprises

Don’t surprise employees with feedback they’ve never heard before. The performance review is only a culmination of the entire year.

Also try to fold in input from others in the organization. You only see what you see, so getting feedback from others leads to a far more balanced and thus accurate evaluation.

7. Steer clear of negotiations

 Don’t enter into negotiations about the performance rating. Your role as a manager is to represent the company and to follow the performance review procedures. You may not agree with such a calibrated rating, but it’s still your job to advocate for it when speaking with your employee.

My bonus tip: Enjoy the ride! Don’t get overwhelmed with all new things coming at you — just be the manager you always wish you’d had. If you make the best use of instruments like the performance review meeting by following these seven tips, you’ll be much better prepared to succeed in the corporate jungle. Don’t leave your first performance review cycle as a manager to chance.

Martina Mangelsdorf, founder of GAIA Insights, a boutique firm specialized in engaging, developing and retaining Generation Y talent, created a unique First Time Managers’ Performance Review Toolkit that helps you to be fully prepared for this crucial conversation. It offers step-by-step guidance and plenty of practical tips to transform the performance review from a scary monster to a invaluable instrument to manage your employees.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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