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Hey, human resources manager—stand in the center of an office and yell, “Who loves performance reviews?” I am willing to bet one American dollar that you won’t get one hand raised in response. Most workers and managers see performance reviews and management plans as anything from a necessary evil to downright pointless—they’re inconvenient for everyone involved, according to common opinion, and they don’t offer any real benefit.

The truth is, while no one at any level will likely ever see reviews, goal-setting and other performance-centric programs as a laugh riot, they can be extremely useful in empowering your employees to do their best. What’s more, if executed correctly, the pain associated with performance programs can be significantly alleviated. Here are some handy pointers.

Remove the element of surprise.

Much of the strain and stress associated with performance reviews comes from employees not having any idea how they’ll be evaluated when the time comes. Unfortunately, expecting the worst being an all-too-common human tendency, even well-performing workers often freak themselves out by fretting about a bad review.

There are a few ways to cut this worrying off at the pass, or at least reduce it. Managers should, in the process of regular communication with their staff, offer feedback to their employees about their work—congratulating them on a job well done, addressing poor performance, and the like. An annual performance review shouldn’t be the only time a staffer hears from higher ups how they’re doing.

Be clear on expectations and goalsetting

How can an employee know if they’re meeting expectations, if they don’t know what those expectations are? Human resources managers and supervisors should work toward establishing clear, attainable performance expectations—and making sure not just that these expectations are put down somewhere, but that the employee in question knows what they are.

Also, employees are more likely to be invested in their development, and take ownership of their place in your company, if you empower them to help define those goals. This is true not just for employees who are underperforming, but also for those real go-getters who are performing above and beyond. Whether the employee you’re talking to is doing well or needs improvement, conversations about their future direction should be a two-way discussion, not a one-way lecture.

Keep track of conversations

Recording discussions about performance and goals does more than simply CYA-ing if the time comes to bid farewell to a poor performer. Making conversations official by writing them down can serve human resources in a number of ways. They can help you justify pay increases or other rewards for meeting performance goals, or decreases should such unfortunate decisions become necessary. Recorded performance evaluations can justify training or development programs to higher ups signing off on personnel expenditures. Finally, sharing such documentation with your people demonstrates not just that, “Hey, we’re watching you,” but—possibly more important—“Hey, we care about you and want you to do your best.”

Are you looking for ways to harness performance management to get the best out of your workforce? Contact Human Elements—we can help you chart a course.