The Argument for Annual Reviews and 6 Ways to Make them Better

By Chelsea Babin

As the year 2018 draws to a close, you might already be preparing for annual reviews of every member of your technical team. And, if you are, go ahead and skip the next paragraph. But, if you’re not, why aren’t you?

Annual reviews are helpful for technical professionals in a myriad of ways. For starters, they improve communication between leadership and technical professionals. This results in employees knowing exactly where they stand and where the company is heading. Transparency is key if you want to retain your best technical talent and annual reviews help you achieve that transparency! Plus, they’re a great time to review your employees progress and see what added value they’ve created at your company or course correct if you feel their performance is moving in a negative direction. While reviews and check-ins can be beneficial more than once a year, annual reviews are a great opportunity to delve into the big picture, which you may not have time for during busier seasons.

Now that you know why annual reviews are beneficial, you need to consider how to improve your annual reviews so you and your technical employees are getting the most out of this time-honored tradition. Here are 6 ways you can make your annual reviews a lot better.

1. Use this Time to Set Goals: If you’re not a part of your technical employees goal setting process, it’s time to correct that. How can you expect to develop their career and keep them around if you don’t know where they’re ultimately trying to go in their career? How can you make sure their career goals align with your company’s goals if you don’t discuss them? Annual reviews, particularly when conducted at or near the end of the year, are the perfect time to set goals and help your technical employees achieve what you want them to and what they want to.

2. Collect Feedback From Others: Let’s face it, unless you’re a micromanager there’s no way you know the ins-and-outs of each employee’s performance. This causes a lot of annual reviews to focus on the macro and completely ignore the micro. However, the people they collaborate with and work closely with on a daily basis have additional insight on their coworkers that will help you understand their performance pitfalls and triumphs on both a micro and macro scale.

3. Share a Breakdown Before the Review: Annual reviews can sometimes cause stress or anxiety for your technical employees if they’re going in blind. You can alleviate some of this tension and ultimately have a more productive conversation if you allow them time to prepare what they will be discussing. You can do this easily by providing a breakdown of the points you want to discuss, the data you want to review, the questions you have, and anything else relevant to their performance with the employee at least a day in advance. That way, they’ll be as prepared for the conversation as you are and they’ll be less wracked with nerves during the beginning of the conversation.

4. Listen Closely: Annual reviews are only effective if they’re conducted like a conversation. This requires you to listen closely and really hear what your employees are saying about their perspective on company goals, their own career goals, their performance highs and lows, and more. Ultimately, listening closely will help you understand the why’s and how’s of their performance over the year, which can help you steer them in a successful direction. Plus, you can use the information they share to help others along a similarly successful path, prevent others from making the same mistakes, or make adjustments to your company goals as needed.

5. Clear Next Steps: If you want to actually improve employee performance, give them something to strive towards, and make these annual reviews valuable you need to provide clear next steps. Create a plan together at the end of the meeting that will guide them on what happens next. Set goals and deadlines, document these concrete steps in a place you both have access to, and set a time for a check-in on these.

6. Consider Increasing the Frequency: Annual reviews are one form of one-on-one meeting and, while they’re valuable, there’s also no reason to limit them to just once a year. Consider increasing the frequency of these reviews to semi-annually, quarterly, or even monthly if you want to play a more active role in the career development of your IT employees. This will also help them keep their goals and performance on track before they go too far astray.

While some may say the process of annual reviews is antiquated or just a time to dole out raises, others see the value they can add to any technical team. Now that you see the value too, use these 6 tips to improve your annual review process and make it more effective, functional, and beneficial for all.