Engaging managers and employees in the (dreaded) annual review

by External19 Mar 2013

How do you engage your managers and employees in the annual employee review process so everyone gets something out of it? Sean Conrad provides his tips.

The annual review is something many employees and managers dread, for a whole variety of reasons. That said, research continually tells us that effective performance management is a driver of employee engagement and business results. So how do you engage your managers and employees in the annual employee review process so everyone gets something out of it?

Here are a few tips to help your managers and employees see value in the process.

Shift the focus

The first and perhaps most important thing you can do is shift the focus from an annual performance review and ratings to an ongoing dialogue about performance and development. The annual employee review should really just be the culmination of a discussion that’s been going on all year. And the focus should be on how to help the employee continually develop, improve and succeed. When you focus on ratings and rankings, everyone loses (and dreads the task). When you focus on employee development you support everyone’s success.


You also need to clearly communicate the importance and value of managing employee performance and development, as well as the milestones, activities and timelines for your process. And no, it’s not enough to send out an email once a year announcing the start of your annual review process. Managers and employees need to be continually reminded about their responsibility to manage employee performance, set and review goals, assign and participate in development activities, give and solicit feedback and provide coaching. But you also need to tell them why it’s important (eg improved employee performance, increased engagement and retention, stronger competitive position, greater organisational alignment, better business results, etc.)

Make the process and forms straightforward to use

Let’s face it, no one likes paperwork. And managers and employees aren’t going to “happily” complete annual employee review forms if the forms themselves are hard to use and the process is convoluted or unknown. If you want to engage managers and employees in the task, take the dread out of it by making it simple and straightforward. And make sure it gives them value.

Train managers and employees in the skills they need

Annual employee reviews, and for that matter managing employee performance, can be a real challenge if you don’t have the necessary skills.

So make sure you offer managers and employees regular training on things like: giving effective feedback, coaching, setting goals, managing development and career progression, listening skills, how to use the forms and process, how to use your rating scales and what each rating means, and what your core competencies are and how they relate to the business.

There’s a lot that goes into managing performance, for both the employee and manager. Being proficient in these skills can go a long way to taking the dread out of annual reviews; we’re all naturally more engaged in tasks that we’re good at.

Give employees an active role to play

Don’t let your annual employee reviews be a “spectator sport”. Employees should have an active role to play, not just be recipients of ratings, goals and development activities. Have your employees complete a self-appraisal and draft their goals and development plans before they meet with their manager.

Encourage them to keep notes on their performance all year round and gather any feedback they’ve received from others, then share that with their managers. You can even invite them to gather 360 degree or multirater feedback from the people they’ve worked closely with. All these simple tactics get employees engaged in the process and give them a voice.

Follow up

Finally, if you never appear to do anything useful with the information gathered in your annual reviews, employees and managers will think they don’t matter, and disengage from the process. So communicate the results. Let them know the overall participation rate and how it compared to last year’s.

Let them know what the company’s strongest competencies are, as well as the ones that need development. Let them know what development initiatives are being put in place in the organisation and why. Let them know what the organisation’s high level goals are, and challenge them to link their individual goals to the high level goals they support.

Ask for regular progress updates, and communicate the status of your high-level organisation goals. Let them know how performance ratings are being used to determine pay rises. And let them know that all this information is being driven from your performance review process. Once they see how the information gathered is being used, they’ll see the value of their reviews and better engage with the process.

Demonstrate value

People don’t engage with processes or tasks that don’t deliver value to them. By using your annual performance reviews as a tool to support employee performance and development as well as business decision making and results, you can better engage your workforce and support everyone’s success.


About the author 

At Halogen Software, Sean Conrad helps companies of all sizes improve their annual performance review process. He’s a regular contributor to Halogen’s blog, as well as numerous industry blogs and publications.