Year-end is busy in most organizations: While finishing off current projects and closing a few more deals you’re also planning, budgeting and getting ready for next year.

Whether you call them check-ins, evaluations, reviews or appraisals: Structured individual conversations to evaluate everyone’s contribution and growth this year are crucial to shaping your team for 2020!

Here are the key objectives for these conversations:

  • Evaluating past performance and growth: What contribution did someone make to their team, department and overall company? Were goals and expectations met? What lessons will be taken forward? And how are we all feeling about the work in the past period?
  • Gather upwards feedback: How did we do as management this year in terms of helping each person succeed? What should we continue doing? And what can we do better next year? Gather suggestions from people and see what matters to each person.
  • Shaping and adjusting roles and planning everyone’s desired contribution towards the overall goals and journey.
  • Setting the bar afresh: What major shifts or changes are coming up, and what will it mean for the expectations towards the team?

As you prepare for the reviews, ask yourself how much conversation time you think should go into each of these topics with each team member. Then give them a tailored list of questions to prepare, allowing at least 3 working days.

Keep in mind that many of your end-year conversations will lead to follow-up conversations at the start of the new year:

  • For the new performance and development goals you set, more detailed plans will be created and milestones set. Don’t miss to draw up detailed development plans, otherwise, the learning goals will remain fuzzy and not reached.
  • If someone’s performance was below par, you might want to draw up a Performance Improvement Plan to ensure a turn-around in the upcoming period.
  • And those who got new roles will now need clarity on their goals, the desired approach, available resources and the collaboration and approval points and lines.

Making it work in start-ups, where realities are a bit different!

We collected FAQ from managers in smaller and sometimes chaotic organizations, and are sharing our advice on how to get started if your scenario is less than perfect (is it ever?).

Scenario 1: Well, we didn’t really set goals or the ones we set weren’t so relevant, looking back. Should we skip the reviews and simply do a better job next year?

No. When you read the list above, you realized that reviews can serve so much purpose besides just going through a 12-month old list of goals. Find your own meaning in the reviews based on how the year in your organization went!

For example: Was it a year of client-orientation? Discuss learnings and results in terms of adding value to the client, then.  Or did you talk about picking up speed and increasing results the whole year? Then sit down and dig into everyone’s contribution to efficiency and effectiveness.

Scenario 2: We have never done that. Where do we start?

Excellent. You don’t need any special templates to get started on this. All you need are 4-6 meaningful questions. Share them with the team at least 3 working days before the one-on-one meetings so that everyone has time to prepare. Then simply listen to your team members evaluating their year and answer any questions they may have. Also, share your observations about their contributions this year (ideas and numbers just as much as softer aspects) and what you’ve seen as their strengths.

You can plan to follow-up in January with goal setting to add the next level of structure to your talent management.

Scenario 3: I haven’t really spent much time with the team members this year on one on one.  Which topics should I choose?

You might be tempted to try and accomplish a lot in little time. But instead, pick not more than two of the above listed goals for these conversations and avoid rushing things. You’d rather follow-up with another set of conversations and give yourself and the team time to digest in between.

A related scenario is the “I don’t really know my people well enough to review them scenario”.  In this case it’s worth seeing who else might have insights, and collect feedback from them before. You can also simply go with a self-assessment (Here are the department results. Tell me all about your contribution, challenges and learnings.) and then move to the forward-looking topics.

It’s also worth asking yourself why you haven’t had time for the team. Write down all your reasons and tackle them one by one in preparation for next year.

Scenario 4: I’m worried about the questions or requests I’ll get from the team

To build a winning company you’ll need dialogue. Reviews are therefore not a one-way street, where you get to talk about your expectations only! Some team members will raise grievances, share challenges faced with colleagues or expect salary increases or bonuses being communicated in year-end reviews.

The key is to take everything you hear serious and to make sure you really understand what your employee is trying to convey. You can brush up your active listening skills before. Don’t feel the pressure to react in the moment or make promises, but be clear on whether and when you will pick these topics up next. If you can, make clarifications in the moment.

Have fun! It’s your team

Gauge the passion and energy people have. How do they feel about their work? Where are they in their lives? Find out who is perfectly positioned in your organization, who needs more support, and who might be disengaged?

Make sure to note down all comments coming from the team, arising questions, ideas and priorities, so that you can analyze what happened afterwards.

Need more support? Talk to us!

We’ve helped dozens organizations think through their performance management process: Whether it’s to translate the gibberish of this blog post for managers without much HR experience, or to take your existing processes to the next level, our tools and support promise a smooth and effective approach.