The Annual Performance Review – is it Time for a Change?

All managers (Project Managers, department heads, Executives) in most organizations have a responsibility to provide feedback to their staff members.  Over the years I have found that many people view this as an agonizing task and some completely ignore performing this key process.  I recently read a great post by Lindsay Scott on developing Project Managers and employees, ( in which she summarizes a book she read by Kimberly Janson “Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results”.  Her post made me think about how organizations today (and projects) don’t actually take time to give effective feedback to staff and employees.

No matter what you call it: performance appraisal, review, feedback, development, etc., the only way to help people improve and perform better is to engage them in effective feedback and conversations about their performance, objectives and career.

There are many books and articles written on developing employees and performance feedback techniques.  But what I see happening is that companies and organizations are changing the whole concept of giving feedback with many abandoning the traditional “annual performance review.”  The key term replacing “ranking and rating” is feedback.  And the timeliness of the feedback is key to the process.

I personally prefer the concept of conversations that are held throughout the year, during which you discuss performance and give feedback.  Many of you will say that your HR department wants to have these “conversations” documented in the personnel folder.  And I am sure the standard forms they give you are not for holding “conversations” and providing effective feedback.  So I thought I would share a format that I have used for many years both on projects and with employees to provide meaningful and actionable feedback on performance.

My feedback format has 2 main parts and deal with both positive and negative feedback.

  1. Section 1: Feedback from the Employee. The questions and discussion here should be tailored to the organization, job, or project.  I have some general questions that can be used as a starting point:
    • How are you doing? (Do they feel like they are making progress, are they frustrated, do they want more challenges, etc.)
    • Describe any likes or dislikes with your current assignment/project/etc.
    • Do you have what you need to get your job done effectively? (This can be tools, knowledge, skills, etc.)
    • What are your goals for the next [project, quarter, job, etc.]?
  2. Section 2: Giving Feedback to the Employee. I like to give feedback in three sections or groups – starting with the most positive and moving to the least positive:
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and he/she should keep doing!
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has not demonstrated or done consistently – you would like to see more of these.
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and should stop doing because they impede performance or trigger negative consequences.


While you have to give specifics to back these up, I find it is much easier to categorize performance into these 3 groups.  You are basically telling the person that they have both strengths and weaknesses.  By being honest and positive with the conversation, you should be able to steer the individual to more productive behaviors and ultimately increase their value to themselves and the organization.

I hope this post helps you to get a handle on what can be the best or worst process in your management toolkit.  Do you have any tips on giving performance feedback?  Leave a comment.

For those interested in digging deeper, here are few articles that I think you might find useful:


Top 3 Reasons Key Performers are Essential

Our team has been in staffing mode for the last 2 weeks (Or as our HR staff says “Talent Acquisition mode”). Every time I am involved in starting up a new large program I start thinking about the people we are staffing into key project roles. I am constantly reminded by advisors that not everyone can be a “star performer” when we are choosing the project’s team and I know that to be true from years of managing people and projects.

So I always focus my attention on ensuring we get the top talent and skills in the key roles and positions. I came across and interesting blog post that summarized my reasons for this focus really well – even though it was not talking specifically about staffing a project.

Dr. Karen McGraw, President of Silver Bear Group, wrote a post on the Top 3 Reasons Key Performers are Essential to an HPI Analysis for the Human Capital Blog which performance consultants read. I figure that if performance analysts have tips on focusing on key performers, then so should managers.

Karen lists 3 reasons why key performers are essential to doing a Human Performance Analysis and they line up perfectly with why we as managers should ensure we have key performers in critical positions:

  1. They produce the outcomes that drive business results. Needs no further explanation!
  2. They have best practices and tips they can share. The top performers are going to provide leadership and practices to the whole team.
  3. They know how to work around barriers and across boundaries. I just wrote about forming coalitions in the last post (PMs dealing with Politics) and pointed out the need for working around barriers and across teams.

So there you go – short and to the point.  Your key performers are what will define the success of your organization or project.  Pick them wisely.  Human performance professionals already know this. As managers, we should follow their lead!


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