It’s that time of the year again! We are in the last quarter of the year, and the holidays are right around the corner. What are you doing to wrap up 2019, individually and as an organization?

Love it or dread it, it’s review time! Let’s take a look at the best, and worst, ways to approach reviews.

What Is an End-of-year Review?

Loosely defined, the end-of-year (EOY) review is an annual sync between an employee and his or her manager to review the year’s successes and failures and, ideally, inform the goals and new competencies or skills to strive for in the upcoming year. There is controversary over the effectiveness of performance reviews and speculation they are no more than power and control mechanisms that should not have a place in today’s knowledge economy.

There must be a reason the majority of organizations still have some form of performance reviews. For one, managers can use the EOY meetings to invest one-on-one time with employees, discuss raises and promotions, create effective succession plans with employee input, build employee development strategies, and maintain alignment between all employees in the organization.

Furthermore, the EOY review is a dedicated time to discuss an employee’s past and vision for the future, including accomplishments and failures; day-to-day responsibilities; development areas, including skills and competencies; and priorities and next steps. It’s also a forum for managers to commit to supporting the employee’s success.

Who Should Be Present?

The standard process for the EOY review is a one-on-one meeting between a manager and an employee. It is a perfect time to discuss sensitive topics and an opportunity for the manager to act as a coach, create trust and open communication channels.

Some organizations do a two-to-one model. In addition to the manager and employee, a third party is present, such as a human resources (HR) representative, a professional external or internal coach, or a learning and development (L&D) professional. It is important that the third party and manager are not teaming up on the employee but that the additional professional is there to be objective, add value, document, create an objective experience, or track development opportunities and consistency. This approach can be especially helpful if the manager and employee institute a performance improvement plan (PIP).

Few organizations implement team EOY reviews. They can be effective if their focus is on reviewing processes and rating the overall success and failures of the team as a whole. However, it is critical not to single out team members in front of the group, as doing so can lead to disengagement, resentment and future team dysfunction.

Where Should It Happen?

Since the EOY review typically includes confidential and sensitive information, it is important for them to take place in the correct venue — in a place where the employee feels comfortable enough to open up and be fully present. Having a sensitive conversation in a loud, open area can lead employees to believe the manager isn’t interested in what they think. Having the meeting in the manager’s office, on the other hand, creates a different power dynamic then an impartial meeting room. It’s important for managers to think through the unconscious messages employees can infer from their surroundings.

When Should It Happen?

EOY reviews are, naturally, normally conducted at the end of the year. However, it’s important to be conscious of company timelines as well as holiday schedules. For example, if part of the agenda is to discuss bonus and compensation increases, then the manager needs to know system deadlines and their implications. If managers try to have important conversations the day before people leave for a week-long vacation, some employees may be mentally “checked out” and unable to reap the benefits of this important meeting of the minds.

Depending on the number of employees in an organization and the organization’s policy, EOY reviews are normally conducted between October and November, which provides time to talk about immediate next steps and what to accomplish in order to successfully close out the year. It also gives employees time to think through what they discussed and clarify or make changes before the new year’s goals and development plans are cemented.

How Should Leaders Conduct an EOY Review?

First of all, managers should consider the C-P-R model for crucial conversations: being aware of the content, process and relationship prior to the meeting. They should clearly define and provide the purpose, agenda and timelines to the employee well in advance.

From an organizational standpoint, in order to reap maximum benefits from EOY reviews, there should be a clear process for both managers and employees. Training and guidelines can ensure consistency for each employee. Most importantly, the way the organization and its managers approach EOY reviews makes a significant difference in their success. It is obvious to employees whether managers use these conversations to check a box, undermine team members or elevate managers, or if they view them as an investment in the employee’s future within the organization.

Furthermore, effective leaders do not discuss their employees’ wins, losses and development opportunities just once a year. Rather, it should be an ongoing, open conversation with just-in-time feedback throughout the year. By formalizing the EOY review process, organizations can create a standard across the business; enable managers and employees to build on conversations throughout the year; and, most importantly, invest in employees’ development.

To recap, EOY reviews are what you make of them. You can use them for good or for evil. They can feel like a chore or an effective development strategy. Here are some things to remember when trying to implement positive and effective EOY reviews:

  • EOY reviews can be effective organizational development tools when clear processes, including timelines, agendas and evaluations, are put in place.
  • Be sure EOY reviews align business objectives, learning and development strategy, and individual employee performance.
  • The approach and reason for having EOY reviews sets the tone for all employees. Be sure managers are sending the right message by considering the C-P-R communication model, that employees understand what is expected of them, and that your implementation strategy includes what information you will track and any action items that you can incorporate into training.

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