How to Make Performance Reviews Useful – Not Cringeworthy

There are many things that make managing investigators different than other management roles.  For instance, investigators are more likely to be attentive to detail, and interested in adherence to rules, so they’re less likely to cause problems by acting cavalierly at work.  They’re also likely to believe in the mission of their organization strongly, which makes them more committed to the work they do.  But there’s one thing that’s just as true with managing investigators as with any other job – performance reviews aren’t fun.


At their worst, performance reviews are an awkward, irregular opportunity for a manager to bring up everything they’ve been meaning to complain about, while the employee attempts to dodge verbal bullets and put their work in the best possible light.  After the meeting, everyone checks for injuries, and the employee assesses the likelihood that they’ll be around 6 months later.  They were seen as such a waste of time at Deloitte that they were abandoned, after being described as “an investment of 1.8 million hours across the firm that didn’t fit our business needs anymore.”

It doesn’t have to be this way!  Done correctly, there’s very little drama to performance reviews, and they’re an excellent opportunity to formalize and document the improvement requests of both the employee and the manager.  In fact, if there are any surprises during a performance review meeting, the odds are pretty good that someone has done something wrong.  Here are three ways to avoid surprises and the most out of the performance review process.

Define the goals at the beginning of the review period.  Employees should have a clear idea of their major priorities at all times.  Those priorities should be reinforced at least monthly during one-on-one conversations with a manager.  If any new priorities are added midway through a review cycle, it should be made clear that the item being added is a top priority, and it should be regularly discussed along with the other top priorities.  If an employee is unaware that an item is being tracked until it’s presented at a performance review, that’s a sure sign of a bad process and a lack of communication.

Don’t be biased by recency.  When you’re evaluating long-term performance, it is human nature to remember the peaks, valleys, and recent events most vividly.  This means that a performance review that is put together at the last minute will emphasize these three things, at the expense of the other 80% of an employee’s contributions.  It’s important to regularly document the successes, failures, and overall performance of employees, so that when you do get ready to write an annual performance review, you have a year’s worth of perspective to review.

Make things better.  One of the main points of a performance review is to improve things – an employee’s performance, a manager’s understanding of an employee’s goals and motivations, and the combined ability of the two of you to achieve the organization’s objectives.  Performance reviews go south fast when they’re primarily used to accomplish other things, like formally documenting shortcomings to terminate an employee, or justifying a compensation decision you’ve already made.

If you want the performance review to be less painful, make sure that you’re using it for its intended purpose – to make things better.  If the employee senses that the true purpose of the meeting is to discuss how each of you can do a better job of making the job more fulfilling and the work output more valuable, the conversation will more freely flow into areas that would otherwise be confrontational.  Those are the areas where the most value can be gained.

To learn how CMTS can make investigative case management simpler and more efficient than any other product on the market, call us at 919.600.5102 or email us at Team_CMTS@WingSwept.com.        

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