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Five ways – and one illustration – to improve your performance reviews 

By Neil Amato 
July 18 2012

When it comes to the performance review, the giver and the receiver do not always view it the same.

Bosses think they’re great. Employees? Not so much.

Accountemps, which recently surveyed more than 1,800 people in the US workforce on performance reviews, reports that 94% of CFOs believe reviews are somewhat or very effective. Sixty-two per cent of workers feel the same way.

But 31% of workers say annual or semiannual reviews are ineffective. Six per cent said they did not receive performance reviews.

Accountemps, which specialises in global temporary staffing services for accounting professionals, surveyed more than 1,400 CFOs from US companies with 20 or more employees. The worker survey was based on responses from 422 workers in office environments.

Workers were asked about the effectiveness of reviews in helping to improve performance. “Very effective” got 25% of the votes, and “somewhat effective” got 37%. Twenty-six per cent of CFOs asked the same question answered “very effective”, and 68% answered “somewhat effective”.

Max Messmer, the chairman of Accountemps, said reviews should be an ongoing practice, not a once-a-year meeting.

“Nothing discussed in a formal evaluation should come as a surprise to the employee,” Messmer said in a press release. “The best managers regularly give their teams performance feedback throughout the year.”
Accountemps included this illustration of the discrepancy in reviews’ effectiveness and gave five ways managers can conduct better reviews:

  1. Ask for input. Employees should be consulted on what they think are their key accomplishments and areas for improvement.

  2. Don’t rush. This is made easier by noting throughout the year an employee’s successes and failures. That way, you’re not unprepared when review time rolls around.

  3. Focus on specifics. Measurable progress is far better to discuss than generalities such as “You’re always running late” or “You never have timely follow-up with clients.”

  4. Tailor feedback to the individual. Not everyone responds the same way to challenges or criticism. For instance, more sensitive employees might need criticism balanced with positive comments.

  5. Seek solutions. If a staffer needs help to overcome a deficiency, offer mentoring or additional training.

The results of the Accountemps survey are not entirely surprising. One 2011 survey showed that more than half of the people in the US workforce think reviews do not accurately gauge their work. Another showed that two-thirds of respondents had received reviews in which the feedback was a surprise.

Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

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Appraising the performance review

Maybe the boss is too busy to notice an employee’s work. Maybe the employee doesn’t take criticism well, so the boss glosses over deficiencies. Maybe the review process is tied to legacy systems and needs revamping. Senior editor Neil Amato caught up with two Robert Half International executives, one each from the UK and US, who offered five tips to improve reviews. He also caught up with the co-author of “Get Rid of the Performance Review,” who offers his unique views on how to assess employees. To read more, click here.