For many of us, it’s coming up on that time of year again—performance reviews. As leaders and managers, we will be both giving and receiving them, and we’ve worked enough years to know how the process goes. Or do we? Many organizations are still using outdated and inefficient methods of performance management, which not only make reviews meaningless, but drive workers to a lower quality of work and less employee engagement. As a leader, how can you identify which parts of managing your employees’ performance are not working? What pitfalls should you avoid? And how can you use ongoing feedback to keep your employees moving forward because you’re leading them, rather than them trying to outrun you as you’re peering over their shoulders?

Pitfall #1: Lack of goal alignment
: Both administrative goals (i.e., regarding raises, promotions, layoffs, etc) and developmental goals (i.e., regarding motivation and skills enhancement) are a necessary part of performance management, but too much of a focus on one or the other can cause unintended consequences for the entire system. Knowing that both goals are part of an assessment can cause an employee to be dishonest about their shortcomings, since they want to keep their job. However, keeping the goals too far apart can lessen the effect of seeing a reward for productivity and learning. Author Anthony Montebello advocates “a performance management cycle in which managers and employees review goals and competencies on a recurrent basis throughout the years” as the best practice for bringing administrative and developmental goals into alignment.

Pitfall #2: Poorly defined metrics
: Many organizations are still using appraisal scales that have been proven to be ineffective. These scales use terms like “positive attitude” and “makes good decisions”, which are ambiguous at best and leave both the employee and the evaluator in a place of potential disagreement over the depiction of their work. These type of scales also use terms like “meets expectations”, which may be accurate but will hardly inspire a high performer to continue if it seems like their work is being described as doing at least what is required. Instead, when you state concrete goals, and clear ratings of whether or not (or with what frequency) the employee met these goals, you will have a more positive outcome for the employee to continue developing and improving.

Pitfall #3: Only reviewing performance once a year
: This is probably the biggest pitfall of them all, and the easiest to avoid. Documenting and reporting mistakes, and then going down the list of them once a year when discussing the possibility of a raise, sets up your employees for frustration and demotivates them. Instead, it is important to have a hands-on approach to feedback that allows the employee to know that they are growing and improving as they are doing so, so that they can be confident knowing that they’re doing the right. Simply put, if your employee’s performance is bad enough that it merits anxiety and surprise once a year at reviews, why are they still around? Either you have been coaching them and they are unable to perform their responsibilities, in which case you will both be happier and more productive if they are encouraged to go to a job elsewhere, or you haven’t been coaching them, and their failure to excel is due to lack of guidance. Both you and your employee can only benefit from year-round hands-on performance management and feedback.

How do you intend to make managing performance an ongoing tool for growth rather than a flawed system of evaluation?