The importance of feedback: Your employees deserve an annual performance review

Generation Y

Have you had a conversation with your employees about 2014?

  • How was the year for you?
  • What went well for you?
  • What did not go as well as you would have liked?

I just came across the following statement (and I won’t mention the name of the blogger, because the words reflect a common sentiment): “Many managers today don’t relish giving feedback. In the past, feedback was associated with the annual review, a thoroughly unenjoyable hour where everyone involved couldn’t wait for it to end.”

We have to turn this notion upside down. A performance review can’t be “a thoroughly unenjoyable hour where everyone involved couldn’t wait for it to end.” Aaargh! Perhaps this writer literally meant “in the past.”

If we step aside from the structured, system-led concept of performance reviews and, instead, talk about what this conversation represents, we just might see it differently.

Every employee in an organization wakes up every morning, gets in their car, drives to work and arrives at a place where they contribute their talents and commitments to support the success of the organization (to the tune of 2,080 hours and more each year).

Do these individuals not deserve that, one time each year, their leader will sit down with them (with gratitude) and give them the opportunity to talk about how the year went for them? Understandably, some of these employees are A and B players (easier conversations)…and some are not (more challenging conversations). So I get that the experience may be different—and some involve tough, candid conversations about what needs to improve in the coming year. And yet good, bad or otherwise, work comprises a significant part of these employees’ lives, and they need an opportunity to reflect and then plan.

Let’s revisit some fundamental thoughts about employees and work.

Research (especially any that is tied to employee engagement) tells us that employees would like to come to work every day and:

  • Do work that is meaningful.
  • Do work that they enjoy.
  • Be valued for the work they do.
  • Have clear expectations about what success looks like.
  • Receive feedback along the way (this includes feedback when they are on track, as well as feedback when they are off track).
  • Grow and develop.

So back to the once-per-year conversation: Make sure you have it! Begin with the 30,000-foot questions that I mentioned at the beginning. Then, look at categories of performance, conduct and other expectations. For each area of performance, have a conversation about what went well, and what didn’t go as well as they would have liked. For anything you talk about, have your employee talk first. Then you can add your thoughts. Some of you will want to include a rating (and in some instances it is a requirement of your system).

Within the framework of a performance review system that has been designed on your behalf, remember that you are still having a conversation about each element of the review.

As your employees prepare to move forward in this coming year, the following outcomes of a performance conversation will increase the likelihood that they will be engaged and ready to perform:

  • Reassurance that they are doing what is expected of them.
  • Confidence that you are pleased with what they are doing.
  • The opportunity to grow and develop…to know they are making progress.

And do not underestimate this – substantive conversations with leaders contribute to employees’ decisions to stay. Your interest fosters loyalty.

Over the years, I’ve heard many leaders say, “Yeah, I don’t believe in performance reviews.” Your employees deserve better. They deserve to celebrate the past year by having a conversation about it…the good, the bad and the otherwise!

-Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm in Brookfield. You may send her your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question at To read all of her “Leading Generation Y columns, visit the knowledge portal at

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Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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