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Ask an MSP ExpertQ: As the end of the year approaches, I want to set 2016 goals for my 10 employees (administrators and technicians) and outline plans for their career development. We don’t have an HR presence, and I don’t have the budget to implement one. But, I want to conduct annual reviews to make sure all of my employees are on the right track and get the feedback they need to grow in their positions. How do I conduct annual reviews (without making my employees nervous)?

While the words “performance review” are often met with feelings of anxiety, they shouldn’t be perceived this way. When done the right way, annual reviews should be helpful for both you (the manager) and your employees.

annual_reviewThe good news is that you’re starting fresh so you can create an annual review process that will encourage your employees and highlight their strengths. Inevitably, people are going to get nervous or uncomfortable about receiving feedback. So, here are a few tips to help you give annual reviews in a way that reduces the burden on you and the anxiety for your employees.

Tip #1: Be Prepared

As the manager, you’ll want to be sure you’ve prepared for each review meeting with specific feedback for each individual. It’s important to spend time thinking about each person’s achievements and challenges before you sit down with them. This way, you have a clear idea of what you want to communicate to them to make sure that the meeting is helpful.

Additionally, consider what opportunities for growth there are within your organization. Are there other responsibilities you could delegate to this person to reward them for their accomplishments? If they’re interested in being promoted to “lead technician,” are there goals you could set for them to help prepare them? As part of this, think about different resources that could help them develop their skills and grow in their career. For example, is there a training program available or maybe an opportunity for them to take a course related to their field?

Having prepared what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to help each person grow will make for a successful review.

Tip #2: Be specific

For the employee to find the review helpful, they need to be told what they’re doing right and what they need to improve upon – with specific examples. As part of your preparation process, think through the projects that went well and specific moments that stand out as key accomplishments.

Start the conversation off by highlighting these strengths and achievements. Clearly articulate why you think the project went well and what they did that helped it be successful. For example, perhaps they were able to upgrade a reluctant break-fix customer to a managed services contract. The more specific you can be, the more helpful it will be for the employee.

A more difficult part of the review process is delivering feedback on what someone needs to improve on, but noting someone’s weaknesses is just as important as highlighting their strengths. Otherwise, you’re not being fair to them and not giving them opportunities to grow. It can be a good thing for employees to get a clearer understanding of both what they need to work on and what they’re doing well. As with their accomplishments, be specific when mentioning the areas where there’s room for improvement so they understand how to address it going forward.

Tip #3: Be honest

An important part of any review process is honesty, from both the manager and the employee. Honest communication might be difficult for both parties to hear, but it helps everyone understand exactly where they stand. Employees will benefit from your honesty, even if it upsets them at first.

It’s also important to ask employees to be honest with you. Ask them about their short and long term goals, what projects they’ve most enjoyed working on, and how they hope to grow in their position. Also, ask them what challenges they’re facing and if something or someone is holding them back from getting their job done efficiently. Being honest allows you to help your employee break down barriers to their success.

In these meetings, it’s important to make it a two-way conversation. To get the most out of it, both parties should be communicating. This will help to avoid having the employee feel attacked or criticized and instead allow them to ask questions and better understand the feedback.

For employees heading into their annual review, communicate your goals clearly. Let your manager know what you want out of your position and career. Managers will appreciate you sharing the insight and will be better able to help you achieve those goals.

Photo Credit: abductit on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license. 

Ask an MSP Expert is a weekly advice column answering common questions from MSPs and IT service providers. It covers topics ranging from pricing and selling to marketing and communications—and everything in between.

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Courtney Steinkrauss

Posted by Courtney Steinkrauss

Courtney is an Editorial Associate at Intronis. In her role, she assists in creating and publishing content that helps IT service providers grow their businesses.

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