It’s time to talk about performance reviews. While feedback is essential to a healthy culture and thriving team, the practice of annual performance appraisals often causes more harm than good. If you’re conducting performance reviews to get them over with and file them somewhere, you might as well be pressing on a button that deflates your team’s morale. And let’s not even mention using a performance review as an excuse to do your due diligence with the intention of letting someone go – talk about breaking trust with your team.

On the other hand, the art of effectively conducting performance reviews can skyrocket employee engagement and increase productivity. People want feedback. They want to talk about their career development and be supported in their professional goals. They want to contribute meaningfully, and a well-executed performance review can help achieve that. Here are seven tips to deliver outstanding performance reviews.

1. Make it about coaching and mentoring

Robin White, the founder and managing partner of coaching and consulting firm Guided Leadership Solutions, thinks the annual appraisal model is not the most effective. Instead, she recommends scheduling meaningful one-on-one meetings on a regular basis and focusing on coaching and mentoring your team.

“I recommend an informal approach and setting to encourage more open dialog. Your employees are craving input and want to talk about things that matter to them, including their career path, roadblocks and challenges,” she says.

“Having these regular discussions builds morale and trust within the team and creates a culture where employees are comfortable coming to their leadership team with suggestions, concerns and questions. When employees feel heard, seen and cared for, they have higher performance, increased engagement and more job satisfaction.”

2. Address performance issues with a focus on solutions

But what happens if sustained performance issues do come up? “A more formal, focused follow-up meeting to discuss the issue, identify gaps in knowledge or training, and develop a plan for improvement may be warranted,” adds White.

However, it’s important to embrace a positive approach where you’re finding solutions and supporting your report so they can succeed. Watch out for your own confirmation bias. You don’t want to decide that your report is doomed to fail and process the interaction through that lens.

3. Foster a culture of feedback year-round

You’ve probably heard that nothing should come as a surprise during a performance review – and it’s a solid, timeless piece of advice.

“The best way to conduct a performance review is to yield no surprises,” says Adam Lyons, a business advisor who has helped save 1800+ businesses since the pandemic began and specializes in team-building and feedback.

What this means is that your performance reviews will be that much more fruitful if you foster a culture of feedback year-round, providing both positive and constructive feedback to your team to allow for growth. “If you are waiting until a review to drop surprises, it’s often too late,” adds Lyons.

4. Always follow up after a review

His next piece of advice is also crucial: Always follow up after a performance review. “My favorite tip to yield great performance reviews is to check in one or two weeks after the conversation. Has the employee implemented the feedback? Why or why not? Allowing them a chance to succeed will build credibility and communication,” he says.

5. Know your audience

“Not every review should be delivered the same way. If leaders know their teams, they understand that everyone hears and learns differently,” says Kristin Heller or HR Creative Consulting.

“Performance evaluation conversations should be carefully thought out for each person. Each employee should have a clear understanding of what they do well and where they may need to spend some extra time to improve,” she adds. “Some employees want direct, no beating around the bush feedback. Some employees may need more compassion.”

6. Give your undivided time and attention to the process

As Heller puts it, “If every team member receives the same feedback, what is the value? How does it benefit the employee or the organization?”

She recommends taking the time to carefully think through each evaluation so you can provide impactful, specific feedback. “If the process is rushed, the employee will know its value will be lost. It will be a check-the-box activity and the employee will gain nothing,” she says. “Make each conversation a priority. Be engaged. Don’t rush. Put cell phones away.”

7. Focus on the work, not the person

Focusing on the work (or behavior, if applicable) and not the person is another key piece of the puzzle of highly effective performance reviews. This practice builds a growth mindset where people feel less afraid to try things and fail because they don’t internalize that it means something about their identity within the team. You can even explicitly state that intention during difficult conversations, as Lyons does.

“I always assure them that this review is not a result of their character as a person, but instead, their workflow or business practices. This distinction is important so the person doesn’t feel attacked,” says Lyons.