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Yearly event can be a work-in-process

Hey Boss!

You've just finished the last of the performance reviews for employees in your charge, and you heave a sigh of relief. You won't have to think about them for another year.

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The key to successful reviews is planning. And that starts the day after you've finished this year's review.

"The reason managers dread doing performance appraisals and employees dread getting them is that they see them as an event and not a process," says Dick Grote, author of "The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisals" (Amacom Books, 1996).

Managers think they can sit down a day or two before the review and recall everything the employee has done over the past 12 months.

What happens is that bosses "only evaluate an employee as far as their memory takes them back, and that's often two months," says Holly Culhane of PAS Associates in Bakersfield, Calif., a performance-management consulting firm.

Instead, boss and employee should sit down together with a blank performance review and lay out what the employee should accomplish, how she should do it, and the goals for the next 12 months.

A good way to determine if the process is successful is to examine the handwriting, Mr. Grote says.

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"If it's neat, it's not a good process," he says. "I want to see a really messy form. [The manager] should be underlining and circling and crossing out."

So you've got your goals and everyone is on the same page. The key now, consultants say, is ongoing communication throughout the year.

Confront the employees about issues as they come up. Don't save them up and sandbag them at the end.

"When it comes time to write the performance review, nothing should ever be a surprise," says Shelley Riebel a human-resources consultant in Armada, Mich.

Consultants recommend an interim review at the six-month mark, at least. Quarterly is even better.

Then comes the final phase - the written review.

"The reason this is so awkward is that we've done a bad job in planning and assessment," Grote says.

He recommends that employees write their own appraisal two weeks before the review.

"Self-appraisal is one of the most powerful tools we have in influencing a person's performance," he contends. "It's an easy way of getting most of the same results and making the manager look like a hero."

He also suggests that workers write a list of their accomplishments. That way managers can save themselves the embarrassment of overlooking something important.

Then comes the face-to-face meeting.

"Managers have an unrealistic expectation about what should come out of the performance review," he says. "What you should look for is gaining not agreement but understanding."

Also, try to share in a manner that helps employees grow and improve and not feel criticized.

Performance reviews "are time consuming, but you get out of it what you put into it," Ms. Riebel says. "If you don't have time for your employees, how do you expect your employees to give you what you want?"

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