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Review Conversation Guide

Progress updates and year-end reviews are the backbone of your year-round performance management conversations. They’re a vital opportunity for each member of your team to reflect on their progress and decide what changes to make going forward.

Progress updates and year-end reviews are the backbone of your year-round performance management conversations. They’re a vital opportunity for each member of your team to reflect on their progress and decide what changes to make going forward.

Your organization will have its own approach, including how many reviews you’re expected to hold and what to cover. That approach may have its advantages and disadvantages but that doesn’t matter. Research by Gallup shows that how well people engage with the performance management system is down to the value they place on their person-to-person conversations with you, their manager. The more people judge their conversations to be worthwhile, the greater their belief in the whole system; the worse that exchange, the lower their opinion.

Typically, there are three main types of review discussion to put in your calendar. Each serves as a building block for the next. The exact terminology your organization uses may vary, but these discussions are commonly described as:

  • Weekly check-ins
  • Progress updates
  • Year-end reviews

Weekly check-ins

A weekly check-in helps your people to stay on top of any changes and re-prioritize where to put their attention. To use a sports analogy, these are your Formula 1 pitstops: a short pause to refuel, make an adjustment or two, and fit a new set of tires for the changing conditions.

  • How long is a weekly check-in? Usually around ten minutes. The non-negotiable criteria here is that they remain do-able for you and your team member. The moment they become too long, they will be in danger of being shelved.
  • What do they cover? A simple pattern for the discussion is to briefly summarize the previous week’s main outcomes, collect any insights from those outcomes, and plan for the week ahead. Ideally this conversation is led by your team member. Your role as manager is to provide support where useful.

Progress updates

Progress updates help people to press the “pause” button every few months, take an overview of how they’re doing, and then fine-tune their performance. They’re an important opportunity to spot any goals that are going off-track, and to give some motivating recognition for goals that are going well.

An added advantage of progress updates is that they break up the year into a sequence of shorter sprints. This is a great way to help people—especially your younger employees – to maintain their energy and focus.

  • How long is a progress update? Usually around 30 minutes, once every three months. With rookies or people who need extra support, every four to six weeks may be more effective.
  • What do they cover? As with weekly check-ins, they’re an opportunity to reflect back on outcomes, collect important insights, and then apply the learning to their goals going forward. Progress updates are also often a great time to discuss wider issues such as development, progress towards promotion, and wellbeing. And to avoid any unpleasant surprises at year-end, the discussion should give people an idea of how that progress relates to any labels or ratings used by your organization.

Year-end reviews

A year-end review is your team member’s opportunity to pull all their progress updates together into a single big picture. Taking this extended perspective is a great way to help them track how they’re doing over the longer term and then decide what this might mean for them going forward, both in this role and potentially in their career choices.

  • How long is a year-end review? Between 30 and 60 minutes. These are held at the end of the performance cycle, whether that’s the year-end or, for example, on completion of a major project.
  • What do they cover? Year-end reviews follow the same outcomes-insights-learning (OIL) structure. However, they summarize the whole year, rather than just the last few months, and usually look broadly forward to the whole year ahead. They’re also an important opportunity to explore how well the team member’s long-term career plans are progressing, unless this is covered separately, together with any wider issues such as wellbeing.
    Depending on your organization’s processes, you may also need to provide a formal rating or label, discuss promotion boards, and/or communicate the employee’s compensation (although many companies schedule remuneration conversations separately).

Final thought

Not all reviews end happily. If one of your team members feels dissatisfied with the conversation, usually because their assessment is lower than they were expecting, you’ll need to explore why that is. For this and other difficult conversations, see Now You’re Talking! The manager’s complete handbook to leading great conversations at work – even the tough ones

Downloads

Year-End Conversation Guide for managers
Year-End Conversation Guide for team members
Progress Update Conversation Guide for managers
Progress Update Conversation guide for team members
For more help see Now You’re Talking!
The manager’s complete handbook to leading great conversations at work – even the tough ones
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