The answers to many business-related questions can be carried over to other fields of activity. Regardless of your workplace or domain, there exists an inherent human nature that your business plan must accommodate.
When conducting employee reviews, you must aim to create a sense of fairness and impartiality. Even when the review is less than stellar, the employee is more likely to accept the conclusion if he/she thinks that it is in the context or a meritocratic environment. 
While I have conducted a few of these reviews myself, I am in the business of reviewing products, not employees. When analyzing a company such as Trustmypaper, I take great care to be impartial and fair. 
That being said, let’s take a look at some tips that will help you conduct proper employee reviews.

It should not be once per year.

You have other things to worry about; I get it. Employee reviews are just another hassle that must be overcome, and the people working under you can sense that. Your attitude oozes the fact that this task is an unwelcomed chore. 
Try and give feedback more than once per year, regardless of the official scheduling.
Show that you care, and ask questions often. 
Of course, you shouldn’t fall into the other extreme of being overbearing. Employees also want the feeling ( or at least the illusion) of autonomy. 
Just be knowledgeable, and make it a priority to praise outstanding performance or effort. This attentiveness will improve team synergy and productivity.

Be clear and concise.

A bad law is a law that is so vague and abstract that it can be applied to almost anything under the Sun. For example, a law against making people feel unsafe can cover everything from a bad look to outright threats of violence, not to mention perceived slights. This vague nature is ripe for abuse, and its enforcement will always seem unfair. 
The same principles apply to the workplace. From the start, make everything crystal clear. 
Have very rigorous and strict guidelines regarding productivity quotas, bonuses, and personal behavior. By taking this path, you will never be accused of changing the rules mid-game, just to give someone a bad review.
When the borders are well-defined, people either cross them or they do not. 

Make sure to note lackluster performance. 

You should always note and praise good performance. The benefits speak for themselves.
However, the opposite is true for bad performance. Letting people get away with specific behavior will encourage that behavior in the future. Besides, it also creates a precedent: When you want to punish foul play in the future, you will be accused of favoritism for allowing it beforehand. 
I use the words “punish” loosely. In most cases, letting people know that you are aware of their failures will deter them from repeating that mistake. An “I saw that. Please don’t do that again” should be enough.
It is essential to note the problems as they happen, not to wait ten months until the next review. Then, the problem will seem like old history, and your mentioning of it will be perceived as a personal grudge more than like an actual issue. 

Compliment sandwich 

“You are a great weightlifter.”
“Still, your benchpress form might need a little work.’
“But you look amazing.”
This is called a compliment sandwich, where you place your criticism between genuine compliments to soften the blow. Time is limited, and you may be tempted to only explain to an employee why you deducted points from a desired total score. 
Yet, you must invest the time in also enumerating what you appreciate about this person’s performance. If you are rating them on a 1-5 point system, explain why they earned a 3.8 score, and not just how they lost 1.2 points. 

Set the goalposts

Human minds are constructed as goal-oriented machines. This is why many people fall into deep psychological pain due to having no purpose. A good manager turns productivity into a game.
From the start, set clearly defined goals for both performance and behavior. This will give people something to strive towards. Goals also free the reviewer from any type of accusation of unfairness. You either reach them, or you do not.
The beauty of setting goals is that they are both the carrot and the stick. 

Ask around

Almost every question in history has a Google-able answer. Writing proper performance reviews are no exception. Some articles and guides will aid you in this task. It is more complicated than it seems, and this article mainly targets the emotional and psychological guidelines. Yet, there are technical and structural aspects to consider, and I strongly encourage you to seek out those sources. 

Be aware of what type of review is required.

An overall employee review is not just a performance evaluation. It also addresses teamwork, availability, eagerness to learn, etc. An employee could meet all of his performance quotas yet still be found wanting in the previously named categories.
To conduct a fair review, make sure that a performance review only addresses performance, while a more general yearly review covers all aspects.
The review type depends on your specific company’s policy and criteria. 

Whatever the verdict, provide advice

Whatever the employee’s faults, don’t just point them out. After all is said and done, offer a path towards redemption. Simply punishing or rewarding will give the illusion of fatalistic stagnancy and that everyone is as good/bad as they are ever going to get. 
Point them towards further training or reading material, or give them tips on enhancing their performance. HR reps can aid in improving coordination and synergy problems.
Always the impression of growth and future rewards for said growth. Improvement and promotion should seem hard yet highly accessible for those who try. 

Conclusion

Understanding how people work and how they think is the key to success. Every employee wishes for a fair review and a reviewer that also has their best interest in mind. A successful company convinces its people that their interests and the company’s interests are one and the same. 

 

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash