"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly."\u00a0 - G. K. ChestertonThe first time I heard this quote, I thought it was genius. I recognized the tendency in myself to suffer from “paralysis of analysis\u201d. I was bent on doing things perfectly, which kept me from doing anything at all. Why didn\u2019t I just get started and iterate from the mistakes I’d make?Adopting Chesterton’s philosophy has worked well for me. I’m an adaptable guy, so I’ve found freedom in striving for progress and iteration over perfection. That said, Chesterton used the word \u201danything.\u201d Really? Anything?No.It turns out that Human Resources experts agree on 1\u00a0thing:\u00a0poorly executed employee reviews are worse, much worse, than none at all.In this post, I’m going to walk you through to 4 keys to giving terrific performance reviews. These reviews will help your employees grow into the people and teammates you want them to be. Plus, they’ll make the review process more productive, relevant, and yes, maybe even enjoyable! ????1. Start with clarity…do YOU have any?I love watching the Olympic games. Winter, summer\u2026whatever. It\u2019s probably a good thing they only come around every couple years because I’d\u00a0become a permanent couch potato if they were held more frequently.Like most sports fans, however, I have my frustrations with how some Olympic events are judged. I LOVE the sports where there is an objective standard. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters in 9.81 seconds. Justin Gatlin ran the same distance in 9.89 seconds. Bolt won the gold, and no one protested. But in sports like gymnastics and figure skating, subjectivity reigns. In those events, there’s rarely a competition free of judging controversy.Now, imagine a race where you line up runners at the starting line without giving them any idea of the race distance or where the finish line is located. Sprinters and long-distance runners would be confused. They\u2019d have no idea how to run the race. After all, running a marathon requires a completely different strategy than running the 100 meters.Unfortunately, this scenario is played out in businesses every day. As managers we evaluate our employees without giving them a clear idea of how they’re being judged. The reason? We\u00a0often lack clarity in some key areas. Identifying some key measures will not only help our employees know which race they are running, but it will also define what the most important goal should be for those of us who\u00a0are managers.Clarify your valuesDoes your company have a clear set of values? If so, are they well defined?Words\u2014especially the abstract words we use as values\u2014mean different things to different people. Attaching definitions to your values will get everyone on the same page.I was the executive director of a non-profit for years, and our weekly staff meetings started with me outlining our values.Every. Single. Week. I tried doing it in different ways so it wouldn\u2019t be boring, sometimes making fun of myself for repeating them. But one thing was certain: every person on my staff knew exactly what we valued, and they could easily define those values.Whether you choose to verbally reinforce your values or display them prominently in your office, make sure your people know what you value.Related:\u00a0190 brilliant examples of company valuesRelated:\u00a0How to define your organization’s valuesClarify your missionWhy do you do what you do? Who does it serve? Why does it matter?I had a friend who started a business in manufacturing. Sure, he wanted to produce the best product in his industry, but his mission was far more important. He wanted to influence his employees, his industry, the world. Through his business, he\u00a0wanted to live out his personal passion for virtues and values in the workplace.So he made sure the performance measures he outlined for his employees stressed his mission. This transparency emboldened his staff to be proactive problem solvers with customers as well as fellow employees, increasing profits and reducing staff turnover.People loved being in on the mission!Related:\u00a0Fortune 500 mission statementsRelated:\u00a0How to write your mission statementClarify where your staff fit into the big pictureYou might be familiar with this story.3 employees of a technology company who did exactly the same job were asked, \u201cWhat do you do?\u201dThe first employee said, \u201cI solder connections so that different circuits are securely connected.\u201dThe second replied, \u201cI create circuit boards so that computerized systems can operate properly.\u201dThe third stated, \u201cI am building the Space Shuttle!\u201dAll 3\u00a0accurately described their job, but only one understood the big picture and how he was connected to it.When your employees get the big picture, they’ll make more meaningful contributions. Plus, they’ll better understand what you expect of them.Related: 12 prompts to get into a big picture mindsetRelated:\u00a0How to help employees understand the big pictureClarify objective measures and limit subjective measuresAs I mentioned earlier, it\u2019s far easier to evaluate performance with a stopwatch than it is with your impressions. Where you can, create objective\u00a0performance measures.How many calls did you make?How long does it take for you to respond to a customer?What is your fail rate on the pieces you manufacture?Clarify the objective measures important to you and spell them out. Clearly. In advance.Related:\u00a0Sample performance review objectivesRelated:\u00a0How to write SMART objectivesKey takeaway:\u00a0One of the most important questions to ask yourself as you prepare for performance reviews is, \u201cHave I prepared them to succeed?\u201d Starting there and executing a plan to answer that question positively is the first step to\u00a0making performance reviews more productive and enjoyable!2. Know your employees.Have you ever had a boss who tried to motivate you but managed to push all the wrong buttons? Or perhaps they assumed you were a certain type of person, so they\u00a0completely missed on their evaluation? In college, I had a leader who confronted me with, \u201cChris, you are the most disorganized person I have ever met!\u201dLet’s just say motivational encouragement wasn’t his strong suit.He made this evaluation solely based on the way I kept my calendar. Had I ever missed a meeting or a deadline? Nope. He just didn\u2019t understand my system, so he wanted me to adopt his.Knowing people is the keyMy friends with diesel-powered vehicles make sure they don’t put gasoline in their tank. The right fuel makes the vehicle run smoothly and efficiently, but the wrong fuel ruins the engine!People need the right fuel, too. It needs to be specific to the person and their ability to metabolize it.The right fuel\u2014motivation, encouragement, constructive criticism, goals\u2014given at the right time in the right manner to the right person can make for a powerful combination that leads to growth!Let me state the obvious.Knowing your people is the key to helping them grow into the kind of employees you want.You’ll see the best results when you adapt how you deliver feedback based on what you know about your employee. This is how they’ll become the employees you want to be key players in your future.So\u2026Be an information gathererFor years, I directed an arm of a non-profit organization that had between 80 and 100 staff members. Since I wanted to make myself accessible to my staff, I generally had an open door policy. During that time, I always had a stack of information on my desk that helped me understand each staff member.My goal was not to box them in by assuming they were somehow an aggregate of the information I had accumulated. Instead, I genuinely wanted to help them, and knowing more about them was incredibly helpful for me.Let’s look at some great tools that will help you know your team better.Personality inventories and strengths testsWait! Don\u2019t leave this post\u2026Please??Okay, I bet this sub-heading caused a visceral reaction for some of you. Sure, some people LOVE these tests (I do!), but many people HATE them (my son does!)!Usually, the reason people dislike these tools is because they’ve been used against them. At some point, someone said to them, \u201cWell, you\u2019re THIS, so you\u2019ll never get where you want to go!\u201dPlease don\u2019t do that.Instead, you can\u2014and should\u2014use personality inventories to gain a little insight into how you can\u00a0encourage your staff specific to who they\u00a0are.Here are a couple I like:StrengthsFinder:\u00a0The Clifton StrengthsFinder\u2122 measures the presence of 34 talent themes (strengths). This is my personal favorite. Since it deals with strengths, it generally resonates well with our staff.DISC:\u00a0The DiSC profile is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people\u2019s behavioral differences. The DiSC model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviors with others\u2014within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, and\u00a0other relationships.Myers Briggs Type Indicator:\u00a0The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator\u00ae (MBTI\u00ae) personality inventory is an introspective self-report questionnaire. It reveals psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.Enneagram:\u00a0The Enneagram of Personality, or simply the Enneagram, is a model of human personality broken down into 9\u00a0interconnected personality types.There are, of course, many more!Learning stylesAs you seek to coach your employees into growth, it\u2019s important to note how they\u00a0learn.I have 4 kids, and I have to use 4 completely different styles of communication and motivation. I suppose I could try to communicate in a way that makes sense to me, but experience has shown me that communicating in their learning style is far more effective.There are many ways to figure out your employees’ learning styles. The best way is to keep your eyes and ears open and make note of how your staff learn most effectively. Or you could just ask them.Related: Overview of 7 learning stylesRelated: How to figure out someone’s learning styleTake regular notes and remember important detailsI once had a boss who occasionally referred to my wife, Susan, as \u201cSue.\u201d I can assure you that no one who knows my wife has ever called her Sue. I felt alienated\u00a0from my boss whenever he referred to her as “Sue.” I’d think to myself, “I mean seriously\u2026you can\u2019t get my wife’s\u00a0name right?”But I’ve done similar things. Because if you\u2019re anything like me, your memory is mush, too.To avoid the faux pas of memory loss, take notes on your staff and keep them in a handy place.What do they like?Where did they grow up?Do they like the outdoors?Did they just finish a good book?How many kids do they have?What’s their spouse\u2019s name? ????While these may not be important details to you, every employee wants to feel known by their boss. By knowing this type of information and asking\u00a0about things important to them, you’ll establish a line of trust. Then, they’ll be more receptive when you both encourage and correct them. Relationships are at the core of all good performance reviews.Related: 20 questions to help you build trust with your employeesRelated: How to\u00a0get to know your employeesDon\u2019t take shortcutsHopefully these tips are helpful. But none of them replace the most important piece of advice I can give you.Do you want to have great performance reviews? Do you want your staff to grow as a result? Then you need to care about them.Seriously.Key takeaway:\u00a0Get to know your employees\u00a0well and you will\u00a0care about them.3. Look for context before giving performance reviews.Maybe\u00a0you’re a little like me.As I go throughout my day, I get so focused on my goals that I don\u2019t pay much attention to what is going on around me. This can be especially true when I respond to people. When someone is inexplicably short with me or somehow underperforms my expectations, I rarely look for the context. Are they having a bad day? Are they justifiably upset with me?Context MattersStephen Covey, in his well-known book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shared a powerful story that highlights the importance of context.“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly\u2014some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people\u2019s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, \u201cSir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn\u2019t control them a little more?”The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, \u201cOh, you\u2019re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don\u2019t know what to think, and I guess they don\u2019t know how to handle it either.\u201dWow.Employees work in a context, too!As a manager, it is vitally important to understand your staff\u2019s context. If you have a new employee, you would never expect them to know everything a 15-year veteran knows.When reviewing the newbie, you would consider their trajectory.Is their performance improving quarter by quarter?Are they aggressively trying to learn your business?Are they acquiring new skills, contributing to your company culture and meeting the modest goals you set for them?Answering these questions (and many more) will give you the context you need to give all your employees fair performance reviews.4\u00a0tips on gaining the context you need1. Know your employeesIn our last point, I talked about the importance of knowing your employees. By gathering important information about their lives, work styles, and strengths, you’ll get a window through which to gauge their performance.Understanding who they are is imperative to\u00a0understanding their context!2. Remember the pastYou should also\u2026wait for it\u2026look at\u00a0past performance reviews. Do you look at their past performance reviews before\u00a0gauging their current state? It’ll help you understand the trajectory of your employees. Are they growing? Regressing? Are they perpetually ahead on their goals, or are they consistently lagging behind?I like to get a side-by-side comparison from quarter to quarter. Then, I don’t repeat myself as I give the contextual feedback necessary for growth.3. Pull them out of a rutEmployee performance has its ebbs and flows. Everybody has a bad quarter from time to time.If one of your employees\u00a0has been a consistent performer then hits a bad stretch, ask questions that will help you coach them back to vocational health. Perhaps there are some obstacles you could have helped them through.You need to know the context of their\u00a0obstacles to help your employee overcome them.4. Take notesIt’s important to keep regular notes on ongoing employee performance. Whether you use OneNote, Evernote, an Excel spreadsheet, or even Post-it notes, keeping notes on your staff will help you understand where they\u2019ve been and where they are, and it will help you see where they need to go.Good notes also keep you from the cardinal sin of performance reviews\u2014only remembering the last 2 weeks of a review cycle, or worse, only remembering the bad stuff.Work on developing your staff all year long by keeping up with their context!Key takeaway:\u00a0Knowing the context of each employee’s performance is not only valuable for evaluation. It also gives you what you need to coach each staff member to professional growth! Remember, “Growing employees make for a growing, profitable business.”4.\u00a0Collect data regularly to prepare for performance reviews.I have a bad memory.Not a clinically bad memory, I just seem to forget\u2026well\u2026almost everything. While I CAN remember what baseball Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew hit in 1977 (.388), I somehow can\u2019t remember the plot of the movie I saw last week or the joke you told me yesterday. In that sense, I’m entertaining to the people around me. But as a manager of people wanting fair and honest performance reviews, I can be their worst nightmare.And I am not alone.We managers are infamous for our bad memoriesIn doing research for our new product, we surveyed people about their performance reviews. We wanted to know what they loved\u00a0(very little) and what they hated\u00a0(almost everything). In one particularly honest comment, an\u00a0employee\u00a0shared:“Employee reviews are often painful and stressful for the employee, and can be hung over an employee’s head like Damocles’ sword. A terrible manager can ruin an employee’s year or even his or her career because they suck at doing reviews. Additionally, reviews are either based on the last two weeks of performance before the review, which is inaccurate, OR a running total count of every mistake the employee has ever made, which puts the manager in a ‘gotcha’ role.”Ouch.Did that description ring true for you? It did for me. I get to manage a great team. But despite my best efforts to put together meaningful performance reviews that\u00a0help my people grow, I often find myself staring at the review deadline wondering what in the world I’m going to say. And I\u2019m usually relying on my less-than-perfect memory.To make the review process a helpful, profitable, and growing experience for both you and your staff, you need to find ways to gather important feedback regularly. While it\u2019s true that the most helpful feedback happens in real-time, the truth is there are still issues that you need address and document in the context of performance reviews.Let’s look at some tools that will help.Tools that help you keep track of employee performanceNote-taking software. Products like Evernote\u00a0and\u00a0OneNote\u00a0allow you to input data from\u00a0different mediums\u2014including your phone, desktop app, and email. Best of all, they allow for\u00a0real-time input and categorization. It\u2019s easy\u00a0to email your Evernote app \u201cJames completed his Q3 rock on time and under budget.\u201d From there, you can set up the category \u201cJames.\u201d Now when his review comes up, you\u2019ll have all the information\u00a0you need to give specific feedback!Word processing applications.\u00a0I know some managers who\u00a0use Microsoft Word, Google Apps, or even\u00a0OpenOffice to create a document for each of their direct reports. As\u00a0issues or milestones come up, they simply record\u00a0the events in these documents. When it’s time to compile performance reviews, they simply open the document and use the information there to create the performance reviews.Email clients.\u00a0Many managers will use folders organized by employee as their documentation file cabinet. When they email their staff for project updates, they simply move the reply to the staff member\u2019s folder. Some managers even create rules to\u00a0automate this process. Then, they can use the search function to find all documentation related to either people or projects. If you\u2019re disciplined, this can work!If you’re looking for a solution that combines these and is integrated into the communication patterns you already use, check out our own application – Uptick. For many companies this will prove to be an easy-to-use and elegant solution to the problem!Those are just 4 possibilities for gathering the input you need to provide your staff with meaningful, effective performance reviews.But remember:\u00a0the most important thing is not the tool you use. The most important thing\u00a0is that you discipline yourself to regularly pull together the input you need to help your staff, and ultimately your business, succeed!Let’s wrap it up.We recently\u00a0created a survey asking people to share\u00a0their performance review experiences, and we were surprised by the level of emotion expressed by managers and employees alike. It seemed that almost everyone hates reviews, but why the emotion?When it comes to the expectations set for performance reviews, most organizations set the bar pretty high. As a manager, I’ll say things like “I want to use this time to encourage you!”, or, “Let’s use your review to talk about ways you can grow personally and professionally…I can help you!” When all my staff gets from me is, “Hey…um…you did a good job this quarter.”, or “Did you ever finish that project I kept bugging you about?”, their expectations of having a meaningful review are dashed. They don’t feel known or cared for. They feel like the review is just an item on my checklist, and often they’re right.The 4 keys we mention in this post have started turning it around for me, and I hope they are helpful to you. Remember, there is no substitute for knowing and caring about your staff. Using that as motivation, organize yourself so you can give meaningful, effective and terrific performance reviews!I\u2019d be very interested\u00a0to hear below how your “expectations vs. reality” compare during performance reviews. Any other comments, questions, or criticisms? I\u2019d love to hear from you!