Supervisors and supervised often dread performance reviews. A recent article on reviews in The Washington Post began, "Oh, those employee reviews. They make the worker bees feel as if they're walking into the principal's office. And the managers find them even worse."

Photo: Mark Robert Halper

But your job includes training, mentoring, and coaching, so it's important to improve the process. Here are some tips on making the most of reviews.

Give Constant Feedback. Train supervisors to continually communicate with those they supervise. Feedback should be primarily positive and sincere and only secondarily negative. Negative critiques should focus on practical ways to improve. In The One Minute Manager, one of the best books on this subject and an easy read, author Ken Blanchard advises giving one minute praises and one minute critiques that are concise and to the point. In this way your folks get constant mentoring and coaching. They won't walk into reviews wondering what you think of them.

Focus on the positive. Do semi-annual reviews, but make them enlightening and mostly positive for the staffer. Take the employee to lunch or breakfast. Arrive at the jobsite with coffee and danish for a quiet, but scheduled, chat. Ask the employee for his view of how things are going. Take time to develop rapport, just as you would in a sales call. Talk about the employee's personal and company goals. Ask your employee what skills he's working on and where he sees the need to improve.

After listening for half an hour, it's your turn to talk about the improvements you've seen. Pat the employee on the back for the growth he's made. Then discuss how he might move to the next level in his work. End by agreeing on an area for improvement and discuss how the company can help. Should the employee take a course? Should he visit another remodeler? Should he work with another carpenter who will help him?

But, you say, what if I have a really poor worker or someone with a really bad attitude and there's little to be positive about? That's simple: You shouldn't have this person on staff. Everyone should meet minimal requirements and be a constant improver with goals that you helped set.

Talk about more than just skills. Make sure your feedback is not only about results but attitude -- that is, the employee's acceptance of core company values.

Take pay out of it. If reviews are linked to potential pay raises, the staffer interprets all comments in terms of the raise. "You're a good multi-tasker," says the supervisor. Raise, thinks the employee. "But you tend to drop the ball when it comes time to put things in writing," continues the supervisor. No raise, thinks the employee. In the best of all worlds, you've adopted a pay-for-skill policy that makes clear what an employee has to do to achieve a certain pay level. Even if you haven't done that -- and most remodelers haven't -- choose some other time to announce pay increases. Keep the focus of the review on acknowledgement of improvements and the setting of new goals.

Solicit employees' input. Consider asking your employees for advice and help in devising a performance review program. By getting them involved and getting consensus up front, you'll have more buy-in with the program you develop.

Do something out of the ordinary. Go wild. At the end of each review, ask employees to answer these questions as quickly and honestly as they can: What would you like me to stop doing? What would you like me to continue doing? What would you like me to start doing that I am not doing today?

There's no doubt that performance reviews are an important part of any effective mentoring and coaching program. But don't forget the day-to-day honest feedback, which is even more important.

--Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;