It’s that time of year again that is hated by both employees and managers alike – the dreaded annual review process. No one likes them, and everyone fears them. Talk to each other about performance?

That’s crazy talk. Or is it?

Reviews should be participatory meetings and that include goal setting for the New Year. They are great opportunities to listen to your employees about their hopes and dreams for the future and not just a time to re-hash the past year. But how do you encourage a robust conversation that helps you and your employee?  A good practice is to ask your direct report to come to the meeting prepared with ideas of what they’d like to work on this year. And you should do the same.

The easiest way to get the conversation started is to send an email prior the review meeting. Here’s a sample of the email you can use prior to meeting face-to-face:

In a few weeks, we’ll get together for your annual performance review. To prepare for the meeting, please give some thought to the following questions and come prepared to discuss each:

  • Tell me your top 3 accomplishments last year?
  • What was your biggest failure or challenge last year?
  • What would you like to work on this year? Please have three ideas. For example, what new technical skill would you like to learn or what type of project would help you develop new skills? Where do you fill like you have gaps in your skills or knowledge that would help you with your job?

Don’t worry, I’m not making you do all the work. I’ll come prepared with a few ideas for you as well. This is a great time for us to focus on you and your continued professional development, which is important to me. Please let me know if you have any questions before we meet.

Remember that developing skills doesn’t always mean spending money. Here are a few ways to develop employees without spending a dime:

  • Suggest books, podcasts or TED talks that might help them reach their development goals. Employees can use self-directed learning anytime and there are a lot of resources.
  • Free online video tutorials exist for nearly any piece of software that your team uses and can be used to learn new technical skills and tricks.
  • Delegate a routine task off your own to do list that could be done by someone else such as monthly reports
  • Assign the individual to a project that will stretch their skills outside of their current job function
  • Arrange for cross training if appropriate with another department or supervisor

Turn your own thinking about the review process around using these tips and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your employee’s attitude will turn from fear to excitement as well.