Nervous blue

Getting through the dreaded year-end reviews

At the end of the year I look forward to the Christmas break, it’s a good excuse to rest and enjoy family time. But before that there is the small matter of year-end reviews that need to be done! This can be an arduous task but it’s a very important one! Managers need to spend time on each review so that it can be as beneficial as possible, they can affect the future of the team. Thinking back at my past reviews, the ones that stand out are those where I was challenged in some way. We all want to hear good things and we should be praising good work but giving constructive criticism is just as important, if not more!

Be prepared

They can be difficult conversations to have, which is why time has to be spent for each one. Usually these would be written down in some system the company uses, this allows you to construct responses together. While I’m writing the response I think about how I would say this to the person (and how they might react!), rehearsing in my head often helps to restructure sentences. The actual discussions can go in many directions so having these points written down helps to keep focus on the important parts to avoid conversations digressing too far.

When giving good or bad feedback there needs to be evidence, otherwise it’s just opinion which won’t help anyone, so be specific with the feedback! Drawing from personal experiences are important but so is feedback from others who have interacted with the person. Most of the personal feedback should come from your notes, especially if have a memory like mine! If taken properly this gives a picture of the whole year. Then feedback from others provides that different perspective which is important! We form an unconscious bias that can be difficult to break from, so thoughts from others are essential to potentially gain a different outlook on someone.

For each person I like to list out the projects they’ve worked on, then using my notes and feedback from others I can build up successes and improvements for each. This then should give me enough information to build a case for an overall rating. We all like to settle for the middle of the road with ratings…it’s the easy way! But is this really helping? Performers should be rewarded, while under performers should be shown that there is something wrong, otherwise nothing will change. As managers we need to be challenging our team, taking the easy road won’t do that on the long run. It does mean having daunting conversations which is why we need to be genuine in our approach.

Be genuine

The reviews can be tense time it’s important to try and create an atmosphere where you both feel relaxed. Whichever feedback you’re delivering you need to be honest and genuine so eye contact is essential, the other person should be able to see that you genuinely care about them.

Celebrate their accomplishments during the year, tell them why you’re pleased with them, what specifically did they do that was good? This detailed feedback gives them confidence to continue with those actions and it can mean they will be more open to any suggestions for improvement.

Feeling part of a team is an important factor for many of us so make a point of covering their contribution, what moments really made a difference and what part you’re looking them to play next year. Emphasizing the value of teamwork is never wrong in my opinion!

Then there is negative feedback, or we should say constructive feedback! We need to open about this, it’s not easily to deliver and sometimes not easy to hear. But it’s an important part of any review because it matters! If we are being genuine and providing good reasoning it will come down to the individual how they react. Sometimes no matter what you say people will disagree with you but that’s life! One thing we should avoid is sandwiching negative feedback around positive feedback’s! The negative could be quickly forgotten and it seems almost an attempt from the manager to hide anything negative to avoid potential conflict. With any constructive areas be sure to provide ideas/examples for improvement, don’t just leave it without setting your expectations.

As managers our role is to build teams and grow individuals, that usually means we’ll upset people along the way! But we need to do what is for the good of the team, and even those individuals!


Listening is an important attribute for any manager, so in review discussions be very alert to what the person in saying. Constructive feedback can cause emotional responses, listening to what they say is essential, be very sure if you want to interrupt! This is an opportunity for them to open up, sometimes a person needs to vent, but keep listening no matter what they’re saying and let them finish.

There could be many things said in these discussion, some even subtle mentions, it’s the manager’s job to pick up on points that could be of benefit. Changes can only happen if you know they need to so if an individual makes good points that could impact them (or the team) in a positive way they don’t ignore them! You’ll build a stronger relationship if they see you acting on suggestions they’re made. This all comes from listening!


Soft skills are vital with year-end reviews, although we can practise them in one-on-ones there is a different edge to these reviews when ratings are discussed. So these discussions are a great opportunity to develop your skills as well as learning more about your team. There certainly shouldn’t be too many surprises in the year-end review as if anything isn’t going well it should be covered in the regular one-on-ones.

It’s not always easy giving constructive feedback, one wrong word can often turn a well meaning point sour. We have to learn from our mistakes, sometimes it’s us that needs to eat humble pie if we’ve said anything out of turn. We are all humans…right?! It comes down to practise, the more we have difficult conversations the more confident we get, but they take courage to initiate!

We should embrace year-end reviews as they are opportunities to further grow ourselves and the team for a stronger future. Good luck!






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