Anyone who has ever received an employee evaluation knows that no one likes to get negative feedback, but a lot of managers don't realize they give bad reviews often, even to their superstars. I'll show you some examples, as well as paths you can take on your way to writing a great review, whether it's a positive or negative one. We'll discuss the signs of a terribly written review, how to set clear goals for the coming year, how to document employee behavior, and, finally, how to lead up to a review and how to follow up on that review. The Signs of a Terribly Written Review Experience is the best teacher, and often, the best way to learn is from the most difficult or challenging experiences and setbacks. These setbacks can be "teachable moments" whereby a leader uses the time just after the event to discuss it with the employee and use this discussion to foster employee growth. Too often, review systems are annual or biannual, and the opportunity to find the good in the difficult times can be interpreted as finding fault or listing mistakes an employee has made at points throughout the year. The more terribly written reviews focus on the negative and condition an employee to play not to lose, as opposed to playing to win. They should use the review as a tool for learning, growing, developing, and avoiding making the same mistakes twice. Remember, start and end with positives. Create Clear and Measurable Goals for Your Employees All of us want a sense of freedom and autonomy in our jobs; we value the feeling that we get to make choices that help the company attain its objectives. The best way to set goals so the employee buys in is to have the employee write his own review of the last year. He knows what he's done well and what he's struggled with; this insight is invaluable in developing measurable priorities for the coming year. Leaders should collaborate with their employees, providing input that helps shape the final version of the targets and performance criteria. When you work out these goals together, your employee will get the sense that you're both invested. They will feel more like people and less like numbers. The goals should be clear, measurable, and leverage the strengths of the employee. Further, an employee should be given a chance to add objective goals when they show improvement in a growth area. Finally, encourage periodic self-reviews where the employee evaluates himself and gives the leader a chance to work on further employee development. Document Behavior For any of us to know how the score is kept, we first need to know the rules of the game. Tangible examples of behaviors illustrate the rules and reduce the likelihood of misinterpreting both exemplary and problematic behaviors. The documentation of issues should reflect event dates, the correlation to the business, the impact of the event on the business, and then emphasize why a certain behavior was problematic. Remember when we spoke earlier about teachable moments? Every misstep is a chance to teach and to learn. This is also important to do when the employee displays exemplary behavior, going above and beyond for the business and for you. Reinforce the positives. Lead Up to the Review, and Follow Through There is an inherent problem with the annual review process, and the concept is a hindrance to companies and employees around the world. Actually, in my opinion, the annual review is a silly approach to a feedback system. Everyone wants to know how they are doing on a daily basis. The coaching staff around Roger Federer wouldn't wait six months before giving him feedback on his performance in a Grand Slam event. He would know within hours of the final serve, and he could use that feedback at the next morning's practice. Think of ways to keep people informed on a daily basis. One way to do this is "speed dating." Set frequent dates, weekly or biweekly, for a 10-minute interaction. Cover what is going well, what needs work, and what your employees need from you, and then see if there anything else on the employee's mind. Then, break at 10 minutes. If there must be an annual review, it's simply a formal document that reinforces what has been covered all year long. If you use these four steps, I can assure you all of your yearly reviews from here forward will be positive learning experiences for you and your employees. Remember that the annual review is far less important than what you tell your employees on a daily basis. Focus on the smaller interactions, and the big one will write itself at the end of the year. James K. McPartland is the principal and chief inspiration officer of theJMacPerformanceGroup, a specialized management consulting firm focused on realizing the importance of the human potential in business. He is an entrepreneur, author, international speaker, and TV/radio host with an upcoming novel, Unopened Gifts: A Journey to Gratitude. For more information, contact James here.