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The Mid-Year Review is Crucial in 2009

For some managers, this year's mid-year employee performance reviews might seem a bit redundant. After all we all know what a tough period it's been. Everyone has worked hard in daunting circumstances. So it might seem understandable that supervisors might just want to move the ball down field with a cursory review and focus on the future.

Managers who take that attitude, however, are making a huge mistake.

First, your staffers are still scared. Sure, the economy is showing some sputtering signs of rebounding, but as one analyst put it last week this is a recovery that only an economist could love. People are having a difficult time. Layoffs are increasing, not decreasing. We still have a long way to go.

So this is the time to use the review process to level-set your employees on the current environment. Praise their hard work but be truthful about what lies ahead and your expectations about their work. Listen to what they can tell you about the business. You're sure to get questions asking whether more layoffs are looming; be as honest as you can in your answer.

I think John Kotter has a great insight for this time as well. It's critical to impart a sense of urgency in the team, an urge towards action. The worst thing that can happen is for your team to be paralyzed into inaction. Says Kotter, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School:

"To use a crisis to reduce complacency, be exceptionally proactive in assessing how people will react, in developing specific plans for action, and in implementing the plans swiftly."
Review Customers, Too
Don't make the mid-year review all about employees. HBS professor Bhaskar Chakravorti tells Smart Money in an excellent article that we need to speak to customers to identify opportunities to pursue and pare projects that are withering.

How are you doing your performance reviews differently this year?