The Mid-Year Review is Crucial in 2009

Last Updated Aug 17, 2009 8:34 AM EDT

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?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.