When the annual interviews are properly conducted, the employee understands in which areas of work they perform well, where they can improve, how their work contributes to the organization, and what their manager expects of them.
On the other hand, an incorrectly conducted annual interview can be a source of stress for employees or they perceive it as an unnecessary activity. During the annual interviews, managers often focus only on what has happened in the past, give their opinion, and point out mistakes, instead of giving comprehensive feedback, working with the employee to make a plan for the future and listen to their wishes and expectations.
To make the process of preparing and conducting interviews easier for you, we have prepared seven common mistakes you might be making, as well as solutions and ideas to help you avoid them in the future.
We divided them into three broad sets, namely:
- mistakes you can make before the interview
- mistakes that can occur during the interview; and
- mistakes that can occur after the interview.
What to look out for before the annual interview
1. Did you announce the annual interview in advance?
Preparing for the annual interview is important for both the person giving the information and the person receiving it. For a truly productive interview, the manager and employees should work together to set goals and expectations for the interview. It is therefore crucial that employees know when the annual interview will take place. If you tell this in time, they will have the opportunity to prepare well for the interview and to think deeply about the topics they want to discuss. It will also give them a sense that they are important members of the team for whom you will make time.
It is important not only to communicate the information about the annual interview in a timely manner but also how you do it. When you send out the meeting information, let people know where the meeting will take place and how long it will last. You can also include encouraging information in the message, such as: “I am already looking forward to meeting with you and talking about the past year. I will prepare some starting points and notes in advance, but I would also like to hear what your opinion is and how you see the areas we have agreed to discuss.”.
2. Did you prepare for the annual interview?
One of the most common mistakes managers make during annual interviews is not preparing for them. If you are not well prepared, you will be confused and distracted during the interview, you will leave a bad impression, and at the same time, there is a good chance that your feedback will not help the employee to progress and will not be a good foundation for improvement. In addition, the employee may get the feeling that you do not respect him and that the interview is just something he has to do and is a waste of his (and your) time.
A great approach to good preparation is to keep track of employee behaviors and results on a regular basis. Focus on both the good things and the ones where there is still room for improvement. It is also advisable to record behaviors and results as concretely as possible, as this will help you to give specific feedback (which, as you will learn below, is very important).
Encourage employees to write down things that will help them write their self-assessment more easily before the annual interview. If you want the feedback you give to be effective, do not just give it at the annual interview, give it on an ongoing basis so that the employee learns more from it.
To make recording information easier and more efficient, you can try the technique below.
If, in addition to your observed behaviors, you want to add to the preparation of the employee's self-assessment and evaluation by his colleagues, you can perform a quick analysis in the team with the digital tool Quantifly 360. This allows you to easily get an even more holistic picture of your team and identify potential and blind spots in your colleagues.
What to look out for during the annual interview
1. Are you giving specific enough feedback?
Feedback is best when it is specific and includes specific situations or events to which you are referring.
For example, if you say to an employee, "You are not responding quickly enough to customer calls", this information will not help them because it is very vague and non-specific. Similarly, generalizations such as "You never meet deadlines." and "You are always late for meetings." are an example of over-generalized feedback.
Instead, it is better to refer to certain situations where this has happened. Therefore, we recommend that you keep track of all the situations you would like to discuss with the employee. These notes can help you refresh your memory and give specific information related to specific situations before the interviews.
To give you a better idea, here are some more examples of how you can turn general and vague feedback into more specific one:
2. Does the assessment include the opinion of several colleagues?
We have heard many times from our clients that in annual interviews their employees receive feedback based on the assessment of only one person (usually the manager). This approach has an important drawback. Information from just one person is subjective and often subject to bias. Because it captures only one view, it tends to present only part of the whole picture of an employee.
If you want to get more accurate and comprehensive information, it makes sense to conduct an analysis that includes both self-assessment and evaluation by several colleagues who are in regular contact with the person. This will give you a better idea of their set of professional skills and their general communication and working style.
In addition, different sources of feedback that provide similar assessments can help reinforce the information we provide, resulting in a more objective overall assessment. For example, if multiple team members recognize that an individual demonstrates excellent leadership skills, this information may carry more weight than if it is given by just one person.
It is, of course, essential that assessments are collected systematically, that all evaluators assess the employee according to the same, clear criteria, and that they assess the individual's performance/results and not the individual as a person.
However, you will only reap the benefits of this approach if you get it right. When talking to HRs, we sometimes find that they have had a bad experience in the past with performing a 360-degree analysis because they made some of the common mistakes.
3. Do you communicate effectively?
It is important to use effective communication to ensure that the annual interviews go well. Poor communication can make them uncomfortable and therefore discouraging for employees.
During the year and at the annual interview, the following unwanted behaviors also occur during poor communication: employees do not like to cooperate with the manager, reject the manager's opinions, are dissatisfied with the feedback process, try to hide mistakes, and do not want to take responsibility.
When communicating, you should pay particular attention to the following aspects:
- Do you listen and show understanding during the conversation? Each annual interview should be set up as a conversation and not just a monologue from the manager. When the employee's manager does not listen and does not show understanding for him, the employee withdraws and shows resistance to what is being said. How can you avoid this? One way is to start the interview with their self-assessment and show the employee that their contribution is important. During the interview, ask them questions, involve them in the process and show them that their opinion counts. Ask them how they think they have done, what their strongest areas are, which projects they have done well, where they think they have fallen short of their targets, and any other topics you have agreed to discuss with them.
- Do you focus on the personality rather than the behavior of the employee during the interview? When you are assessing and giving feedback to an employee, it should focus on their behaviors at work. Try to avoid criticizing the employee's personality traits and instead focus on areas of work that can be improved.
- If the problem is communication within the team, don't say "No one wants to work with you.", but rather "Some colleagues have reported that they find it challenging to work with you. Why do you think this is happening and how can we solve it?".
- If there is a problem with communicating with clients, do not say “You are very aggressive when communicating with clients.”, but rather “Some clients have reported that your way of speaking in certain situations turns out to be incomprehensible or impatient. How can you pay more attention to this next time and how can I help you with that?”
- If the problem is missing deadlines, don't say, "I notice you are very lazy and never submit your reports by the deadline.", but rather, "I have noticed that you have missed the deadline for the last two reports, which can hinder the work of other members of your team. What happened and how can we help you in the future?"
What to look out for after the annual interview
1. Did you set clear goals for the coming period?
Remember that the annual interview is not only a great opportunity to review the past performance of the employee, but also an opportunity to set goals and a plan for achieving them in the coming period. An action plan is an important element in concluding an effective interview.
It helps you ensure that annual interviews are not an end, but an opportunity to work with an employee to find ways to improve areas where they have not achieved their goals.
The manager and the employee should answer the following questions together:
- "What are the key steps that will help the employee implement the plan he and the manager have set?"
- "What are the tasks of the employee and what are the tasks of the manager to ensure that these steps are successfully implemented?"
- "What support does the employee need to be able to do this?"
- "How will they measure progress?"
- "When will they meet again?
It is also important that the steps they set are clear, simple, and measurable. For starters, just three or four of the next steps are enough. After the interview, the manager should also send the employee an email with feedback and the next steps. In doing so, it should be clearly written what is the task of the individual and what is the task of the manager. This way, at the next meeting, they will be able to see clearly what they have agreed to and whether they have achieved it.
Determining the date of the next meeting is essential, as the annual interview should not be the end of communication between the employee and the manager. It is important that they regularly review how the plans are being implemented and identify areas for improvement. One-on-one conversations are a great way to monitor results and also allow an employee to receive regular feedback.
The last mistake is also related to this.
2. Do you monitor the achievement of set goals during the year?
We are usually highly motivated for change in the first few weeks after setting goals and an action plan, but over time this initial motivation dries up (especially when we encounter the first obstacles). If you do not monitor the achievement of goals regularly, you will only find out at the end of the year or at the next annual interview that the desired changes have not taken place.
To prevent this from happening, meet with the employee (at least) on a monthly basis and then check the progress and success in achieving the goals. You can also discuss the challenges that employees may be facing. The annual interviews will thus only be a supplement to the monthly meetings, and employees will perceive them as less stressful because they will be more prepared for them.
We have therefore found that incorrectly conducted annual interviews are a source of stress for both managers and employees. To avoid this, it is good to know the common mistakes you may make during interviews and ways to avoid them.
Therefore, the following key thoughts should remain with you:
- It is important to announce the interview in advance so that both you and the employee can prepare well for it.
- When assessing an employee, consider information from several people to get the most holistic and accurate view.
- Pay attention to your communication during the conversation. Give the employee enough opportunity to express their opinion.
- Feedback should be specific and should form the basis for the goals and plans you prepare with the employee during the interview.
- Do not wait until next year for a re-interview, but rather have ongoing shorter interviews.