10 Ways HR Can Prepare For Annual Review Season

by Anita Bowness | Posted | Performance Management

10 Ways HR Can Prepare For Annual Review Season

It's that time of year again.

Performance review season is here (for most organizations). So, as HR pros, it's time to ask ourselves a question: Are we ready?

A lot goes into a company-wide performance review process, and it can be stressful getting everything set. So, we're going to set up our mise en place for appraisal season. We're going to get organized.

1. Remind managers and employees to update goals and development plans

Here's something managers and employees often struggle with during review season: actually remembering what they did in the past year. If you aren't managing and evaluating performance on an ongoing basis, reminding employees and managers to update the progress on their goals and development plans can be a great way to kick off the reflection process. It's even a great way to remind people about those goals that got pushed to the side in favor of other things.

2. Review last year's forms and processes

Your annual review process last year was perfect, right? Like, 100% perfect? Oh, there was room for improvement? Of course there was! Nothing is perfect.

Now is the prime time to reflect on last year's process. What worked? What didn't? What have you learned since then that you want to apply to this year's process?

3. Organize the users in your system

This is something you definitely do not want to leave until the last minute. If users aren't in the system and can't log in, or information in their profile is incomplete or wrong, it puts a negative spin on the annual review experience and causes unnecessary roadblocks. Vet your user data for completeness and accuracy to make sure these unnecessary obstacles never even show up!

4. Review last year's results, see where you can improve, and set targets

What went well last year? What didn't? You may think you remember it all, but it never hurts to get the real numbers. Pull your reports from last year's process and look at the data. Where did things get bogged down or bottlenecked last year? Where can improvements be made?

Based on what you see from last year, set yourself some targets (bonus points if you set a baseline goal and a stretch goal!).

5. Book time with "those people"

The bottlenecks we talked about in the previous step are sometimes individuals who can hold up the process for everyone else. And if you didn't already know who they were, the reports you pulled in the previous step should help you identify them.

Proactively book time in these people's calendars. This will help ensure that

  1. They have time set aside to get what they need done
  2. You can be there to help them get their work done faster
  3. You can help ensure accuracy and completeness in their work

It only takes a couple of these meetings to dramatically increase the speed of the process as a whole.

6. Communicate deadlines, timelines and expectations early (and often)

"No one told me I had to do that."

"I didn't know I was supposed to have that in yet!"

"You needed that by today?"

If you've ever coordinated an annual review process, you've no doubt heard these excuses before. Make sure they're a non-issue by communicating key dates and your expectations of employees early (and often...people need reminders sometimes).

7. Get training done

There are three things employees need to be trained on in order to complete an effective annual performance review.

The "technical" know-how

  • Do users know how to log in and find and complete tasks?
  • Are recently promoted managers familiar with their new role in the review process?
  • Do new hires know what to do in the system?

The "actual" know-how

  • Do managers know how your rating scale works?
  • Do managers know how to give effective feedback?
  • Do managers know how to deliver the review or conduct the meeting?

The "why"

  • Do employees know why your organization does a performance review?
  • Do they understand how reviews impact the business, the team and/or themselves?

Pro tip!

If you need help getting this knowledge out to managers and individual contributors, check out and share these useful resources:

Surviving Performance Review Season [Webinar]

Performance Review Survival Kit [Free Download]

And there are a ton more useful bits across this blog and the Saba Resources page!

8. Start a feedback frenzy

We joke that we can't remember what we had for breakfast on Monday- so how can we remember all that great stuff we did, or our employees did 8 months ago. Sending and receiving feedback throughout the year really cuts down on the staring at a blinking cursor on an open review form. It also seems impossible to remember when you have the form open. We suggest doing one last call for feedback - suggest employees send and request all of the feedback they'd been meaning to get around to all year long to help themselves and their managers effectively (and efficiently!) tell their performance story for the year.

Pro tip!

In Saba Cloud, you can not only send and record feedback, but you can request feedback too!

9. When you launch, launch big

This is a great way to avoid the low groan that echoes across your organization when you send out that first "it's performance review time" email.

Make a big deal of it.

Too often we quietly open up the review cycle and try to remain under the radar. But seriously, if you've worked hard to make it a great one- tell the people!

Tell them all of the things you've done (collectively) to prepare for this. Let them know why this will be the best experience yet.

10. Communicate (often) throughout the whole process

There's a bit of a trend on this list. More than half of the line items are about communication. Keeping employees and managers informed about the progress, the successes, the areas for improvement can help with the call to action. And don't forget to communicate the "why."

Many organizations have run contests or fun pools, or give out awards for good performance review performance. Team most likely to be done on time or early? Most likely to be late? This can be a fun way to keep people engaged in the process.

Get organized for a great annual review season

The key to a great annual review is preparation. So set yourself - and your people - up for success by following the above best practices. And remember, if your people are regularly talking about performance, feedback and development throughout the year it can make the annual review exactly that. It's a review of all the great conversations they've had throughout the year. Which means they can focus their time looking ahead to what's next for the employee and the business.

Your turn - what do you think of these tips? Any advice you would add?

Surviving Performance Review Season

Check out a deep dive into tools you can use right away to improve the performance review process at your organization for everyone involved.

Cover of the book
Cover of the book

Surviving Performance Review Season

Check out a deep dive into tools you can use right away to improve the performance review process at your organization for everyone involved.


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