06/14/2010 05:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Difference Between Performance Reviews and Performance Management

All too often in many companies, performance reviews are treated as an annual event. But in order to truly be useful, evaluating employees and providing feedback should really be a continuous function in every organization - all the time. It's not enough to tell someone retrospectively once a year how he or she fared over the course of twelve months, nor does doing so fully capture an accurate picture of that individual's value to the business, or lack thereof.

Every employer has daily opportunities to provide employees with information about their performance that is accurate, constructive and actionable. On the positive side, this does not mean that a pat on the back is necessary every two seconds. In fact, it reminds me of my first boss who told me that I should assume I was doing fine as long as I didn't hear from her. I think her exact words were, "No news is good news." That was her way to give me the information I needed without having to interrupt me from my work to say that I was doing a good job. For me, it was very effective because I knew she was pleased, until she wasn't, in which case she told me on the spot. But what made it all work was that my annual review became a review of the conversations we'd had as well as a forum to plan out a strategy for the weeks and months to come.

So no matter how one manager chooses to evaluate his or her employees, what's important is that the employees are crystal clear about where they stand and how they are doing, for better and worse. It is far better an alternative than sitting someone down after the fact with a laundry list of "strengths and weaknesses" to let him/her know how he/she did, only after it's too late for him/her to do anything about it. For an organization trying to reach its goals, delaying feedback delays the possibility of improving results, which in theory and practice makes no sense.

There will always be performance-related matters to discuss when something needs to be corrected, improved, recognized and congratulated. It is a healthy balance of formal and informal feedback which creates the kind of continuity that strengthens employee performance to in turn improve organizational performance. A good rule of thumb is to conduct formal reviews every six-to-twelve months, provide semi-formal feedback quarterly and offer informal performance discussions continuously on an ongoing basis.

Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do to help ensure that your conversations around performance are as constructive, productive and organizationally relevant as possible.

-- If you are providing written feedback, give the employee a chance to read and digest it privately beforehand. Encourage him/her to make notes and jot down any thoughts that he/she would like to discuss with you at the time of the review.

-- At the time of the conversation, ask the employee if he/she has any questions about the evaluation before delving into the verbal delivery. Many times if they do, it opens up a perfect segue for you to discuss issues in the form of a dialogue rather than overwhelming them with a monologue.

-- Share your observations of their overall strengths and weaknesses and provide examples.

-- Make sure the evaluation spans the whole review period, not just what is in recent memory.

-- Remain objective. Never become emotional and never, ever argue with the reviewee.

-- Get feedback from the reviewee and set future goals and objectives together.

-- Agree on measurement markers and an appropriate timeline before ending the conversation.

-- Add a section to employee reviews that evaluates how well they have taken the feedback they have received and incorporated it into their performance.

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