Employee reviews: The right way and the wrong way

Engineering employee reviews, when done right, give the manager and the employee a chance to build and strengthen a relationship and carve a path for future success. Incorporate these six tips to improve the review process for engineering employees and those around them.

By Jon Breen June 8, 2020


Learning Objectives

  • Annual employee reviews offer a chance for managers and employees to improve.
  • A good employee review should go beyond improvement; they should create a path to future success for the employee.
  • The employee should also be proactive and offer advice on how the company can improve.

In my career before starting my own business, I had a lot of opportunities to experience the dreaded employee review. They ranged from organized and on-time to chaotic and nearly forgotten, from a friendly dialogue to one-way box checking. I think most companies recognize that a review is necessary, but they often miss a great opportunity to build/affirm a relationship with an employee and create a path for future success.


Why do we review? 

OK, we review employees because it’s what we’ve always done. We’re going to have to address the awkward topic of pay and everyone’s used to yearly reviews. It’s expected from everyone. That seems like a pretty weak reason to have a review, though.

Why should we have reviews? Because an employee is an asset to the company and needs certain things to be successful. This is why we review – to help an employee (and by proxy, the company) be successful.

What do employees need? A lot of very human things that a process can’t really capture. Employees need to feel respected, heard, appreciated, validated. They need to have a sense for where they’re going and how they fit in the organization. They need a sense of belonging. These needs can’t fully be met during a review, but the review is the time to formally and intentionally address them.

What do employers need from their employees? Dedication to the company’s mission, productivity, ideas and improvements. Feedback is only part of getting these things from an employee. A good employer will work to integrate employees into the company culture and guide them towards growth, success and satisfaction.

Six tips for an effective employee review interview

1. Develop an employee review template: The written procedures and templates used for reviews can’t fully capture the human element, but they can support it. The process has to go way beyond, “Here’s what you’re doing well and here’s what you’re doing poorly at.”

2. Employee review conversation: Standard talking points should be developed to support the relationship and career building conversation that’s so vital between employer and employee.

For example, an effective employment review should starts with, “This isn’t just a one-way review. It’s a chance for us to discuss and plan your success together.” We’re calling out the shared purpose right away and setting the stage for productive conversation towards that end. We encourage the employee to share their thoughts first.

3. Employee review explores goals and preferences: The conversation includes questions like “What tasks and projects have you enjoyed working on the most?” and “How do you see your job relating to the company’s performance?”  We want to know what the employee enjoys, and whether he/she feels like a valuable part of the company.  We also have conversations on goals and how to achieve them.

4. Employee review feedback improves working environment: These aren’t a management directive; they’re a chance for employer and employee to build the future together. We also ask, “Is there anything Breen Machine can do to make your job easier/more efficient?” This demonstrates the two-way nature of the review and allows both sides of the table to improve towards a shared goal.

5. Employee review follow up initiatives: The review is the formal opportunity to do all the things we’re talking about, but it shouldn’t be the only one.  If you have feedback for an employee, give it immediately. Don’t save it for 8 months until the next review. Immediate feedback lets an employee know you’re on the same team, helps him/her make any needed corrections quickly, and gives kudos right where they’re deserved. Delayed feedback creates feelings of us vs. them, is less actionable and means a lot of detail gets forgotten. Not to mention all the projects performed over those 8 months may have the same mistakes in them.

6. Positive and negative feedback during review: Negative feedback is important – there’s no denying it – but positive reinforcement is at least as important.  Unfortunately, we as managers often pay attention to the bad things a lot more strongly than the good things. This takes deliberate effort to fix and doesn’t happen overnight. The benefits, though, cannot be overstated.

As Spencer Johnson says, “Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right!”

Jon Breen, founder/owner, Breen Machine Automation Services, a Control Engineering content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Keywords: employee review, labor and management relationship


What is the best employee/employer interview you’ve had and what made it so special?

Original content can be found at www.breen-machine.com.

Author Bio: Jon Breen, owner, Breen Machine Automation Services, LLC