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The end of the year to-do list can seem never ending. Organizations speed up operations to maximize fourth-quarter results and meet year-end targets, all while planning for the next year.

And if leaders were not busy enough, many cram in employee performance reviews, too.

Notice the hierarchy of the responsibilities listed. What do you think falls by the wayside? Add in a stressed-out boss and you can understand why employees dread performance reviews and find the whole experience unproductive.

Although managers and employees alike complain about reviews, they really can be an effective way to give meaningful feedback to employees and help them learn, develop and feel valued.

An annual performance review process means that you'll have at least one meaningful conversation each year with your manager. But a common complaint found in employee surveys is that many workers do believe they don't get real feedback through the performance review process. If done right, a performance review can have a positive benefit for both leader and employee.

Here are four simple steps for managers to consider before starting the next round of reviews.

1. Preparation

Make sure you know what has to be filled out as part of your company's appraisal process, know the expected timelines, and ensure your staff members have this same information.

2. Purpose

Understand why your organization wants reviews to be done. This could include succession planning, evaluating pay packages, career development, or some combination of these factors. Managers need to clearly understand the direct link between performance review results and how the organization evaluates success.

3. Planning

Before a performance review meeting, make sure you have the facts about the employee's contributions, strengths and performance gaps. The review process should never be a forum to surprise an employee with unknown information. Reviews should be summary conversations in which an employee's accomplishments are recognized, performance gaps are explored, and new goals are set for the coming year. Managers need to clearly define the expectations for each employee for the next year.

4. Performance review conversation

Set expectations: Make sure your employee knows the purpose of the review and outline how the conversation will be structured.

Review results: A review conversation can be a powerful developmental tool. Speak honestly about the employee's performance, core competency scores, and goals. It will be counterproductive if the employee worries about the review process and believes it is a lecture, not a conversation. Effective leaders understand their primary role in the review conversation is to be a coach. Their attitude will influence the quality of the employee's experience.

Summarize: Go over your discussion and emphasize key points to help you and the employee determine what will be done to close any performance gaps. Be mindful about how you phrase comments, as most people put more weight on negative comments than positive ones. Discuss career expectations, as well as any development needs. This is important, as it supports employees' understanding of their role and value to the company.

Set goals and follow up: Finalize the employee's goals and make it clear how progress will be measured and monitored. Coach the person to seek feedback from you, but also make a point, as a leader, to follow up on what you said you would do.

Whether the performance review is done in person, on paper, or with an online tool, your attitude as a manager will have the most profound effect on your employee.

Bill Howatt is president of Howatt HR Consulting in Kentville, N.S.