How to Conduct Employee Reviews in Your Marketing Agency

By Nikki Jasper | | 1.18.23

Employee reviews, while necessary, aren’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time. At best, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they’re finished. At worst, they’re anxiety-inducing for team members and challenging for managers.

That said, employee reviews are the best way to ensure that you and your team are on the same page. They’re venues in which managers can not only discuss their employee’s performance throughout the year but also short- and long-term strategies for the team member and the agency as a whole.

So how do you do it? Let’s break it down!

Pick Your Poison

Before you begin, it’s important to find your format. As we all know, a meeting without any direction is dead in the water. That’s where the employee review form comes into play.

There are several models available for performance review. You can choose the format that best suits your agency’s culture, or you can even combine several different types to fit your specific needs. Here are a few examples of the models that are most commonly used:

  • Self Assessment— This is precisely what it sounds like: your team members evaluate themselves using an agreed-upon set of standards. Their manager rates the using the same form and then discusses the evaluations in a one-on-one meeting.
  • Peer Assessment— If you’re wondering how an employee works with the other members of the team, this is a useful tool. You’ll get insight into their day-to-day interactions with co-workers, creating a more comprehensive overview.
  • Management By Objective— Managers and team members set SMART goals together and meet to determine whether the goals were met at a predetermined time.
  • Rating Scale— Utilizing a list of variables, managers choose from several values (a scale of numbers— say 1 to 10— or descriptive words, like poor or above average) to evaluate their team.

Here at IBO, we’ve adopted the rating scale. We have created a form in our HR software (shoutout to Gusto) in which managers can rate their team members on a scale from 1 to 4; 1 stands for Unacceptable, 2 is Acceptable, Room for Improvement, 3 is Good, and 4 is Outstanding.

There are six categories, with room for comment under each category, as well as two additional questions at the end of the form: “What are their strengths?” and “Are there any challenges or areas of improvement?”

When and Where?

Next up? Decide how frequently you want to conduct the reviews and where you want to hold them.

At IBO, we do formal employee reviews once a year, on the anniversary of the team member’s hiring date. As we’re exclusively remote, these meetings are conducted on Zoom. We do have a camera-on policy for our internal meetings, as we find it’s the closest we can get to being in the same room together. Face-to-face communication is one of the best ways to ensure engagement during the meeting, and you want to be sure that you’re communicating clearly when it comes to something as important as an employee review.

In addition to the annual reviews, we also conduct quarterly “check-ins” with each team member. These are much more casual than the official reviews, and they are intended to ensure that every employee has designated facetime with their manager. It’s an opportunity for the team members to share ideas, set goals, and ask questions. It’s also a good way to ensure that a team member isn’t taken by surprise if their annual review is less-than-stellar. A bad review shouldn’t be the first indication that there’s an issue with their performance.

Of course, managers are available to their teams on a day-to-day basis, but having an official meeting on the books guarantees that issues are addressed in a timely fashion. (Plus, it’s fun to get to know team members on a one-on-one basis. I always learn interesting things at these meetings-- we work with a lot of cool people!)

Performance Review Pointers

You’ve got your format and you’ve got your place and time… but what do you need to know about the main event? Let’s do a quick rundown of do’s and don’ts for conducting an employee review.

DO have examples to back up your review. If you have criticisms of an employee’s performance or areas that you believe have room for improvement, make sure that you have a specific example to which you can refer. If you speak in generalizations, it’s easy for the employee to feel that you’re not paying attention to their work or that you’re engaging in a personal attack.

DO set clear expectations. As Brene Brown said, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” You’re not doing anyone any favors if you aren’t clearly communicating your expectations— you can’t expect your team to meet guidelines they don’t know about! I’ve found that if a team member isn’t performing up to par, it might be because they didn’t understand what was expected of them. Resetting those expectations can completely turn the situation around.

DO be honest. If you tell your team member that they’re doing well at every check-in throughout the year, then hammer them with low marks on their review, they’re going to be justifiably confused. Is it uncomfortable to have these conversations? Yes. Is it vital? Yes. And it’s the best way to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.

DON’T do it via email. Face-to-face is the best way to conduct a meeting as important as this, whether it’s in the office or via video. That said, it’s important to share the completed form with the team member at the end of the meeting, whether it’s via email or on paper.

DON’T cloud your communication with jargon or meaningless phrases. Action-oriented words are important when you evaluate an employee. Vague terms like “satisfactory” or “good” without any measurement are not helpful. Get specific.

DO finish on a positive note. You made it to the end! High five! The last thing you want is for an employee to walk away from the meeting feeling discouraged or like they don’t understand how to go forward. If an employee has a lot of room for improvement, it’s important for them to feel like they can get back on track and that you’re invested in their success. If their review was overwhelmingly positive, you want to ensure that they feel appreciated and that you are there to support them in their continued success.

DO ask for feedback. This should be a discussion, not a lecture. You don’t want to miss out on the perspective of the people on your team; they have unique insight into your company’s processes, and they’re (hopefully) invested in your company’s success.

The last question I ask in every review is, “Is there anything I can do to make your job better?” I want to know if my team doesn’t have the tools or resources they need to do their job well, especially if they feel that they need additional support. I want to ensure that I’m not fostering an atmosphere in which my team doesn’t feel comfortable sharing feedback that could improve the business.

Ideally, employee reviews are a chance for you and your team members to come together and make sure that goals are being met and growth is occurring. Take this time as an opportunity to connect with your team!

Interested in learning more about IBO’s team? You can click here to schedule a free discovery call!