If your company isn’t ready to move away from the labor-intensive annual review process, here’s how you can make it less painful.

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During January, most of your time was consumed with reading your employees’ self-evaluations, writing a performance appraisal for each person on your team, meeting with each employee to discuss their annual review and then tying the performance outcomes into the company’s financial incentive system.

Now it’s February and you’re feeling exhausted. You’re also trying to catch up on all the other projects you had to put on hold while you were writing and conducting performance reviews and handling what felt like a mountain of electronic paperwork.

While you’ve been wishing your company would follow the lead of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell, IBM and other technology companies and move away from the old-school, labor-intensive annual review process, senior management at your company isn’t comfortable with the idea.

If your company isn’t ready to abandon annual reviews yet, here’s how you can make this process less painful.

Create a Goals & Objectives (G&O) document for each employee. Work with each employee to clearly define their key projects and tasks for the next three to six months, sorted by priority and timing. Let each person know they will be the “owner” of their document and are responsible for providing you with regular progress updates.

Schedule progress update meetings. Determine how often you’ll hold update meetings with each employee and for how long. The timing will depend on the pace of the work your group handles and the number of employees. You might meet once a week for 15 to 30 minutes, or once a month for 60 minutes or longer.

Set expectations. Ensure each employee understands what will happen during these update meetings. This isn’t an inquisition about their progress. It should be an open, two-way discussion with the employee telling you how things are going (using their G&O document as a visual aid) and anything they’ve run up against that’s standing in his or her way of being successful.

Shift from telling to asking. The progress discussion isn’t about you (the manager) telling an employee what to do or how to do it. It’s about listening and asking questions to better understand what you can do to remove impediments or to help each employee further develop their skills.

Each quarter, add to the G&O document. During the update meetings, have employees add any new projects or tasks that have been identified and work together to prioritize his or her workload.

The use of the G&O document, updated throughout the year, and the regularly scheduled update meetings will help to:

  • Ensure that what needs to be accomplished is moving forward as planned
  • Uncover issues that could slow or impede progress
  • Reduce the risk of being surprised when it’s too late to take corrective action
  • Determine any actions you need to take to best support each employee

When it comes time for your company’s annual performance review process, you’ll be ready — because you will have a document that captures all the important information about what each employee accomplished every quarter throughout the year.

Bonus: No information in a performance review will ever be a surprise to an employee, because you’ll have been meeting on a regular basis with each person throughout the year.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.