The Future of Performance Reviews

How many times have you been called in for a performance review and felt a sense of dread or uncertainty before you walked in the door? It’s a completely common feeling: performance reviews can be awkward, uncomfortable, or downright despised -- by both employees and management alike. Many executives and Human Resources teams are rethinking performance reviews and processes entirely. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to only praise (or, if they have not performed at the levels expected -- “punish”) an employee once a year for their performance from the prior twelve months. It makes much more sense to have a regular performance review evaluation process that consistently gives and requests feedback between employees and management.

What if we simply need to rethink how we have conducted performance reviews in the past? We may need to ask ourselves: what makes a good performance review? How can employees and employers collaborate and communicate to make the process more effective and productive? At Projections, we have had decades of experience helping organizations overcome employee engagement and retention issues, conflict resolution, how to implement a healthy work-life balance for employees, and how to meet the challenges your leaders are facing in their daily work lives. We’ll cover why performance reviews are important and how organizations can best shift to a new performance review process, and the best practices to adapt to get there.

Are Performance Reviews Necessary?

This question has been asked many times and has some conflicting responses. We believe the short answer is that they are really only as good as the effort you put into them! According to Gallup, performance reviews often can do more harm than good since only 14% of employees would “strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve.” Likewise, in a recent article, Forbes stated that these types of reviews could be “pointless and insulting” rather than productive.

On the contrary, performance reviews will benefit both the employee and the employer when they are conducted appropriately and employees know what is expected of them. The “old way” of conducting an annual performance review without regular feedback and communication throughout the year certainly can lead employees to feel less than engaged in their work and unlikely to focus on improvements. With that being said, an update in the way reviews are viewed and completed can help employees feel appreciated, leading to higher productivity levels and progress in their skillset.

performance review best practices

New Performance Review Process

Condensing an entire year’s worth of employee contributions into one comprehensive performance evaluation can be challenging. To make things more difficult, managers and leaders run the risk of damaging engagement levels if annual reviews are perceived as “unfair.” Your team counts on you to see a full, robust picture of their performance, including the activities they do well and their opportunities for improvement. Employees want to walk away from a performance evaluation meeting feeling empowered – not embarrassed. This doesn’t need to be an impossible task. It’s a matter of looking at the performance management process from a different perspective and encouraging best practices to make sure they are the most effective they can be! 

When it comes to writing a performance review, in order to make the most of the meeting, it's critical to think about the big picture. Armed with information from more regular, informal meetings where feedback and communication are open and honest, the official performance review can be constructed much more easily and with the desired results. A Better Leader has also provided a customizable performance review template that may be a helpful place to start! 

As stated before, performance reviews are, in fact, necessary. However, it’s important to note that things have changed. In order for performance management processes to be the most effective and productive, it’s simply a matter of adopting newer ways of doing things. The standard annual performance review process just doesn’t serve most of today’s organizations or contributes to higher productivity levels or achievement of company goals.

Performance Reviews Best Practices

Some of the most impactful best practices to implement for performance reviews include the following:

  1. Include both employees and leaders in consistent feedback throughout the year, rather than the standard annual performance management meeting. This way, your team members don’t have to “wonder” if they are meeting expectations. Receiving real-time, regular feedback keeps everyone up-to-date and aware of their performance.
  2. Align your metrics and expectations with your company’s goals. For example, if your business claims to offer world-class customer service, metrics should focus on customer experience feedback. Many puzzled staff members feel frustrated when they are told the company’s primary goal is customer satisfaction, yet they are measured on the speed at which they get customers off the phone or out the door. 
  3. Set clear guidelines and expectations for what you expect to see from your team members regularly, whether that be sales goals, timelines for meeting project deadlines, etc. Rather than simply telling an employee that they have been “unreliable” in the past, being able to communicate specific and structured expectations (and consistently provide feedback upon it) will give a clearer picture to team members.
  4. Collaborate regularly with your leaders and your employees in order to ensure they are meeting expectations and provide both constructive criticism and positive feedback depending on how they are rising to the occasion. 
  5. Make the shift from an annual performance review to a monthly or quarterly conversation to go over performance and goals with a transparent conversation. Neither employees nor managers should feel like it is a one-way conversation: both should equally participate and feel heard and understood!
performance reviews

What Makes a Good Performance Review

Ultimately, it’s pretty simple to adapt a newer and more effective way of conducting performance reviews. When you consider the traditional annual review process looks at past performance and doesn’t allow for employees to improve, it’s easy to see why it hasn’t been seen as a positive experience. On the contrary, regular collaboration and discussion between employees and leadership that focus on recent performance on an ongoing basis allows for real-time feedback and productive conversation!

Instead of stress, anxiety, or even resentment, employees can walk away feeling empowered and knowing precisely what is expected of them. Rather than dreading next year’s performance review meeting, team members will have a chance to “check in” in a monthly or quarterly conversation. The key is collaboration and maintaining an open-door policy in the workplace. Before you know it, the performance review process will become a positive experience that leads to higher productivity, company goals being achieved, and better engagement and retention rates.

Train Your Leaders to Give Quality Performance Reviews

There are many things that your leaders can implement to deliver a quality performance review. Communicate expectations right away. When possible, explain the process at the beginning of the measurement period, then offer regular reminders when appropriate. Employees that understand what they are supposed to do and how success is determined will feel empowered to achieve the desired results. Don’t wait until the annual performance review meeting to provide a year’s worth of feedback. Regular updates will ensure there are no surprises when evaluation discussions occur.

For more tips on transforming your performance feedback process for increased effectiveness, consider A Better Leader’s training on Performance Reviews. Here’s a preview of what your leaders will take away from this training:

  • Teaches the proper roles and responsibilities of coaching
  • Effective coaching skills
  • Refresh your approach with best practices to make performance reviews more meaningful
  • Give performance reviews a feedback reboot

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.