Performance Management Resources

A practical look at building and implementing your perfect performance management process.

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Can Managers Rate Employee Skills Effectively?

Most bosses think they know their employees better than anyone else.

After all, we spend 90,000 hours of our lives at work. And it's the team leaders who are in the trenches every day, training employees on important processes and coaching them on their way to achieving business goals.

But knowing someone well, and rating them well are two different things.

The impact of "rater effects"

That's according to a study conducted by Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Mount and his team researched 4,492 managers who were rated on performance by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates. They found that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ perception (a.k.a. “idiosyncratic rater effects”). Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance.

As researchers put it, "Ideally, the rating variance associated with the performance of the ratee would be large relative to the variance associated with biases of the rater. In other words, what is being rated should account for more variance than who does the rating. Our results show that this is not generally true."

As it turns out, the way you rate your employees is more a reflection of your own thoughts and beliefs about work performance, and less about the actual performance of the person you're rating.

But so what does this mean for performance ratings?

A real-world solution

Deloitte came up with a simple solution. After reviewing the research and conducting their own internal survey, the Big Four firm found that although its previous review system was considered fair and effective by most employees, it just wasn't moving the needle on business objectives. Not only that, they found that over 2 million hours a year were spent on the review process.

In an effort to reduce the time burden and outsmart "rater effects", Deloitte now asks team leaders what they would do with their employees, rather than asking them to rate employees on specific skills. For example, the first of their four review questions is, "Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus." Managers are then asked to agree or disagree using a 5-point scale. This question has the reviewer reflect on their own feelings rather than try to give a score to another person’s skills. We are much better equipped to do the former, rather than the latter.

"Boss ratings" are still the best we've got

Deloitte's radically simple approach helps uncover the manager's core insights, without asking them to ponder abstract terms like 'critical reasoning' and 'strategic thinking skills'. Unfortunately, the study didn't investigate the cause of individual "rater effects", but it's safe to assume that using vague terminology to describe employee skills could leave the door open to a little too much interpretation.

And that's a problem, because as researchers pointed out, "Regardless of whether perspective-related effects are classified as actual performance or bias, our results indicate that boss ratings capture more of the ratee's actual job performance than do ratings from any other perspective."

In other words, managers and team leaders may not be able to rate employee skills effectively, but they still hold the key to getting the most accurate reading possible. Just how accurate that is may have more to do with how you ask, and less to do with what you think.

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11 Types of Employee One-on-ones (and 69 example questions)

The employee one-on-one is a classic example of something easy to do, but hard to do well.

A recurring calendar event is scheduled, the first few one-on-ones are dutifully attended, but then over time the poor dialog and lack of purpose lead to meetings getting pushed, other issues cannibalizing the time, and eventually the idea is just scrapped.

This article is not about getting started, it is about getting good and maintaining an effective employee check-in practice over the long-term.

One-on-ones are a practice

One-on-one meetings should not use the same template each week. Ben Horowitz calls one-on-ones “the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.” If you are always asking the same four questions, the meeting is bound to get stale.

That does not mean you should go in without a plan. Instead of a static template, we are going to build a practice. That means instead of trying to create the perfect single meeting, we’ll try to optimize all the one-on-ones we’ll ever have with an employee as a whole. Think of it like using many different types of meetings, but in the same time slot each week.

11 types of one-on-one meetings

Below we’ve listed out 11 types of employee one-on-one meetings. Each one does not need to take up the full 30 minute or one hour timeslot you’ve allotted and you’ll find that you often combine two or three into a single sitting. We listed them roughly in the order of how frequently they should be used, and generally you should get through all of them about every 6 months.

The building trust meeting

The first step in creating effective one-on-ones is to build trust. If your employees feel that you’re distant they won’t come to meetings open and willing to share. They also won’t feel connected and ready to work through things together.

The good news is that creating trust is relatively easy, the only step is to take an honest interest in someone as a person. Find out more about their personal life and their hobbies, be there for them when they face life’s challenges. If your employees know you’re there for them and care for them, all the other types of meetings below will go much more smoothly.

If you don’t already have a strong connection with an employee, don’t be afraid to spend the first few one-on-ones just building up a stronger rapport. Then over time take a few minutes to check in on them every meeting and periodically just let a whole meeting go by talking about them. Remember, we’re not judging the impact of any one meeting, we’re judging the impact of our one-on-one practice as a whole.

Example Questions

  1. How are you?
  2. What did you do last weekend?
  3. What do you love to do outside of work?
  4. What’s your favorite thing about work?
  5. How are your kids/spouse/parents doing?
  6. Do you have any exciting plans for summer/holidays/new year?


The employee’s meeting

One-on-ones should be the employee’s meeting, as often as possible. This means they set the agenda. That said, you can still help guide them, and let them know it is ok to bring up certain issues.

For example, if your employee is having trouble working with another person at the office, they might not want to bring that issue up unless you first prompt them and let them know it is fair-game to discuss. Prompt the meeting with open-ended questions designed to unearth specific issues if they exist.

Example Questions

  1. What would you like to focus on at this meeting?
  2. Have you been struggling with anything?
  3. Is there anything that you think I should know about?
  4. Do you have an easy relationship with everyone at the office?
  5. Have you noticed anything at the company that felt off lately?
  6. Do you have any questions about the organization?
  7. Is there anything that you need from me?


What you’re working on meeting

Often check-ins are just a discussion of what the employee is working on right now. They can be an opportunity to provide feedback, course corrections, additional support, or remove barriers.

Example Questions

  1. How was last week?
  2. Tell me your plans for next week?
  3. What is the latest on the project?
  4. Is anything getting in your way lately?
  5. What are you prioritizing and what are you putting on the back-burner?
  6. What could we do to make it better?
  7. What project do you want to work on next?
  8. Are you confused by any part of what you’re currently working on?


Team dynamics meeting

An organization is by definition a group of people working towards a particular purpose. For that reason it is important to regularly check in on how your team is working with the rest of the organization.

Example Questions

  1. Who on the team impresses you? Why?
  2. If you were to build a small team to work with, who would be on it?
  3. Who do you have a hard time working with? Why?
  4. What makes someone a fit for our team?
  5. Is there anything you would do to improve how the team collaborates?
  6. Is there anyone you think you should be working more closely with but aren’t?
  7. What would you change about our team?
  8. Why do you think Jill left the company? Is there something we should change?


Requesting feedback meeting

Once you have built up some trust, use one-on-ones as a way for employees to share any issues they have with the way you work. Getting these out in the open is incredibly healthy, it gives you a chance to explain yourself, or make changes. Requesting feedback is also a great way to build additional trust before giving difficult feedback.

Example Questions

  1. What feedback do you have for me?
  2. Is there anything I can do to give you more support at work?
  3. Can I help you work through anything specific?
  4. Is there anything you would change about how you and I communicate?
  5. Would you prefer more or less direction from me?
  6. Is there something a former manager did that you really appreciated?
  7. Do you have some examples of things you don’t think I handled well?


Giving feedback meeting

The regular and recurring nature of one-on-ones makes them a perfect place for continuous feedback. That said it is also important to cater feedback to the individual, so if you the employee wants to hear from you in the moment, waiting two weeks or a month until the next check-in might not be appreciated.

Example Questions

  1. I want to talk about something I noticed the other day.
  2. We haven’t been achieving this goal, I want to work with you to figure out why.
  3. What’s something recent you wish you did differently?
  4. Is your work meeting your own expectations?
  5. Is there anything you’re currently working on getting better at?


Ideas for our company meeting

One of the most common complaints from employees is that no one is listening to their ideas. One-on-ones are the perfect platform to discuss what changes your team would like to see at the company. Front line team members can often be the best source of ideas, but also don’t be afraid to push back on ideas and give the employee more context when needed.

Example Questions

  1. If you could change anything at the company, what would it be?
  2. If you were me, what would be the first change you’d make?
  3. What don’t you like about our product or service?
  4. How do you feel about our company culture? What would make it better?
  5. Where do you see our company in 10 years?
  6. What’s the biggest opportunity we’re not pursuing?


Learning about the company meeting

This one can be easily overlooked. Your team will often not have the same view of the company as you do and a regular meeting can be a great time to communicate any new initiatives, company level goals, and how an employee’s work fits into the big picture.

Example Questions

  1. Has anyone told you how your new project fits into the company’s goals?
  2. Can we discuss the company’s 2018 priorities and how that impacts what we do?
  3. Do you have any questions about what I do?
  4. What part of the company would you like to learn more about?
  5. Can we talk about the impact your work has on the customer/the company?


Long-term goals meeting

While it doesn’t make sense to discuss long-term goals every week, it is important to understand what motivates your employees and where they are looking to go in life. If you can find ways to align their personal goals with the company’s goals the results will be dramatic.

Example Questions

  1. What’s your dream job?
  2. What’s your totally crazy idea that probably could never work, but you’d love if it could?
  3. What do you want to be doing 10 years from now?
  4. Is there someone who you think has an awesome life?
  5. What do you want to do in your next job?
  6. Do you feel like your work helps you make progress towards your goal?
  7. What part of your work here is most in line with your goals?
  8. Do you feel like you’re learning new things at work?
  9. Are there things you’d like to learn?
  10. Is there additional training or education that you’ve considered pursuing?
  11. Can we do anything to better align your work with your goals?
  12. Do you have skills that you think are underutilized at work?


Are you happy meeting

This one almost feels too big or maybe too simple? But, happy employees are better employees, and unhappy employees are at risk of disengaging or turning over. You won't know for sure until you ask.

Example Questions

  1. Are you happy working here?
  2. Do you feel proud of what you do here?
  3. Do you enjoy coming into work?
  4. What parts of your job make you unhappy?
  5. What part of your work energizes you?


The following up meeting

Finally, don't forget to follow up. If you are doing one-on-ones well, then they should form an ongoing dialog where ideas get raised and you can discuss progress over time. Take notes and set reminders together to revisit the idea at a future date.


Build your own one-on-one practice

Wow, I feel like I need even more frequent check-ins to have time to talk about all these different things. Hopefully you feel the same way and will never have to wonder, “what could we possibly talk about this week?”

Pick and choose from the different types of meetings above to create your own one-on-one practice that is a fit for each employee and your organization. Before long one-on-ones will be a key part of your management tool belt.

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How Does Asana Do Performance Management?

Asana, is a silicon-valley startup founded in 2008 by former Facebook developers, Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. (Fun fact: Rosenstein was one of the developers who created the Like button.) And in 2017 Asana ranked #2 of the top 100 Best Mid-Size Workplaces in the country by Fortune Magazine.

The company is well-known for its offerings of top-notch employee benefits like unlimited PTO, a culinary program, yoga, and Uber credits, but where it really shines is in the area of employee self-improvement, Asana describes self-improvement as fundamental to its culture.

Beyond the perks

The 297-person company offers employees external mentorship and life coaching. The program includes an all-star list of coaches to help with anything from improving interpersonal relationships to hands-on engineering apprenticeships.

One reason Asana invests so much in employee growth is that they give them a large degree of personal autonomy.

Rather than a traditional business hierarchy, the company uses "areas of responsibility" or AORs to delineate the roles of its employees. Each department is documented as an AOR with one person as its "directly responsible individual", or DRI. While everyone in the AOR is expected to take full responsibility for the tasks within it, the buck ultimately stops with the DRI.

The role of the manager is to be a coach. Rather than directly approving or directing decisions for the DRIs, managers empower them to make their own calls and give them the direction for the future.

Continuous Feedback and a Culture of Transparency

Asana is completely mission-driven. Rather than focusing on the wheels and bearings of 'how', each and every project is led by their overarching 'why'. But that doesn't mean they're completely free of a structured appraisal process.

On the contrary, Asana's leaders regularly engage with employees to increase employee happiness and keep performance on track.

Bi-Annual Organizational Appraisals

Every six months, the company halts all normal business operations for its Roadmap Week. This is the time for every member of the organization to step away from the daily grind and reflect on the big-picture progress made over the last six months.

They consider it a kind of organizational meditation—a time to sit, reflect and gain deeper insight on the business. During Roadmap Week, Rosenstein and Moskovitz will either lead a session, or simply sit in on DRI and manager-led sessions in order to get a better feel for what's happening on the ground.

Regular Departmental Reviews

In addition to the bi-annual Roadmap Week, select teams at Asana hold a regular Friday Product Forum.

The goal of the Friday Product Forum is to share observations and offer guidance—but managers and DRIs are trained to detach from any need to have the last word. In an exclusive interview with Conscious Company Media, Moskovitz described their transparent, bottleneck-free philosophy as, "Strong opinions weakly held." This approach allows them to challenge employees to do their best work, while remaining agile as an organization (a typical Friday Product Forum can take as little as 15 minutes per team).

Two-Way Channels for Peer and Self Reviews

Asana also uses regular peer reviews and conducts an annual employee survey via a third party. They even go as far as to share negative feedback publicly, and commit to making changes quickly. And according to their head of people ops, Anna Binder, this is the real reason behind their 4.9 star rating on Glassdoor.

“Our employees say wonderful things about us on Glassdoor. That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, or pristine. What it means, what I believe that it means, is that we’ve created channels internally for people who have unhappiness to speak about those unhappinesses in a direct way.”

One-on-One Performance Coaching

In keeping with its emphasis on personal growth, the company has regular one-on-ones between reports and managers. But instead of focusing on status updates and deadlines, these meetings are meant to address employee satisfaction and engagement.

Here are some of the common questions an Asana people manager will ask:

  • What are you feeling?
  • What’s holding you back from being able to blossom and do your best work?
  • What would you like to learn and develop skills around?
  • What are your long-term career aspirations?
  • What are your long-term human aspirations?

Compared to traditional performance review structures, Asana's approach may seem a little out-of-the-box, even hokey. But with 99% employee satisfaction in virtually every area, it would seem its enlightened approach to appraisals is working out pretty well.

More Inspiration

Asana is not the only organization going its own way. These days most great organizations are thinking critically about performance management and coming up with innovative new solutions. Here are a few more examples to help inspire your own strategy.

How Does Uber Do Performance Management?

How Netflix does Performance Management

Deloitte's Radically Simple Review

How Does Amazon Do Performance Management

How Does GE Do Performance Management Today?

3 Approaches to Performance Management: Google, Betterment and IBM

How Does Facebook Do Performance Management?

Performance Management at Tesla: What We Know

How Regeneron Build their Performance Management System

And if you're ready to take the next step, check out our guide to creating your own modern performance management process.

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What is Performance Management Software?

Performance management software allows companies to effectively track, analyze and evaluate their employee performance and productivity. The software should distribute forms for feedback, collect data, manage administrative tasks like sign-offs, analyze information about performance and store feedback securely.

Other important features include automated workflows, continuous feedback, access control, upward, downward and peer reviews, customizable review forms, goal tracking, single sign-on, built-in reporting, anonymous feedback, email reminders, e-sign, flexible review timing, and intuitive navigation.

When performance data is collected and stored properly it can be used to guide company goals, hiring decisions, career trajectories, compensation, succession planning and all other human capital decisions. Additionally, consistent and formal record keeping of employee performance is an important protection against liability. Dedicated software can prevent issues like forgotten 90 day reviews, missing signatures, annual reviews that happen four months late, and managers going dangerously off-script.

Finally, great performance management software can dramatically streamline an existing performance management strategy. This can result in substantial time savings for managers, employees and HR. It also can be an opportunity for companies to increase the amount of feedback data they collect on employees. The best software will allow your team to increase the frequency of feedback and solicit feedback from more people while still reducing the administrative cost of performance management.

Choosing the right performance management technology

1-15 Employees

When a company is small there is less of a need for dedicated performance management software. At this size one or a few managers can keep a close eye on performance and manage a pen-and-paper or word-and-excel process at relatively low cost. Regular feedback and record keeping is just as important as it is for larger companies, however the management benefits of software will be harder to notice.

16-30 Employees

When a company grows over 15 employees the formal review process starts to become a hassle for the individual managing it. Often at this point the company will either move to a module offered by their payroll provider or begin to dig in their heels on the homegrown system.

The simple performance management software that is often offered in a suite with payroll and other HR tools can be great for companies that are willing to run their performance management process the way the software company says they should. The problem comes when anyone on the team makes a suggestion for a change. Simple HR suite software tends to be very easy to use one way, but very difficult to use any other way.

The other alternative at this size is to continue adding complexity to the homegrown system. This can work for a while and has the benefit of allowing a company to continue to use a performance management process that is custom to them. The danger is that when a company grows beyond 30 employees, the small annoyances and wastes of time inherent in most homegrown systems get multiplied by every new employee. The number one request from companies coming off a system of excel spreadsheets is “Please streamline our process.”

30-1000 Employees

This is the sweet spot for dedicated performance management software. Organizations need something that will be both flexible to their needs, but also simple to operate for their growing ranks of managers. At over 30 employees home-grown systems begin to break down, and fighting with limiting software offered in suites becomes more trouble than it is worth.

At the larger end of this bucket companies often start to have ERP systems and there can be a push from leadership to run every aspect of the organization through one vendor. More and more this is seen as an outdated mindset and companies are opting for the best solution to each problem as long as it integrates well with their other solutions. For this reason even the largest companies often continue to choose dedicated performance management software.

Do you need technology?

If you are finding yourself in some of the situations below it is probably time to invest in dedicated performance management software.

  1. Managers complain about how complicated and time consuming their reviews are.
  2. Review cycles are often delayed or don’t happen at all.
  3. Great performance management ideas are turned down because, “our system can’t do that.”
  4. Human resources is spending lots of time on administrative work, like managing paper and data-entry.
  5. Large review cycles keep happening every year, but it’s unclear what the data is used for or if the feedback is stored appropriately.

Does any of that sound familiar? If so, moving your performance management process onto dedicated software can often pay for itself just in time savings and still give you all the benefits of more effective performance management.


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Should You Use Quarterly Employee Performance Reviews?

We're experiencing a major shake-up in the world of performance appraisals.

Business behemoths like GE, IBM and Adobe are completely revamping their performance review procedures, even going as far as to eliminate the annual review in favor of a continuous feedback model, consisting of weekly, monthly, or even real-time performance reviews.

But is that a little extreme? Maybe.

The answer will always depend on the unique cadence and culture of your business. So before jumping on the bandwagon with an extreme makeover of your employee review process, take a minute to consider whether the traditional quarterly or annual performance review still deserves a place in your organization.


We built PerformYard to streamline and automate any organization's unique performance management strategy.


Learn More


The pros and cons of quarterly performance reviews

The great thing about quarterly reviews is that they fit the natural rhythm of business, and are therefore fairly easy to sync up with the company's overarching business objectives.

Rather than asking the employee to keep a scorecard of everything they did over the course of a year, you give them feedback they can act on. Quarterly reviews can also make the final Q4 review easier because managers can simply pull together the previous three reviews to get the annual big picture.

On the downside, some companies only offer quarterly reviews to newer employees who need extra help getting acclimated to their roles. Though this is a great way to reduce the time and paperwork burden of the performance review process, it doesn't do much for veteran staff who may be craving feedback. Quarterly reviews work best when they're quick, easy, and used across the organization to help course-correct on the path to achieving annual milestones.


  • Employees can act on findings more quickly
  • Easy to align with company's wider business objectives
  • Reduce admin load of annual performance review


  • Sometimes limited to only certain types of employees
  • Can become overloaded with business objectives
  • Not always focused on long-term goals of company and employee


The pros and cons of annual performance reviews

The biggest beef both employees and managers have with the "dreaded annual review" is that it's based on past actions—and that's an argument that holds water. After all, wouldn't we all rather be judged on who we are TODAY, rather than the things we achieved (or failed to achieve) in the past?

But on the other hand, there's no denying the inherent momentum of starting a new year. Love it or hate it, for many, the annual review is still the best time to connect the dots between real-time feedback and big picture results.


  • It forces managers and employees to lean back and discuss the big picture
  • Employees can share their biggest personal and professional goals
  • Managers and employees can get clear on the exact steps to take in order to advance


  • Too much weight given to past problems and not enough to current performance
  • Time and paperwork-intensive
  • Frequently one-sided with employees carrying a lopsided responsibility to follow up


3 quick Q's to help you choose

1. How quickly can you act on the feedback you receive?

In other words, will your review process fuel employee engagement or add an unnecessary layer of micro-management? No matter how frequently it's conducted, any review that feels futile will lead to resentment.

If managers and business leaders are unlikely to act on the feedback received in quarterly reviews, you may be better off sticking with the traditional annual review.

2. How transparent is your company culture?

Does everyone in your office have a pretty good idea of what it means to be a strong performer? Do your managers have an open door policy for voicing concerns? If so, you may already have an unofficial continuous feedback process in place.

If not, or if you're only hearing feedback from a select few members of the team, you could probably benefit from a more frequent review process to help create an environment of transparency, open communication and engagement.

3. Is your process the problem?

For many managers, the paperwork alone is enough to keep them from doing anything more than an annual review. And it's a big reason why many HR academics are calling for an end of the annual review—or even an end to performance reviews altogether.

But do you really need a mind-numbing 8-page review form, or will 5 powerful questions do the trick? With the right questions, there's no reason you can't implement incredibly quick, effective reviews.


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Do Employees Want Negative Feedback?

Yes, the answer is just yes.

The negative feedback divide

First, a quick clarification of terms. When we say negative feedback we’re talking about: suggestions for improvement, discussions of new and better ways to do things, and pointing out things that were done in a less than optimal way.

The types of communications we’re not including are: general expressions of dissatisfaction, negative characterizations or reprimands.

The problem with negative feedback is the divide between the number of managers who tend to avoid it and the number of employees who would like to receive it.

The leadership consulting firm Zegner/Folkman did a survey of close to one thousand individuals. They asked a few simple questions about giving and receiving feedback. As expected a large percentage of managers said they tended to avoid giving negative feedback. The surprising finding was when they asked employees about receiving negative feedback...57% of respondents said they prefered negative feedback over positive feedback. Over half of people not only wanted negative feedback, they wanted it more than positive feedback.

Even more amazing 92% agreed with the statement “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”

Why your employees crave negative feedback

An employee who wants negative feedback, cares about their success and wants to grow.

Most of us want to be better, and we want advice on how to get there. Just look at the top selling non-fiction books on Amazon. The week I checked the #1 book offered “A counterintuitive approach to living a good life.” The #2 book offered “A scientifically proven approach to changing your life - for good.” In total, 9 of the top 20 books were offering some type of advice to help people improve their lives. The advice ranged from loving your spouse better, to principles for managing life and business, to winning friends and influencing people, to escaping addiction. There was even a book with advice on how to stop always wanting to be better!

The demand that sends these books to the top of the charts is the same demand that drove the results of the Zegner/Folkman study. People want to be better and they want help getting there.

Why aren’t managers giving employees what they want?

Zegner/Folkman presented their data as if the answer was so simple. It was almost as if they were saying, “It’s ok managers, your employees want negative feedback, you don’t need to worry about giving it.” But is it really that easy?

I’m recently married, and my wife sometimes expresses a desire to get in even better shape than she already is (honey if you’re reading this, you’re in great shape!). She even sometimes expresses a desire for feedback and advice on how to do it. So one time I offered...

I can hear my fellow married folks yelling across the interwebs right now, “it’s a trap! Don’t do it!” I know, I know. We all need to learn these lesson on our own I guess.

“Maybe you could not eat dessert as much...”


Suffice it to say that I now have a VERY strong tendency to avoid negative feedback.

So, sure we all want negative feedback, we just don't take it very well. Managers know this too.

The other problem is that while we all generally want feedback to help us improve, we often don’t want to hear the specific feedback we end up getting. When was the last time you saw a diet book titled, “Stop Eating Too Much and Exercise More.”

Give really good negative feedback

So what do we know so far? There is almost universal agreement that negative feedback is a valuable tool for improving performance. Also, Employees want, at least theoretically, to receive feedback. The only thing holding us back is that moment when we give and receive the real feedback, that’s the part nobody likes.

The solution is that managers must get really good at giving negative feedback. We’ve written about this before, as have many others but there are a few key takeaways worth repeating.

Be a coach, not a critic - It is really easy to point out something that is wrong, it is much harder to show someone the path to what is right. Just letting someone know they’re doing something wrong is not good feedback. So position yourself to be an employee's coach, not their critic.

Don’t get emotional - If you’re uptight and stressed about giving feedback you’re going to make the person on the other side of the table uptight about receiving it.

Engage around solutions - No one is buying books from Amazon titled “What I Think Is Wrong With You.” People want solutions and they want to be part of finding those solutions.

Respect individual preferences - As we’ve already said, people want feedback. So try asking them how they’d like to receive it. Negative feedback is not about managers getting something off their chest, it is about employees learning and improving, so respect and accommodate what your employees need to be most successful.

Negative feedback is hard, but everyone is already in agreement that it is important. Invest some time in getting good at it, you're employees will thank you.








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How To: Create a Radically Simple Review Form

After writing about Deloitte’s radically simple reviews, the number one response we received was “my company does X, so these questions won't work for us.”

It is a great point, Deloitte’s four questions aren’t designed to be universal, they’re designed for one particular professional services firm with 263,000 employees. Just based on the odds I’m willing to bet that is not what your organization is like.

That said, at PerformYard we think the approach Deloitte took is universal. That is why we are following up our last post with this how-to guide.

Step 1: A case for change?

If you’re reading this article, you probably already feel in your gut that a simple review process would bring positive change to your organization. But, if you’re going to drive change you’ll need a stronger case.

Deloitte started with a straightforward cost/benefit analysis of their existing process. It is remarkable how many performance management strategies we come across have never been scrutinized even in this very simple way.

Ask -

What does the review process cost our organization?
What value does the review process create for our organization?

Deloitte started with a simple counting of hours to judge the cost of their ratings system. They found that the organization was spending close to 2 million hours a year to create their annual rankings. This is inline with the 8+ hours per employee estimates that we have seen at many organizations.

Then the team at Deloitte solicited internal feedback on the value of their reviews. Most employees appreciated knowing where they stood, and were happy to have a transparent process in place. For leadership the ability to differentiate between employee performance for compensation decisions was absolutely necessary.

After running through this exercise it became clear that one, the annual review and ranking process was very expensive, and two, some of the outcomes from reviews were very important to both employees and leadership. Right away this started to rule out certain options, for example a pure continuous feedback system without quantitative ratings wouldn’t satisfy the needs of leadership and might not satisfy the needs of employees.

Step 2: Remove the excess

Deloitte that their two main needs were a way to let employees know where they stood, and a way to differentiate between employees for compensation and promotion decision making.

The team at Deloitte looked at their current review process which involved extensive ranking discussions and a long review form with many skill focused questions and realized that their current process was a very inefficient way to achieve their two needs.

They also realized that a large part of every review was essentially useless. Managers were answering many questions about an employee’s ability in different skill categories. Research has shown that people are horrible at rating skills, which meant these sections of the review were generating meaningless data.

We see these types of questions in many review forms. Questions like “How well does this employee live up to the company value of ‘Be Genuine’?” That is a very well intentioned question that will create data that never get used, and that probably never should be used because the data are likely meaningless as well.

All of these questions that weren't serving the needs of their quantitative review were removed.

Step 3: Just ask the question

Most review questions are too clever by half. These are questions that try to sneak up on some piece of information without directly asking for it. For example some organizations may feel that embracing the company culture is one of the most important characteristics of a successful employee. But then in order to determine a score for "culture fit" the company's forms might ask questions about the employee’s tendencies at work or how well the employee embodies certain values.

But why not just ask “Does this employee embrace and contribute to the company culture?”

Your managers should all be able to answer that question far more accurately and you don’t have to dance around to get the answer you want. If a manager doesn’t understand the company culture that is a bigger problem which will show up in that manager’s own review.

Don’t micromanage your managers with review questions. Let them give you a straight answer to your real question.

Step 4: Leave the rest out

When Deloitte had finished simplifying their performance reviews they were left with a problem. The new system helped employees know where they stand and it helped leadership easily identify top performers, but the system did nothing to drive improved performance.

Deloitte felt that driving performance was something the Performance Management team should be working on, and they felt it was important for the long term success of the organization.

What happens in a lot of organizations is that someone says, “Ok let’s add X, Y and Z to the performance reviews. That will force managers to engage with their reports."

Not at Deloitte. They recognized that driving improved performance was different from creating reviews, and so they refused to complicate and corrupt their review process with other goals. Deloitte created a completely separate weekly check in process that was much better suited to the goal of helping managers drive employee performance.

That's it

  1. Determine what your reviews are for, and how much that is worth.
  2. Clear out all the questions that don't get used or shouldn't be used.
  3. Ask the questions you want answers to.
  4. Don't let other goals complicate your review process.
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Deloitte's Radically Simple Review

Deloitte, an organization with over 263,000 employees, has one of the simplest performance review forms I’ve ever seen.

It is just four questions -

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus. [1-5]
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team. [1-5]
  3. This person is at risk for low performance. [Yes or No]
  4. This person is ready for promotion today. [Yes or No]

Despite it’s simplicity there is tremendous sophistication built into these questions.

Reviewers evaluate what they know

Deloitte asks questions that managers already know the answers to. This is one of those simple changes that seems so obvious in retrospect that you know it is brilliant.

Imagine a scenario, a new pizza place has opened in town and you are trying to determine if you should go. You could ask your friend, who has been, about the cheese stretch (1-5), dough crunch (1-5) and sauce tang (1-5), or you could ask your friend whether they liked the pizza and whether they plan to go back. If you ask about pizza characteristics your friend is annoyed and has to micro-analyze the pizza experience in a way they are not prepared for. If you ask whether they liked the pizza you don’t take up much of their time and they're prepared to give you an answer.

When we ask managers about employee skills and attributes they have to answer questions they don’t already know the answers to. And it is even worse that that, Deloitte found that scores for skills have more to do with the reviewer than they do with the employee. For example a manager's’ feelings about critical reasoning skills greatly impacts the scores they give for critical reasoning. Managers don’t like rating employees on skills, and it turns out they are horrible at it too.

That is why all four of Deloitte's questions are about things the manager should already have an answer for.

Less time more often

Deloitte has team leaders fill out their short review after every project or quarter, whichever is more frequent. These more frequent reviews give the company more data points about their employees' performance over time, and they spread out feedback over the whole year for a more accurate annual score.

The important thing to remember is that doing these frequent reviews is made possible by dramatically simplifying each review cycle. A manager can fill out Deloitte’s four questions in well under 5 minutes, which has made regular employee scoring feasible.

Reviews score, managers manage

The reason Deloitte has team leaders fill out quantitative feedback about their team is because the organization needs a way to score and differentiate employees across the organization. This data can then be used for promotion and compensation decisions.

Deloitte does not use their structured reviews as a way to force team leaders to manage their team. Effectively managing the team is left up to the manager.

More Inspiration

Netflix is not the only organization going its own way. These days most great organizations are thinking critically about performance management and coming up with innovative new solutions. Here are a few more examples to help inspire your own strategy.

How Does Uber Do Performance Management?

How Does Amazon Do Performance Management

How Does GE Do Performance Management Today?

3 Approaches to Performance Management: Google, Betterment and IBM

How Does Facebook Do Performance Management?

Performance Management at Tesla: What We Know

How Regeneron Build their Performance Management System

How Does Asana Do Performance Management?

How Netflix Does Performance Management

And if you're ready to take the next step, check out our guide to creating your own modern performance management process.



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Are 10x Stretch Goals Right For You?

Google is the most audacious company in the world. Their new projects are often so ahead-of-the-times that it can be hard to differentiate a google press release from a blurb for a sci-fi novel. Google is currently

  • Running a study to understand what a healthy person looks like
  • Figuring out how to make cars run on salt water
  • Launching internet balloons that will bring wifi to every last inch of the world
  • Sending out cars that already drive themselves
  • And of course, moving us closer than anyone to the Singularity

Maybe you work for a company with goals as big as Google’s, but you probably don’t, and that’s ok. Most of us are working on goals like “Increase employee retention 12%.” Steady, incremental improvements designed to help us get a little bit better or even just keep the lights on another year.

There is nothing inherently wrong with incremental goals, but maybe we can also learn something from being a little more like Google, being a little more audacious.

Larry Says No Buffering

Hunter Walk use to work at Google, but these days he invests in startups and writes a great business blog. Hunter recently shared a post about a meeting he once had with Larry Page the founder of Google.

“Larry, this quarter we’re going to aim to reduce buffering events from X to 90% of X through…,” our engineering lead started explaining before Larry looked up from the paper we’d given him.
“You should have zero buffering,” the Google cofounder suggested.
As we detailed why of course that would be impossible because of all the things we can’t control for and the desire to manage our own bandwidth costs, I saw a familiar look settle on Larry’s face. Half-impish (as in “oooh, you really want to go down this rabbit hole with me”) and half-incredulous (as in “Each day I awake with my mind wiped of the fact most people aren’t as smart as I am and then progressively discover during the course of my meetings that you’re all idiots”).
“You should come back with a plan for zero buffering.” End of meeting.

Hunter’s team went back to the drawing board, and something amazing happened. Before, the team had been “tracking occurrences of buffering in the player and browser, trying to categorize the causes (insufficient steady state user bandwidth, connectivity interruption, overworked client CPU, etc) and prioritizing which we could intelligently solve for.” Now with this audacious goal in front of them they were forced to think differently about the problem.

They started by just finding solutions, no matter how impractical they were, for example “A totally private, worldwide high-speed internet with locally cached video and free state-of-the-art PCs for every end user.” They also considered approaching the problem from a different angle, “what if it was more of a design challenge? Imagine a quick transition animation which played when you pressed the Play button that seemed to be a UX affordance but actually allowed us to start caching the video locally so we could tolerate connectivity interruptions in the post-play experience.”

Hunter’s team never achieved the zero buffering goal that Larry had set, but they did radically change their approach and achieve much more aggressive targets then they had originally thought possible, “the nature of the discussion was changed by a simple stretch goal exercise.”

10x vs 10%

Larry’s insistence on zero buffering is called “10x Thinking.” It is Google’s first of 8 principles for their innovative culture. “To put the idea simply: true innovation happens when you try to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%.”

It is very easy to try. Take whatever it is you are setting a goal for and instead of multiplying it by 1.10 multiply it by 10. Look at that new audacious, Google-sized goal and ask yourself, “how would we do it?”

The beauty of 10x thinking is that there is no way you will be able to reach your 10x goal by just improving what you’re already doing. The exercise forces you to totally rethink your approach, maybe even rethink the problem.

Hunter Walk says “when I talk with any startup – Google scale or not – my easiest recommendation in brainstorming and goal-setting is to not get caught up in just local optimizations, not to stay exclusively in the land of reasonable, but devote some time to 10x Impact conversations.”

So even if you’re just trying to keep the lights on it might be worth thinking in terms of 10x rather than 10%.

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In Defense of Performance Reviews

Everyone hates the employee review

The non-practical types love to talk about killing performance reviews. Professors and thought-leaders can go on for hours picking apart every last imperfection and preaching about utopian workplaces where they would be unnecessary. The national media picks it up and next thing you know everyone has an opinion. Meanwhile those of us who keep the trains running are left to deal with the backlash.

HR’s special gift

That is a special part of working in HR, our work impacts everyone. If you tell a new dinner party friend that you work in network engineering it might kill the conversation, but tell them you work in HR and there will be questions and opinions for the rest of the night. Just the other day a man named Rob asked what I do. My answer kicked off a five minute diatribe on the pointlessness of performance reviews, that illogically wound itself to a conclusion that reviews are some vestigial corporate BS. BS that survives only because management hasn’t gotten around to excising it yet.

I was left a little speechless, I’d known Rob for 5 minutes and so far our entire relationship had been spent exploring why my work is pointless. If you’ve been in HR long enough you have probably faced a similar situation. So with that in mind I set out to articulate a defense of performance reviews, so the next time I will be ready. Here is what I wish I would have said to Rob.

A Dinner-party defense of performance reviews

Ya, you’re right, performance reviews stink. I find them uncomfortable and it’s my job. Often the person giving the review makes a huge mess of the whole thing and I wish I could review them on their review. In the end no matter how well or poorly reviews are done, they will always require one person to stand in judgement of another person, and that will always stink.

But unfortunately, because I’m an HR professional and not a professor, I have to think about more than what’s wrong with performance reviews, I have to think about the alternative.

The Alternative stinks more

You see the dirty little secret about performance reviews is that they will never stop happening even if you stop calling them that and stop forcing people to do them. The judgement, the ranking, the decisions about pay all still happen, they need to happen, the best you’ll ever do is sweep them under the rug. Your superiors will still be judging you everyday.

Removing the sharp pain of hard conversations about your performance will leave you with the chronic uncertainty about how you’re doing and how you’re being judged. You’ll just sit, wait and wonder until you’re either promoted or fired.

Performance reviews are imperfect, but done well they accomplish two very important things, fairness and transparency.


Fairness is so important, it is deeply ingrained in all of us. Nothing drives us to irrational tantrums like the feeling we aren’t being treated fairly. You should probably watch this video of a monkey throwing a tantrum when it thinks it is being treated unfairly.



We understand fairness, but you might be surprised by the definition.

fair: fer/ adjective 1. in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate.

So creating fairness is about created standards and rules that can be followed. When everyone is treated by the same standards everything feels fair. Jill doesn’t get paid in cucumbers while Jack gets grapes (did you watch the monkey video? Seriously, watch it).

Performance reviews take the judgement and ranking that would be happening anyways and bring them into the light so biases can be removed and emotionless formulas can be applied. We might not like the outcome of being evaluated, but when it is done fairly at least we can accept it.


We are all adults, we all have hopes and dreams, and we all want to know where we stand.

One of the most popular alternatives to performance reviews is the idea of real-time feedback. I think real time feedback is great (well to a certain extent it is just what managers should have been doing all along, but still it is great). The problem is that real time feedback does not create the same transparency as the occasional big picture conversation where both sides share their long term goals.

In the forestry industry a manager could give real time feedback to change how you’re pruning the spruce trees. That same manager in a performance review would talk about how a quarter of the forest was on the verge of bursting into flames.

Maybe the spruce pruning had to do with the fire danger, but we can’t expect ourselves or our reports to bring all those little pieces of feedback together to see the big picture. Everyone knows we can’t see the forest for the trees.

On the other side, real time feedback is always about improvement, but sometimes high performers need to be told that despite all the constructive criticism they have gotten over the last year they are a rising star. When do you talk about goals and promotion paths with your best employees if not in a performance review?

It’s about balance

Performance reviews will always be hard, at a certain point we just need to accept it. Parts of life are a competition and there are winners and losers. As much as some people might like to get rid of that the best they’ll ever do is sweep it under the rug.

Despite the stress of listening to your nervous boss talk about why you are a “3 in proactive,” it is better than being unhappy with your raise and looking over at Jill in the next cubicle chowing down on a bucket full of grapes (seriously watch the monkey video).

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5 Tips For Effective Review Meetings with Employees

You set up meetings with all your direct reports and head to a small conference room for the day. One-by-one they come in, you hand over an official review document, and then deliver feedback sandwiches. This is why you’re good, this is why you're bad, but wait (insert big smile) here is another reason why you’re good. Ok, talk to you later.

You hate it, your employees hate it and the feedback is so jumbled up into sandwich form that the message is often missed.

Performance reviews are a fundamentally difficult task because they require one person to stand in judgement of another. That said if you set yourself up in advance and don’t try to squeeze too much out of this half-an-hour once-a-year they can be a great opportunity to have conversations that set your team up to succeed.

Here are five things you can do to make your performance reviews feel more natural and productive. 

1) Set the expectations in advance

The review process should start at the beginning of the year, not the end. It is important that you earn the right to hold your employees accountable and you do that by letting them know the expectations ahead of time and explaining how the review process will work.

Reviews are not about telling an employee every thing they did wrong this year, they are about discussing progress on the issues that have been previously identified and discussed. These expectations should be updated and expanded on all year. If you see something that needs improvement it is on you to let the employee know about it immediately and throughout the year. Then at the review you can give feedback on their improvement.

It is also important during expectation setting that your employees have a chance to voice their own expectations. What is it they want out of their career. Where do they want to grow. What skills do they want to develop. If you are designing the reviews around advancing the employee’s self-interest they will be far more interested than if you are only talking about things that advance your career or help the company. Remember not everyone is trying to become CEO.

2) Allow Everyone To Come Prepared

When the topic of an upcoming performance review is a big mystery it creates a lot of tension for both sides, and it creates a power dynamic that is unproductive.

About a week before the review ask your employee to jot down some of their biggest accomplishments from the last year. This will include them in the preparation and will ensure that you don’t forget to talk about the things that are most important to your employee. Solicit feedback from several colleagues as well so that your review can be the result of more than just your own opinion.

Finish your final review with enough time to present it to the employee at least one hour before the meeting. This serves two purposes. One it respects the fact that feedback often creates an emotional response. It is important to give people time to express those emotions before having a rational discussion. Two it allows the employee to go into the meeting prepared. It is just like circulating an agenda, good meetings happen when everyone has had time to gather their thoughts and prepare for the discussion.

3) Tell One Story

An end-of-year review is not the time to give lots of tactical feedback, whether it comes in the form of a laundry list or a feedback sandwich. If you are trying to make 20 different points or are sandwiching one important negative point between two unimportant positive points you are just being confusing. Decide on just one story and then stick to it.

This is easier than it sounds. For almost all your employees the story will be some variation on, "you are generally solid and doing good work for us," otherwise they wouldn’t still be working for you. Tell them the story of their successes and encourage them to continue to work hard.

For a few people near the margin the story will be that they are underperforming and at risk. For them it is important that you don’t sugarcoat anything, if they are really at risk you are doing them a disservice. Deliver an uncomplicated story of their situation and a clear explanation of how they need to improve.

4) Don’t Judge, Coach

Do not stand in judgement of your employee as a person. You can’t know enough about them, you haven’t earned the right, and it is guaranteed to generate conflict. What you do understand and have a right to judge are their actions at work. So rather than saying “You aren’t proactive enough,” you could say “I’m impressed that you’ve starting to reach out to sales leads without being prompted, I know that wasn’t easy at first.”

It is also important to give your report a chance to share their own opinions of their strengths and weaknesses. If you haven’t made them feel like they are under attack you might be surprised how candid two mature adults can be with each other. Listen carefully and focus in and expand on their ideas that fit into your plan. Let them own their growth as much as possible.

Finally if there are other areas you would like to see your employee improve going forward frame them as the new goals/expectations for the coming year. You are not judging them for being lacking in the year before, you are presenting the most valuable areas to grow in the coming year.

5) Keep Money Separate

If possible, separate the discussion of money from the discussion of performance. The amount of money an employee will be bringing home over the next year has a very big impact on their life. They have probably already started thinking about how they will spend it and what that might mean for their happiness or for their kids happiness. There is so much tied up in the discussion of salary that trying to have a productive discussion of anything else while that hangs in the air is impossible.

If you can, separate money into a different meeting, or if you must include it with your performance discussion lead the meeting with the talk about money, give your employee a chance to digest what the news means for them, then move on to a discussion of their performance.

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Shortest Performance Review Form (Just 4 Questions)

There is an endless cycle of debate over how to do employee performance reviews. Should you set cascading goals; perform reviews yearly, quarterly or on a project basis; assign scores; collect feedback from managers, colleagues or direct-reports?

There is no shortage of opinions out there and they all have ideas for adding complexity to your review process. So when the largest professional services company in the world decides they are going to simplify their reviews, it qualifies as radical.

Today Deloitte has no cascading goals, no 360 reviews, and no scores. Instead their team leaders answer 4 questions after each project (and two are yes/no!).

Deloitte does not make decisions that impact their 200k plus employees lightly. They generate much of the leading research on HR best practices and have an enormous internal team working in performance management, so what led them to pursue a strategy of less rather than more?

Simple Questions Lead to Simple Solutions

Deloitte’s simple performance reviews came from asking two of the simplest questions in business.

  • How much does this cost us?
  • What do we get in return?

It all started when they decided to count how many hours they spent on their existing review process. The final tally came to almost 2 million hours a year. That is about 8 hours per employee, which is in line with estimates for companies of all sizes.

Then they studied the scores their reviews were generating and realized they told them almost nothing about the quality of theirs employees.

In summary they were running an enormous internal initiative that generated almost nothing useful.

4 Simple Questions

Deloitte focused on solving both the cost and the return side of their performance management problem.

On the return side they reframed the questions team leaders were answering about their direct reports. Their research showed that managers do not evaluate the skills of others very accurately, but they can evaluate their own feelings. So rather than ask a manager whether an employee solves spatial problems at a 3 level or a 4 level, they ask the manager if the they would select the employee for their team again, or if they would do anything in their power to keep the employee at the company.

On the cost side they reduced the number of questions down to just the ones they wanted to answer. Think about it this way, if you want to know whether to try to a new pizza place you could ask 100 questions about the various qualities of the pizza (crust crunch 1-5, sauce tang 1-5, cheese stretch 1-5 etc) or you could just ask people if they plan to go back. In the end you just want to know if you should go, so ask enough people if they plan to go and you’ve got a pretty good answer. Chances are you won’t even be able to get people to fill out your 100 question pizza performance review anyway.

For Deloitte the result was 4 questions they ask team leaders at the end of each project:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus. [5 point scale between strongly agree and strongly disagree]
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team. [5 point scale between strongly agree and strongly disagree]
  3. This person is at risk for low performance. [Yes or No]
  4. This person is ready for promotion today. [Yes or No]

Ask the questions you want answers to, and nothing else. Radical.

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First, Take Back Your Company's Time

At PerformYard we serve mid-size organizations (50-500) that are tired of their homegrown performance review system. Their old process is often a combination of paper forms, clunky excel docs and maybe an under-supported feature from their payroll provider.

Before our customers come onboard their performance reviews are-

Costly: with weeks of HR’s time and many hours of managers’ time spent facilitating the movement of forms and tracking down the right information.

Hated: with outdated ideas and cumbersome busy work that makes managers and employees frustrated and uncomfortable.

Unhelpful: with no system for efficiently collecting and managing the data, performance reviews are a huge initiative every year that has little to show for itself.

The question of what to do about this problem is often complicated by discussions of recent HR research and ideas from TED Talks, but the answer is actually very simple.

The first step to fixing performance reviews? Stop spending so much time on them.

Even if your ultimate goal is to create a world class and innovative performance management strategy you have to start by being more efficient with your existing review process. That is why so many mid-size companies love PerformYard. There are two things that break a review process, more employees and more complexity. When your review process is already breaking and your company keeps growing the answer is definitely not to implement a bigger and more complex review strategy from the latest issue of Harvard Business Review.

PerformYard first and foremost streamlines any review process you want to run. By design we do not force anything on our customers. If you want to do annual manager reviews or are going to try weekly 360 reviews it can all be very simply managed in PerformYard. Give our customer success team your forms, timelines, employee hierarchy and in a few days your manual and time consuming review process will be digital and running on its own.

An efficient review process unlocks a tremendous amount of time for our customers and gives them the flexibility to improve their performance management strategy however they see fit in the future. To see PerformYard in action and get an estimate of just how much you should be saving let’s have a five minute conversation right now - (888) 745-0761.

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Deliver Criticism Employees Appreciate

Criticism is a fundamental and necessary part of growth. If we want to grow as an individual or as an organization we can not do that without feedback, particularly feedback on what isn’t working.

We all understand this and want to grow, and managers understand it and 98% want employees to be open and receptive to criticism. And yet it remains very difficult to both give and receive criticism.

Coach or Critic?

The criticism we need can come from anywhere, including from ourselves if we have a strong sense of self-awareness, but often the most effective criticism comes from someone close to us who we trust to help us grow. We might call this person a coach, but in many ways they are just someone we let criticize us without all the uncomfortableness we feel when others do it.

Managers are in a good position to have this relationship with employees and get them the criticism they need, yet managers don’t always deliver criticism well. When it is done well criticism can strengthen relationships and drive the achievement of mutual goals, but it can also be toxic to a relationship if done poorly.

According to Deborah Bright, author of The Truth Doesn’t Have To Hurt: How To Use Criticism To Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance and Promote Change, there are ways managers can position criticism so that their employees are more likely to perceive it as well intentioned and helpful and therefore be more willing to act on it. Positioning it so that the manager is more a coach and less a critic.

Here are four tips from Deborah that you can take into your next performance review-

Engage around specific solutions-

Good criticism should be valuable for the person receiving it. If you are simply volunteering that you don’t like how the other person does something you have simply voiced your disapproval without giving them anything to work with. They are left with the stress of being wrong and abandoned in the moment when they need to find the answer for how to improve. Try focusing on specific solutions to the issue you identified and engage your employees around finding a solution as well.

Connect criticism to what the employee cares about-

It is important to not assume everyone is driven by the same things that motivate you. Some people might be receptive to criticism framed in terms of the impact on the organization, “when you use that language with customers it drives them away.” While others might be more driven by how they are perceived by colleagues, “Some of your colleagues feel like your language with customers is driving them away.” Understand what angle will resonate most and employees will be more receptive.

Do not get emotional-

Keep your tone matter-of-fact, your face relaxed, and your body language neutral. Criticism should be a part of doing business, not a reminder of childhood reprimands. Trust that your employees want to be better and either don’t know how or are trying and failing to improve. If your conversation is about why a change is important and how they can get there, there won’t be anything to even get emotional about.

Respect individual preferences-

Even the best delivered criticism is not easy to receive. Respect that employees have to put effort into taking criticism well and that different employees will have different preferences for where, when and how they receive criticism. Even your most open employees will probably not take criticism well on “bring your daughter to work day,” some employees might prefer feedback on a moment to moment basis, like right after a weekly presentation while others will prefer a summarized version of the feedback less often.

Remember that the goal of giving criticism is not to simply make your disapproval known, but to help drive change in the right direction. We want to drive learning cycles with feedback, change and more feedback. Remember some of these guidelines and employees will be much more likely to receive and act on your feedback well.

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Accountability vs Growth: Choose a side (or don't)

There is a revolution happening in Performance Management. It is easy to see at corporate leaders like Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Deloitte, Accenture, GAP, and General Electric, but the revolution is happening everywhere.

The revolution is being driven by employees. The traditional end-of-year performance review has not fit with modern company and employee goals for many years now and employees are demanding a change. This has forced many HR departments to design new modern performance management strategies.

For more read:

Modern Performance Management Strategies: A guide to getting started

A Deloitte manager described their old review process as “an investment of 1.8 million hours across the firm that didn’t fit our business needs anymore.”

Accountability vs Growth

Performance management can go one of two ways. You are either putting structure in place to force accountability (Jack Welch asking the bottom 10% to leave) or you are creating an environment that helps employees grow. If you have a once-a-year process that emphasizes financial rewards and punishments, whether you want to or not you are focusing on holding people accountable for past behavior rather than improving current and future performance.

Accountability and growth are both important, but as the labor market heats up the need to go beyond just accountability is more important than ever.

An employee has little to no motivation to participate in a system that is just about accountability, and managers don't like it either. Beyond that, it is an impossible task. How is anyone supposed to summarize a years worth of work into a single conversation.

Employees want a focus on growth. This often takes the form of regular checkins where the conversations can be about fixing issues going forward rather than revisiting issues from the past. Managers also prefer a growth focus, research has shown that managers are far more likely to give regular feedback than year-end feedback because it feels more natural and can be framed as a growth opportunity rather than a reckoning.

However, despite overwhelming support for moving away from traditional accountability focused performance appraisals, there are many issues that remain. In fact many of the industry leaders we mentioned in the first paragraph have returned to numerical ratings and some sort of year end review, but more on that in a moment.

The four biggest challenges of moving away from a structured system are...

  • Aligning individual and company goals
  • Rewarding performance
  • Identifying poor performers
  • Avoiding legal trouble

The Third Way

The most progressive companies which all started removing qualitative year-end performance reviews a few years ago have begun to bring them back for the reasons stated above, but that doesn't mean they've returned to their old ways.

Companies have adopted a third way. Now companies like General Electric are having their managers meet regularly with employees as part of the natural flow of the business. This means at the end of projects, when roles change, or when issues arise. These natural checkins are recorded in simple technology solutions like GE's PD@GE which allows managers to quickly jot down notes after meetings without all the traditional paperwork overhead associated with HR meetings.

Then at the end of the year the manager can compile a years worth of real-time feedback with the press of a button, add a quick summary and give the employee a more accurate rating of their performance. This end of year meeting also become less of a reckoning and more of a simple qualitative summary of past discussions.

While accountability and development are the most common goals of performance management systems, there are more. Read: The Purpose of Performance Management (5 Options)

How Are We Supposed To Manage This?

Interestingly, one of the challengers to this new way in performance management has been HR departments. Despite understanding the benefits the process has not been achievable with their outdated systems for managing reviews.

The answer is technology. The industry leaders we've been discussing have all turned to software to manage the continuous feedback and end-of-year feedback processes. This has left HR to spend less time cajoling managers and forcing through review sign-offs on time and more time on creating a review process that is effective at driving growth and accountability in the company's employees. Companies like GAP have seen an increase in the coaching they can provide to managers on the best way to mentor and lead their teams to improvement since implementing their performance management software.

PerformYard is Performance Management Software

PerformYard was designed for whichever review process your prefer, whether it focuses on accountability or growth, or whether it is year-end, continuous, or both. PerformYard removes the time-consuming paper logistics work that bogs down so many HR departments, so that if it is time to reform your review process you will finally have the time and technology to make it happen.

If you are interested in scheduling a demo with one of our team members to discuss your performance management process and how PerformYard can help, just click the button below.


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Traditional vs Strategic HR

Google has a famous HR department, they call themselves People Operations or Pops for short. The reason so much is written about Pops is they are driving meaningful change in the way Google manages their most important resource, people.

One well known example was when the company increased maternity leave to five paid months. The shift in policy had no net impact on the bottom line because it dramatically reduced the recruitment costs of replacing the mothers who were leaving Google. Even more importantly it allowed Google to retain the top talent the company had worked so hard to attract in the first place.

This is an example of "Strategic HR." It's when HR takes a more active role in driving business results rather than managing paperwork and people processes given to them by leadership.

Overburdened with Paperwork

Unfortunately most HR teams are faced with so much paperwork and record keeping that they do not have time to do as much of the impactful work we see at companies like Google. The Harvard Business Review recently released a paper on the future of work that frames this problem very well. They divide work into two types, “proficiency work” and “pivotal work.” Both types of work are important, but the impact of the work is different. Proficiency work must be accomplished to a certain standard, but anything beyond that standard doesn’t contribute much to the company. Pivotal work has a big impact on the company, and extra effort and creative insights in this type of work can bring meaningful change or growth. Getting documents signed is proficiency work, finding a way to retain talented female engineers at Google is pivotal work.

HR is Pivotal Work

HR is full of pivotal work. “People are our most important resource” has become a cliche, but it is an honestly held belief among most executives. Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer has said that she reviews every hire her company makes, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg still spends 50% of his time finding and attracting great people. So if finding, attracting, retaining and growing great employees is the most important things a company can do, that makes HR one of the most pivotal departments.

Make Time to Have an Impact

To fully embrace its pivotal role HR must first invest in clearing out all the proficiency work, and this is where technology is so important. The right system can dramatically reduce the time it takes to finish all the things that just need to get done. Which means that teams can refocus time and energy on the projects and ideas that have a transformative impact on the organization.

Proficiency work doesn’t go away, but the best teams will prioritize getting it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Think through your day, are you spending enough of it on the transformative work you are best equipped to do? You can not make that difference until you invest in taking back your own time. HR needs to lay full claim to its pivotal role.

To learn more about how we at PerformYard envision the future of work and the future of HR, schedule a demo by clicking the button below.

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Why You Should Avoid Anonymous Performance Feedback

Anonymous performance feedback is a popular component of many an organization's performance review process. However, while it is widely used, it can also be problematic for your review process.

The primary reason anonymous feedback is included in a review process is because of a worry that peers and even managers won't provide fully honest or critical comments about a coworker if they know their name will be tied to the criticism.

While that is one way to ensure that feedback isn't excessively rosy, it may lead to less than useful feedback by omitting specific details related to a project or account. Even though these details help mask the reviewer, they are valuable to the employee being reviewed because they help trigger specific memories needed for reflection.

Anonymous, but Ambiguous

Without being able to really talk through the narrative behind the a negative assessment, you may end up with review conversations that sound a little like this:

Reviewer: In general, your peers felt that there were times when you could have performed at a higher level over the past year.

You: That's weird. I don't really remember coming up short. Do you have any specific examples?

Reviewer: Well, I can't really do that because the feedback is anonymous, and those details might make it clear who gave you that negative feedback.

As a result, employees can have difficulty fully digesting the criticism and working on improving. In the worst cases, comments without those specific details can result in a performance review that negatively focuses on "why you didn't get promoted" as opposed to a positive conversation centering on "how you can improve." Effective feedback always looks forward, not backward.

While it's understandable that given a choice between overly positive feedback and imperfect balanced feedback, you might opt for cultivating the quality feedback and looking for other ways to synthesize that information into useful direction for your employees. Fortunately, the two options aren't mutually exclusive.

The Root of the Problem

The main issue lies in how comfortable your employees are with giving and receiving negative performance feedback, which admittedly is something that takes getting used to. By settling on anonymous feedback, you avoid the issue entirely and end up with subpar reviews and employees unwilling to publicly own their comments. On the other hand, with some training and encouragement you can face the issue head on.

Often, employees avoid providing constructive criticism because they aren't used to doing so. It can be an awkward situation where the other person's reaction is unpredictable and potentially emotional. This can be made worse with an annual review process where feedback is only collected and provided once a year, a situation where it can be challenging to remember everything that happened over the previous year.

Solved Through Training and Practice

The solution should be fairly evident - more frequent performance conversations. Even if formal reviews still happen on an annual cycle, encouraging managers and project leaders to discuss performance - both good and bad - with their direct reports on at least a monthly basis will go a long way towards evolving into a culture with open feedback. Not only will it increase the comfort level with giving and receiving criticism, but it will also ensure that it is timely and therefore more meaningful.

Additionally, it pays to provide your employees with review training. Bringing everyone together to discuss expectations and outline how to best provide criticism will help acclimate your organization towards this change in process and limit any surprises. Some key messages to convey:

  • Give feedback in a timely manner to allow for details to be fresh in everyone's memory.
  • Avoid embarrassment by keeping negative comments to private one-on-one conversations.
  • Conduct reviews in an unemotional manner to avoid argument and maintain professional discussion.
  • Giving credit where it is due is just as important as addressing poor performance.
  • Prioritize these discussions to ensure they occur on a regular basis.
  • Emphasize that feedback from managers, peers and direct reports are all crucial for improvement and seeking retribution for negative reviews will not be tolerated.

With the help of training and practice, feedback quality should increase beyond what you could expect from anonymous reviews.

Do you use anonymous feedback? What holds you back from keeping your your process transparent?



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Resources to Get Your Performance Reviews Back on Track

Performance reviews can be a source of frustration for many in the business world. If you're a part of the group of people bogged down by a dysfunctional review process, take comfort. This is a great time for a fresh start.

Unfortunately, if you are looking for advice, you may be in for a shock. Every day on the Internet, for each article written with ideas for solutions, there are another five dedicated to the problem itself. You may have seen some version of the standards such as "Why Your Employees Hate Performance Evaluations," "6 Reasons to Stop Your Employee Reviews," "This Is Why Your Employee Appraisals Are Broken," and on and on.

Unless you're one of the few trailblazing companies trying to live without reviews, these articles can be a drag. By mostly focusing on the problem, they don't help you much with plotting out potential solutions.

Let's change that. To help make 2015 your year to get your review process back on track, we scoured the Internet for everything you need to run a productive, insightful review cycle. If you have any additional articles or resources that have been helpful for you when revamping your process, share them in the comments. 

Smart Performance Review Processes

Performance Evaluation Tips (Drexel University): A useful foundation for creating any performance review process from soup to nuts.

The Big Benefits of Remaking Performance Reviews (Derek Irvine, TLNT): Irvine offers a case study on the successful performance review overhaul at Adobe.

Applying Psychology 101 to Performance Reviews (Jon Malpass, PerformYard): Performance reviews work best when they are tailored to how we best learn desired behaviors, and receive feedback.

A Better Approach to Performance Reviews (Souvik Choudhury, Forbes): A somewhat contrarian approach to performance reviews that focuses on building up employee's strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.

The Top 5 Pain Points in Performance Reviews and Their Solutions (Morgan Norman, TLNT): Solutions to common performance review problems that can help you avoid some major snags.

Fixing the Annual Performance Review (Paul Hebert, fistful of talent): A strong argument for combining regular, brief performance check-ins along with your longer term review cycle.

Delivering Feedback

Delivering an Effective Performance Review (Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review): Detailed guidance for managers preparing to deliver performance feedback.

6 Tricks for Better Performance Reviews (Kathryn Minshew, Inc): Six strategies to add value to your regular performance review meetings told through the perspective of a new hire's first review.

Ditch Performance Reviews? How About Learn to Do Them Well? (Sytch & DeRue, HBR): These two authors suggest a number of tips for delivering feedback supported by scientific research and their own field research.

"Everyone is Above Average!" or Why Your Performance Ratings Need Work (Ben Hastings, PerformYard): Avoid the trap of rating too many of your employees as above average by calibrating your performance ratings to accurately reflect exceptional performers.

Better Performance Reviews in 140 Characters (Tim Sackett, fistful of talent): Examples of concise performance feedback for several categories of employees.

Get Comfortable With Giving Negative Feedback (John Scott, PerformYard): Performance reviews lose value when managers sugarcoat or avoid giving negative feedback. Use these tips to deliver effective constructive criticism.

5 Ways to Make Employee Recognition Mean Something (Kevin Daum, Inc): Reward your most accomplished employees, and drive others to high performance with these strategies.

Other Resources

Performance Review Form Template (Entrepreneur)

Writing Self Assessments (Chad Brooks, Business News Daily): This article includes great tips on writing an effective self assessment, and includes a number of templates for self assessment forms.

Job Descriptions (BLR.Com): Examples of several different job descriptions.


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3 Tips for Delivering Negative Feedback

Long ago, I received an especially confusing piece of negative feedback:

“Remember three or four months ago at that event? You did something wrong. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I remember that it wasn’t good.”

I was baffled and didn’t gain much from the conversation.

What I did learn was that getting comfortable with giving effective negative feedback can be a challenge for managers, new and old alike.


Often, the main hurdle is a concern about discouraging or demotivating your employee. To combat this initial concern, put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to be told you were doing something wrong, or would you rather keep doing it?

Still, constructive criticism needs to be thoughtful to avoid negative consequences, but it’s important to remember that you work with adults that can take constructive criticism and use it to grow. As long as you trust that you are hiring mature professionals, you can safely brush this concern aside.

Beyond the fear of derailing an employee's progress, delivering negative feedback is much like delivering any other message. Ideally, it should be a part of a calm conversation. Your message should be timely, specific and direct. Finally, you should follow up to confirm the message was received.

Stay Calm & Don’t Speculate

The quickest way to lose credibility with criticism is to deliver it in a loud and angry way. If you’re yelling, the person getting yelling at is likely to lose the message and tune you out. On the other hand, talking with calm confidence projects that you’re being thoughtful, which is much easier to receive and understand. Practicing what you are going to say in advance can also help you deliver the message confidently.

Further, you might find that an angry reaction to a behavior is driven by speculation about what might have caused your employee to act a certain way. Did they come to a meeting unprepared because they don’t respect you? Did they miss a deadline because they don’t care about their work?

Ultimately, it’s hard to predict the causes behind a poor performance, and typically the real reason is never as bad what you imagined it to be. Unless you’ve been burned by the employee before, it’s often more beneficial to start a conversation with your employee about what went wrong, and offer advice on how to overcome the problems in the future.

Be Timely, Direct & Specific

First and foremost, the feedback needs to be timed as closely to the behavior as possible while the event is fresh in everyone’s mind. This ensures that your employee best understands what they did wrong.

Next, get to the point. A good rule of thumb is to get right into the issue in the first sentence of your conversation, “I want to talk to you about…” Don’t confuse your message by mixing it with initial words of encouragement. Focus on the behavior and try to get to the root of the problem.

For example, “I want to talk to you about being prepared for a client meeting. At this morning’s meeting, you didn’t come prepared and had trouble fielding questions and sorting through your notes. What do you think held you back from putting your best foot forward this time?”

This highlights the issue, adds detail with specific behaviors, and opens up the discussion with a question to gets them involved in working on a solution. Once the conversation has started, focus on providing actionable advice – what can they do differently in the future to get better?

Confirm Receipt

The most important result of your conversation is to ensure that your employee understood your criticism and the next steps. To this end, you might ask them to restate the next steps at the conclusion of the meeting. You might also want to send a follow up email outlining the discussion.

Afterwards, make a note to check in a couple weeks down the road to see how things are going. Since professional growth is an ongoing process, additional guidance or kudos may be useful to further drive home the point.

With some practice, giving constructive criticism doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. In fact, it’s a vital part of being a manager of a high performing team. What are your tips for delivering effective negative feedback?



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3 Keys to Productive Performance Check-ins

Meetings get a bad rap, and the arguments against them are well known:

  •      They get in the way of productive work
  •      Too much of meetings are spent recapping previous meetings
  •      They often don’t produce a decisive way forward

For these reasons and many more, people avoid setting meetings like the plague, and regularly scheduled meetings can fall by the wayside.


One casualty of the drive against meetings is the regular performance check-in. As a result, annual reviews can be poorly informed, employees can feel distant and not cared for by their managers and overall performance can lag.

However, I say that it isn’t meetings that are the problem. It’s the execution. In the case of a regular performance discussion, a good mix of structure and focus on the right details can yield positive results. 

Focus on Listening 

An employee check-in is only useful if everyone involved is getting something out of it. Since, in general, you gain more from getting someone else’s input than by hearing yourself talk, the most productive check-in should feel like a conversation.

The key to generating a conversation is to ask questions that require detailed answers, such as “What was your reasoning behind…” or “Tell me what interested you the most about…” Most importantly, always try to have a follow up question ready. Going a level deeper will help you gain the less obvious insights from how your direct report is performing. Ultimately, when useful, accurate information is shared in both directions, good things happen.

Limit The Agenda

A common reason meetings can be frustrating is when you leave not feeling like you’ve accomplished anything, which can lead to trying to make a standing meeting longer or bringing in more people. While these quick fixes might seem logical, they often exacerbate the problem.

Instead of trying to achieve everything you can out of a weekly check-in, focus on discussing one or two things from the previous week. If you have a weekly status report, spend time discussing that. By increasing the probability that you complete what you hope to achieve, you’re more likely to leave a meeting feeling fulfilled, and those are the kinds of meetings that stay on a weekly schedule.

Share Something Positive

Often the focus of a check-in meeting is to create at least one action item that your direct report can work on over the next week. However, knowing that the primary purpose of a meeting is to give you something to work on can be terribly discouraging, especially when your plate is already full.

When you’re working hard, one of the most encouraging things can be just one tidbit of validation that your work is helping your company. By rewarding your direct report with positive feedback in each meeting, you’re giving them a reason to look forward to and participate in your weekly status meeting. When done right, this sincere reinforcement is an important part of a high performance culture, and can even help with employee retention.

By including these elements, regular performance check-ins can be productive both for you and your direct reports. What changes have you made to your regular check-ins to make them more effective?



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“Everyone is above average!” or Why Your Performance Ratings Need Work

You may have noticed a trend in companies where, because of skews in performance ratings, most employees are labeled as above average. You may have even heard a quote like this: 

“I’m happy to report that almost everyone at our company is above average. They’re mostly high-fliers and we’re lucky to have them.”

In this case, who’s average, you ask? That’s simple: 

“Some other company must have them because nearly everyone we have is top notch. We don’t hire mediocrity here.”

You don’t need to do much number crunching to understand why this is a problem. By thinking so highly of your employees (and therefore, of yourself as the hiring manager), you might actually be doing them a disservice.

Telling truly average performers that they are doing above average work signals that on average you actually expect below average work. Needless to say, this practice is not a part of building a high performance culture

By the same token, mischaracterizing employee performance like this may also stifle professional growth. In this environment, truly average workers don't get feedback telling them that need to improve and develop their skills, likely despite signs to the contrary. Research has shown employees want that critical feedback.

Fortunately, you can get your performance ratings back on track with these three tips:

Create a Well-Defined Ratings System: Having a system in place that clearly defines what separates exceptional from above average and average from below average sets the stage for accurately measuring performance. The ratings do not need to be tied to the concept of average performance, though. Others use easier to define terms such as “meeting” or “exceeding expectations.”

Regardless of the terms you use, make sure that they are defined in a way that is easy to understand and are clearly tied to each employee’s goals. Finally, once the system and definitions are set, be sure to communicate them to your employees at all levels.

Also consider the Deloitte technique of asking managers to rate their own feelings rather than employees skills.

Stick to It: Sticking to your system can be the trickiest part. Line managers that only oversee a few employees may find it difficult at first to determine how their team members are performing relative to the rest of the company. At this stage, HR or more senior managers can help make necessary adjustments during performance reviews.

Additionally, as you near the end of your review cycle, assess the distribution of the performance ratings. While we don’t advocate for a stack rankings system, the performance ratings in your company should still naturally follow somewhat closely to a normal bell-curve distribution with the majority of your employees falling in and around average.

Recalibrate As Needed: If you are actually finding that most of your employees are in the above average range based on your system, part of the problem may also be that you need to bump up your definition of average. Since one of the goals of a talent management process is to steadily improve the quality of your workforce, adjusting your definition of “average work” in the positive direction is a great thing.

Of course, the opposite may be true, and your expectations may be too high. In either case, recalibrating your ratings system is an important part of making sure that it is accurate. When you do recalibrate, make sure that you adjust your thresholds for each performance level based on data that you receive from your review process.

Have you seen this issue in your own company? What were some adjustments that you made to your performance ratings? 


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How to Give Positive Feedback - 5 Tips

The carrot or the stick. Teaching a behavior is often a combination of feedback that rewards desired actions and punishes undesired outcomes. While this is an easy concept to understand, not all reinforcement is effectively delivered.

This is especially true in the workplace where recognizing a job well done is an important part of a high performance culture. Not only does it boost morale, it also helps define the behaviors and outcomes that your company values. However, if it isn’t done right or with the right frequency, your positive feedback might not be making an impact.

Next time you get the opportunity to reward a high-flying employee, remember these five characteristics of good positive feedback:

Be Timely: The most important aspect of giving positive reinforcement is that is it is delivered shortly after the action. As time passes, not only will it be harder to recall the details of the success, you will have missed the opportunity to allow your employee to reflect on their hard work.

Even if you are planning a more formal recognition, it is still important to follow up within at least a day or two with an appreciative note.

Be Honest: Rewarding the right employees for work that they actually did is important for your credibility and also for team morale. Giving too much credit to an employee on false grounds can lead to unintended consequences by showing that you value dishonesty over teamwork.

This may take some investigating, so be sure that your mid-level managers are on board and understand the importance of giving honest feedback.

Be Meaningful: Make sure to set a high enough threshold that employees and teams have to stretch to earn recognition. Rewarding a mediocre employee performance devalues the high performers on your team.

Additionally, sincere delivery of a reward for great work shows how much you appreciate exceptional effort. In some cases, a thoughtful, appreciative note can be just as effective and appreciated as a small gift.

Be Detailed: Make sure that your hard worker doesn’t lose the lesson when you feed them praise. Adding in specific details on the work they did and why their behavior was outstanding will help them repeat their performance in the future.

Be Attentive: It can be easy to overlook the quiet performers on your team. However, finding the diamond performances in the rough shows that you have a finger on the pulse of your company. Additionally, demonstrating that popularity isn’t a factor in rewarding a job well done will help better convey how you define exceptional performance.

Developing a talent for providing good positive feedback is an important part of growing a high performance culture at any organization. How do you handle recognizing your top performers?

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4 Prerequisites To Modern Performance Management

Even the best companies have problems with their processes. Unfortunately, identifying the problems is often a very small part of actually solving them.

In many companies, the performance management process is a great example of this reality. You might know that the way you manage your talent needs work, but for a number of reasons, it is not always easy to find the best way to fix it.

Of course, successful change happens at companies every day. When it comes to performance management, many companies have found a way to commit the time to move from an annual review process to an ongoing performance conversation. The key to their success has been identifying the roadblocks in their way, and sticking to a successful model for developing a tailored solution.

We’ll get to the successful model at the end of the post, but first, think about these potential stumbling blocks before you start to build your own performance management process.

  • Lack of Executive Support: No matter how broken your process is, it may not be at all evident to those at the very top. What’s more, it’s possible that the existing system was created by one of them. Regardless, securing their buy-in and forming the consensus for the end goals of revamping how you manage your talent is vital.
  • Widespread Ambivalence: A 2012 Achievers poll found that 98% of staff find performance reviews to be unnecessary. With this kind of near-universal opposition, convincing your managers and employees that they can benefit from an enhanced performance management process will not be easy. Fortunately, there are case studies that show the benefits of fostering a performance dialogue. It may be useful to implement a new process on a small scale to create your own case study to help make your case throughout your company.
  • Poorly Defined Ratings: Employees that are disenchanted by performance reviews may be confused about the specific behaviors and expectations. Further, if your ratings system is not well defined, managers will have difficulty accurately assessing their employees.
  • Infrequent Reviews: Giving employees and update on their performance on an annual basis can stifle their growth and be a drag on morale. However, moving to a system with more frequent check-ins will add meetings and take more time for all employees, especially managers. This additional commitment will be an added challenge to securing their buy-in.

Navigating these and other bumps in the road will be vital for establishing a new performance process. If you need a helping hand to guide you on your way, download our free guide – 10 Steps to Building a Performance Management Process.

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Yahoo, Microsoft and the Stack Rank Performance Review

Lots of ink was (figuratively) spilled in the digital media world a few weeks back talking about the implementation of stack rankings at Yahoo. Was this Marissa Mayer’s second fumble when it comes to employee management? You remember the first (well debated) fumble being the work-from-home kerfuffle earlier this year. While the true impact on their workforce and, ultimately, corporate performance certainly cannot be seen immediately, that hasn’t stopped people from discussing it and, generally, panning their decision to implement stack rankings.

And in an interesting twist... the news came the same week it was revealed that Microsoft stopped that same practice. So what's this all about?

What is stack ranking?

So let’s talk about what stack ranking is… at its simplest, it’s what the name implies. You stack every one of your employees.

Under these, like most performance systems, those at the top get the accolades, bonuses, promotions; those at the bottom, well, they see the opposite. This certainly seems reasonable. Determine your top performers and reward them. Perhaps part ways with your poorest performers. Simple, right? 

But it’s not just ranking them first to last that makes the Yahoo and Microsoft cases newsworthy, but rather distributing them into groups based on some sort of bell curve (or other pre-set distribution) where a certain percentage must fall into categories from best performers to worst performers. This is the distinguishing factor in this debate - not just rating or ranking performers to create your list, but forcing a distribution.

The result of using a curve is that, regardless of performance, some percentage of employees are always ranked in the lowest tier (and the highest tier, but that's not discussed much). No matter what. Is that the right thing to do? In my mind, it begs questions like:

  • Are you incentivizing the right behaviors?
  • Are you rewarding the right people?
  • Is it possible that by requiring some portion at the bottom that you’re not discouraging or forcing out people that are actually adding value?
  • Isn’t there an opportunity to develop or re-focus someone who might be at the bottom into some place where they would perform better?

The most important question, however, is whether or not this type of stack ranking method achieves the purpose for implementing it. 

The Microsoft Experience

Microsoft implemented a stack ranking practice, but abolished it after it didn’t work well for them. Pure coincidence that it was the same week as Yahoo's announcement. Anecdotal evidence for Microsoft suggested that top performers would avoid working together lest face the possibility that they could be stack ranked into the bottom tier based on having competed against only other high-caliber performers.

Wisdom there says you’d be better off competing with people against whom you believe you can rank higher. 

The practice was also forcing people to look at short term gains at the expense of long term goals. As well, it created a more politically-charged environment that was less about doing and more about building relationships to ensure a better ranking irrespective of actual results.

What’s Microsoft doing now? Focusing on teamwork, collaboration, growth and development. And now, it comes without ratings or rankings.

I’m picturing them all holding hands and singing Kumbaya.

Now let’s wait and see the results come in.

Will it work for Yahoo?

Back at Yahoo, employees have already lamented being forced to rank some employees in lower tiers on the scale, even if the person really didn’t perform to what that level describes. They just performed at a level below their peers and were forced downward to fit the curve. 

But isn’t that a good distinction to make? Not everyone performs equally, so why shouldn’t we express those differences in some meaningful way and allow a ranking to dictate. Apparently some at Yahoo felt they were forcing acceptable performance into what seem like unacceptable categories based on the distribution.

It seems like part of the logic at Yahoo fits with what also helped drive the change in the work-from-home policy – that there were laggards that needed to be weeded out.

These might have been people that weren’t producing results, were taking advantage of the system, coasting, working on side projects, etc. The stack rank in this case might be appropriate if the objective is to weed these folks out. And maybe with a company of that size and those perceived issues, perhaps that’s the way to go.

I wonder too if another part of the logic provides commentary on Yahoo's managers. Could their managers, all the way down the line, have been doing a better job over time to make sure that forced stack rank was unnecessary? Is that what this is all about?

If managers are not capable or not willing to manage performance, distinguish high performance from poor performance or deal with performance issues, forcing them to use a methodology like the stack rank might be the way to go. With stack ranking, managers are forced to think about and differentiate between employee performances – an admirable goal even if you dislike the implementation.

I certainly don’t have an answer here as to whether or not it’ll work for Yahoo… it might meet some of their objectives, even if it ruffles a few feathers.

What's the ideal world?

Certainly the quantitative part of me likes the idea of rankings, but I can see the clear issues with the forced distribution. Most management systems I’ve seen work toward some common rating scale to evaluate people. And when there’s only so much to go around for bonuses and promotions, you do want to separate, and reward, your best. You also need to document performance issues that might surround your worst in the event you move toward termination.

But can be these done in a better way.

Ultimately, this is where a good performance review process comes in… you know, the one that’s interactive and on-going. The one where managers are giving both positive and critical feedback, and employees are open to receiving it. The one where managers are engaged enough to know (and easily document) what's going on. The one where they’re not just celebrating the high achievers, but also working to improve everyone’s performance for the better.

Is that world out there?

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Employee Review Timing - Should they be annual or anniversary based?

I was reading an interesting debate in a LinkedIn group about when to do employee reviews – on the employee’s anniversary of employment or annually.  OK, if you’re like me, you first realize that technically the anniversary is annually, but the original questioner was actually suggesting that annual meant at the same time every year for every employee.  I’ve been at companies where both have been done, and even one that did a combo process that had an anniversary component and annual component.

PerformYard Employee Review Format

The answers were pretty interesting for managing performance, especially since it wasn’t a poll, per se, where people would pick one or the other, but an open ended question.  So you ended up with lots of opinions that didn’t directly answer the question.  But overall the stream of comments was insightful for anyone managing employees and determining corporate review policies.

Are "Annual" Reviews Better?

There were certainly a majority of opinions that pushed toward annually, reviewing each employee at the same time every year.  There are definitely benefits for that, like the ability to coordinate reviews with the company’s overall performance.  This cycle also allows for more even comparisons across employees at the same level or in the same position, since everyone is being reviewed at the same time.  Consistency can be your friend here.

But having been in that process myself on both sides of the table, the main difficulty with an annual process can be the volume of reviews.  Trying to do strong, individualized reviews of multiple employees at the exact same time can be difficult, especially trying to fit evaluations and performance discussions into the rhythm of a busy job with other tasks that don’t stop just because it’s review time.

Why Anniversary Reviews?

A few opinions pushed for the anniversary review, with the pro-anniversary reasons matching nicely to the anti-annual camp, and vice versa.  The main benefit was the ability to devote more attention to each review since there aren’t as many to be done at the same time, with the con that your reviews don’t necessarily tie well to the company’s performance cycle.  How can you effectively tie individual contribution to corporate performance when they’re on different cycles?  The other issue here was the potential for these reviews to be impacted by most recent events… sure, that can happen with annual reviews too, where someone who does something great in the last month before reviews seems to have atoned for failures in the rest of the year.  Commenters seemed to think this problem was worse on the anniversary reviews, perhaps because you don’t have the same mindset of the annual review with multiple reviews.

But sometimes, especially in a busy environment, employees find that these anniversary reviews are late or forgotten, because they’re not tied to a clear schedule that everyone is following.  It’s hard to ensure that the review really happens on time, since it likely doesn't have the same sense of urgency or deadline.  I think that’s a problem easily solved with the right tools, but one that happens nonetheless, since the review becomes a backburner item.

None of the Above? Abolish the Performance Review

The more interesting part of the whole thread came in the comments about reviews in general.  Some of these views were pretty blunt, calling for the death of the performance review and suggesting that you’re already failing at managing employees if you’re only reviewing them once a year, no matter the cycle.  There’s definitely merit in that employees need feedback more consistently than once a year.  I don’t think that was the intent of the original question – many people still think there’s a place for a formal, recurring review of some sort, even when you’re doing the best job possible giving formal and informal feedback throughout the year.

My own views seem to fit into that camp to some extent, though I think there are benefits to ensuring that at least one well-documented retrospective review occurs at least annually.  Managers should be able providing ongoing feedback, every day, week, month and quarter, not just year.  If you’re not on top of performance regularly, your yearly review itself is not going to make much of an impact, to the detriment of the employee and the organization as a whole.

So how do you do reviews?


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