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7 Questions Managers Should Ask Unhappy Employees

Have you heard Richard Branson's latest business mantra?

The airline/clean-energy/galactic-tourism mogul insists that "‘happy employees = happy customers". And while this is exactly the kind of cloying HR advice we tend to see as a luxury exclusive to celebrity CEOs like Branson, research tells us this is one piece of advice that is surprisingly practical. How your employees feel can absolutely impact the success of your business.

According to a study by The University of Warwick, happier workers were 20% more productive. And on the flipside, Gallup reported that unhappy, disengaged employees cost the US economy over $450 billion per year. But we’re all human, and everyone has good and bad days. The real issue is, when left unchecked, employee unhappiness can spread throughout the team and wreak havoc on organizational productivity.

Never assume, always assess

Before we get to the questions, it's important to remember how easy it is to jump to conclusions about what's driving someone's behavior.

But what makes one employee unhappy, might not even affect another. Moreover, happiness isn’t a switch that gets turned on and off.

You need to take time to get to the root of what’s really going on. Does an employee feel unrecognized for their efforts? Is there a conflict with another member of the team? The problem may be completely unrelated to work, such as a family bereavement or relationship issue.

You can't know until you start the conversation.

Yes, it might be awkward. But there are few ways to approach employees without making them feel like you’re putting them on the spot. The first step is asking the right questions.

7 questions to ask the unhappy employee

1. How have you been feeling lately?

Sometimes addressing a problem head-on is the best way to start a transparent and open dialogue.

Plus, you never know. What indicates "unhappiness" to you may be nothing more than a couple of stressful yet fleeting moments for your employee. State what you've observed in a non-judgmental manner and ask the employee if your observation is correct.

For example: "I noticed you were a little curt in this morning's standup. How have you been feeling lately?"

2. What do you enjoy most and least about your work?

Knowing what makes your employee happy is just as important as knowing what makes them unhappy.

By asking the individual about both the good and bad, you're prompting them to not only vent about their issues (something they're probably doing a lot of anyway), but also to pause and think about how those issues stack up against the benefits — those aspects that they truly love but have been too stressed to acknowledge lately.

3. Do you feel recognized and respected for your work?

Research shows that receiving regular praise can lead to higher employee retention. But according to Gallup’s analysis, only a third of workers said they received recognition for doing good work in the past seven days.

It's also important to remember that what counts as "recognition" to one person, may not be viewed as respectful recognition by another. For example, introverts might dread public announcements while extroverts might see anything less as not being recognized at all.

Find out where and when the unhappy individual last felt that their work was recognized and tailor your performance management and rewards approach accordingly.

4. Are you doing the things you really want to do?

A BIG complaint from employees is that managers just aren’t interested in them.

If you want to build trust and maintain a good working relationship, you need to really engage with your employees. Find out what their personal and professional interests are. Are they happy with their career choices? Are there issues in their personal life that are holding them back? Do they have a passion and are they able to pursue it at work?

Once you build that rapport, you’ll be able to communicate with a greater sense of clarity and purpose because you'll know what awesome work means to them. Plus, you can address issues faster and more effectively when you're able to frame them within the context of what matters to the employee.

5. Do you enjoy working in your current team?

Cultural toxicity can be an employee happiness and productivity killer. And the higher up the ladder you get, the less likely you are to recognize it.

This question can help you explore the team dynamics on a deeper level. Does the employee get along with their teammates? Do they have friends? If not, why not?

Pioneering researchers like Christina Maslach have pointed out that, "Social relationships in organizations can be the most positive feature, while also being the greatest source of stress. When researchers go into organizations, they often think that workload will be the main problem. In fact, people often say they can do the job and handle the workload, but they cannot cope with the competitiveness, politicking, put-downs, back-stabbing, gossip, unfairness and lack of recognition."

It may feel like a Pandora's box, but until you find out what's really going on at the team-level, you'll be paralyzed in affecting any real change.

6. How can I make things easier for you at work?

Don't underestimate the role you play in your employees' lives.

Even for employees dealing with personal issues like parenting challenges, divorce, or even harmful lifestyle choices like addiction, can benefit from time-off, flexible working options or access to the right tools or counseling.

But if you genuinely want to help, you need to be willing to ask what you can do to support them. Be ready to offer specific suggestions in case they're too overwhelmed to know what it is that they need.

7. What does your ideal work scenario look like?

Is your working culture too prescriptive or totally lacking structure? Does your employee need to have more input into how they work and when? Maybe remote working sounded like a good idea but is actually making them feel detached and isolated.

Again, don’t make assumptions.

To find the right solutions, you need to work together with your employee. And if it feels like too much work, remember that by taking the time to show your empathy and support, you’re investing in a happy, productive future for everyone.

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Inspire Your Managers to Write Meaningful Performance Reviews

If you want happy, thriving and committed employees, you need to give good feedback. And, when we say "good", we don’t mean unfounded praise for the sake of it.

What we mean is that you, the manager, put in time, effort and intentional thought into what and how to make employee reviews a valuable exchange.

Because according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 95% of employees are unhappy with the management of their performance reviews and 90% don't believe the process is reflective of the truth. Ouch.

The harsh reality is that far too many managers think they can just turn up for a performance review unprepared and rely on their subjective memory to carry them through. But that's an approach that time and time again has proven to result in biased, inaccurate and ineffective performance reviews.

But writing a meaningful review doesn’t have to be nearly as daunting as the business headlines make it out to be. Read on for a quick cheatsheet to help managers write better reviews in less time.

Managers, it's time to change your mindset

Today, most managers are about as loved as the office fax machine.

Unless they absolutely have to, employees would rather not engage. And if they're really honest, they're not even totally sure why they're there.

But like employees, managers have gotten a raw deal. They have mountains of paperwork to fill out, bureaucracies to navigate and they get very little feedback about whether their actions are helping or hurting.

So it makes sense that most managers would be tempted to rush through the first stage of writing up the employee review. After all, they've got to tick that box so they can move swiftly on to the next one. Problem is, if you don’t put in the groundwork, the result will be generic and useless.

The question for managers is this: Do you want to simply go through the motions, or do you want real progress for the individuals on your team?

Admittedly, some people just aren’t great at giving feedback — there’s definitely a skill to doing it well. But like any new skill, it’s something you can practice and develop. Instead of thinking ‘I can’t be bothered’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’ — change your viewpoint. A much more productive way to look at the process is to view it as a reflective exercise. One where you gather information with the express purpose of generating a meaningful dialogue and clear follow-up steps.

Set aside an hour (you honestly don’t need more) and write down the key points you want to cover, using your company mission, values, personal and departmental goals, and previous reviews as a rough guide.

And remember, it’s better to have something short and relevant than a 10-page review filled with pointless platitudes or irrelevant ratings. Here are some practical tips to keep in mind.

The caring manager's cheatsheet for writing better reviews

Write with authenticity

Ask yourself, ‘How can I help this employee?’ Remember, your goal is to ensure that the employee walks away knowing what they did well and how they can improve. The more genuine you are, the more honestly and objectively the employee will view their own performance.

Cover things that went well and things that didn’t go so well. And don’t shy away from sensitive topics. Instead, tackle them in a way that encourages the employee's personal and professional growth.

Call out success

It's a fact: Employees who receive praise and recognition perform better. Research reported in the Harvard Business Review found high-performing teams are nearly 6X more likely to focus on positive feedback than the average team.

Take a minute to think about your employee's biggest wins and strengths and provide real examples of how they impacted the rest of the team or the business at large.

For instance, saying ‘You’re a great team player’ gives the employee zero practical insights into what behaviors they should keep demonstrating at work. But if you give them a concrete example like, ‘When the team was short-staffed, you didn't hesitate to pick up the slack to make sure we were able to ship on time,’ they can then relate to the memory of the event and tell you more about what happened.

That's how you get better insights into what drives an employee to do their best work. And as a major bonus, the employee will walk away from the review feeling awesome about what they've accomplished.

Be specific

If there's one single rule for writing better reviews, it's this: Avoid vagueness like the plague.

Common statements like, 'You have poor communication skills’ are as lazy as they sound. What does that even mean? Is the employee a poor writer? Are their presentations confusing? Have other team members complained about their interpersonal skills? You need to exemplify each comment clearly.

In this instance, you could write: “In meetings when you disagree with another person, you appear emotional and it’s difficult to finish the discussion.” This gives the individual a real-life situation they can either recall or imagine and, hopefully, relate to.

Then you can identify a solution: “When you have a point to share that you think will help the team, try to point out how it will impact the work itself so that everyone can see the big picture impact of your suggestion.”

Keep it concise

Edit your review to remove any vague, verbose or played-out language.

That means avoiding overused terms like ‘good’ and ‘excellent’. Instead, see if you can bring in a few action words like: excels, exhibits, demonstrates, grasps, generates, possesses, communicates, directs and achieves.

Choosing better, more specific words is a powerful way to say more with less.

Talk to other stakeholders

It doesn't always make sense to approach the employee review as a solo project.

Even if you're not integrating peer or 360 reviews into your performance management process, it can help to get feedback from other people to either confirm or discredit your assumptions about an employee's performance.

Ask for examples of when the employee did something well or when they needed extra help or support. This will make sure the written review is fully focused on the individual being reviewed, not the manager reviewing them.

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Performance reviews for a distributed workforce and remote employees

A successful performance management implementation enlists HR Professionals to set clear objectives, timelines, and have a thorough understanding of their workforce needs; which can be difficult feat in itself. One variable that adds an additional layer of complexity is when the roll-out occurs across a decentralized office. A decentralized office can be any one of the following scenarios; several regional offices with varying cultures, management styles and workplace dynamics. Or, it could be a contracting agency whose workforce includes both onsite construction workers and offsite administrators, both with starkly different job tasks. Or, this could be a company that has a high percentage of remote workers or workers that use co-working spaces. According to Forbes, about 43% of employees spend some of their time working outside of the office and that number is only expected to increase. Regardless of the circumstance, the challenges presented with implementing a performance management system that accommodates the modern, dynamic, office environment may bring into question its efficacy or its necessity entirely, but it shouldn’t. Here’s why:

According to one leading food and beverage company, the performance review is, “the glue that holds an organization together across geographic, technical, and cultural boundaries.” Performance management is an integral component of a company’s organizational strategy. Without it, executives are unable to answer the ‘how’ before the ‘why’ when identifying their workforce needs.

PerformYard clients are no exception to the shift from the traditional office environment. Our Customer Success Team has first-hand exposure to some of the challenges imposed on their HR Leaders as well as solutions our clients have adopted, using our software’s capabilities in order to mitigate these problems. Here are some of the biggest takeaways:

Challenge #1: Employees feel disconnected from their company’s mission. They don’t see their daily work impacting the ‘bigger picture,’ leading to decreased productivity and accountability.

Solution #1: Manage off-site productivity the same way you manage on-site productivity, by having clear goals and accountability,

Before implementing your software, rather than asking “how will my performance management be able to enhance connectivity between our corporate and regional offices?” Instead ask, “Does my performance management allow for goal transparency and have an intuitive way for workers to track and update progress?” Instead of asking, “Can my performance management system accommodate a remote team tasked with only special projects?” Instead ask, “Does my performance management allow for me to set top company goals that departmental or individual goals can align to?” Adopting a top-down mentality that begins with clarity and transparency before moving to individualization is good starting point.

Challenge #2: Between having multiple HR people, various management styles, and different cultural norms, standardizing the reviews process seems nearly impossible.

Solution #2: Assign one person to oversee the software implementation from a corporate standpoint and have them train representatives from different entities so they can adopt their own methods as needed.

This person should should not only have the bandwidth to learn the software inside-out, but should also be willing to initiate frequent dialogue with local HR teams to ensure the software is used correctly adds value. In some ways, the solution here is similar to the first challenge, in that, the first step begins with high-level corporate approach. But the former does not effectively reach each worker.

Having a ‘performance management guru’ allows companies to create a standardized process as a foundation while empowering other entities to make tweaks and modifications that may be more suitable for their specific needs. Using this approach, local HR professionals can incorporate performance standards that are customary for that particular region.

Challenge #3: Employees feel left out of office dialogue. The concept of ‘water cooler talk’ that once built office camaraderie and rapport is no longer prevalent.

Solution #3: Establish a method of communication that is frequent and informal where employees can interact with each other.

Even if your company uses other communication platforms like gchat, slack, or an internal system, using a feature directly from your performance software is useful for two reasons. First, studies show that remote-site workers require more frequent dialogue than those in the office to absorb new information and to help them feel aligned with the rest of the team. So in this instance, having additional channels of communication for specific work functions, is better. Second, using a feedback feature within your performance management software will establish a link between daily conversations surrounding performance and a more formal reviews process whether it be through a reporting function or otherwise.

With customization being the pinnacle of the PerformYard platform, our resounding answer to any performance management related challenge is that there is no one-size fits all solution. At a minimal, a successful implementation will involve the following: having your ultimate corporate objectives thoroughly established, a willingness to make tweaks and adjustments to accommodate varying processes, and a software management tool designed to do both.

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What is organizational alignment? And how to do it.

Organizational alignment, also referred to as 'strategic alignment', is a company's ability to get everyone on the same page about what needs to get done and how.

But importantly, it's also about a company's ability to paint the bigger picture and get every individual within the business to see themselves in it. Or, as organizational strategists Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varcoe put it in their HBR deep dive, organizational alignment is how you bridge "the gap between ambition and performance."

And if you're not hitting efficiency benchmarks or reaching your potential as an organization, you could have an alignment problem. But don't worry, there are ways to fix it.

Why is organizational alignment so elusive?

If getting your numbers back on track and fighting employee disengagement feels like an uphill battle, know that you're not alone.

Organizational alignment is an ongoing challenge for every business, regardless of shape or size. For example, investment tech startup Betterment changed their approach to organizational alignment and employee performance management three times on the road to reaching 100+ employees.

And since the beginning, massive household names like Starbucks have built their empires on organizational alignment systems in order to consistently hit growth targets and provide an awesome customer experience across some 25,000 stores in 62 countries.

With so many diverse individuals under one roof, true alignment is no small feat. But it's not impossible, either. Let's break it down to the core building blocks of a truly aligned organization.

Putting the pieces together

Companies with strong alignment know their goals, actions and purpose. Here's what that means.

Goals: What are we driving the business towards?

Regardless of whether you're using annual revenue goals or departmental OKRs, an aligned organization puts the proven growth metrics first and foremost.

Depending on where you are and what you want for your business, your goals can and should vary. For more on the core elements that make a goal effective, check out our breakdown here.

Actions: How will employees achieve those goals?

Some 95% of a company’s employees are completely unaware of or confused about the business strategy. And only 7% know what's expected of them in order to help achieve company goals.

Once you're clear on the tangible results you want to see, you owe it to your employees to give them everything they need to make those results happen.

Clarify the specific day-to-day tasks, actions and behaviors at the individual and team level that, when compounded over time, add up to high-level success.

Purpose: Why is it important to achieve these goals, with this particular approach

Cautionary tales like that of Enron and Wells Fargo show us that breakdowns in organizational alignment often occur when employees are incentivized by the wrong things.

State your mission regularly and your values clearly so that every employee knows exactly what are your business goals and the behaviors that help you meet them.

Keep trying

We all dream of spearheading the kind of organizations that make business history. Organizations where every last individual is passionately pulling in the same direction. But the truth is, business is messy, chaotic and fraught with change — and there's no magic formula that can ever make it otherwise.

But luckily, there are many ways to make sure that the above three performance points are always being met at every level of the organization. Cascading goals is a classic approach used by many — but even companies who reject the classic hierarchy (like Asana and their AOR model), can create an approach that makes sense for their unique business culture.

What matters is that you're willing to learn and adjust as you grow.

Because as tempting as it is to blame employees for angry customers or unmet targets, the reality is it's every leader's responsibility to be the guiding force that lights a clear path forward for the business, and everyone in it. After all, how can we expect employees to support a strategy they don't know exists?

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How to Build a Custom Performance Management System

Bulky, time-consuming and ineffective. The once ubiquitous annual appraisal has gotten a bad rap — and don't get us started on ratings.

We get it. Employees don't want to be told they're 'better than average, but not excellent'. And we know that 50% of millennials would rather receive meaningful feedback every month than sit down for an hour each December. For many HR leaders, it's clear. The annual review has to go.

But the question is: in exchange for what?

Continuous feedback? Weekly check-ins? Bi-annual reviews? Performance management can be the quintessential HR Rubik's cube if you let it. And while you probably do need to make some changes, those changes might not need to be as drastic as you think.

If you want to change your performance review process but aren’t sure how, here are five steps to help you find a better way.

1. Find out who you are

The number one reason companies stay stuck in an outdated performance management process is perfectionism.

HR leaders become attached to an image, idea or industry case study that made a lot of sense for someone else, but might not be relevant for them. When it comes time to buckle execute on that big idea, the process quickly becomes muddled and eventually stalls out.

But every company has its own unique DNA.

So before you embark on a system change-up, take time to identify who you are as a company.

For instance, if you have a hierarchical structure with highly skilled professionals, many of whom do a similar job, you might have a cultural need to boost employee engagement and motivation. In contrast, a small company with a flat structure of specialist employees all working on different things may need to focus on how they measure performance fairly and consistently across small but diverse teams.

Give yourself permission to do this your way. The performance management process can at should look different at every company.

2. Define your purpose

Once you're clear on what your business is really about, have a good think about what you need your performance management process to accomplish.

In other words: what's the purpose of your performance review?

Is it to increase employee skills or foster greater accountability? To boost engagement or is it there to simply justify salary decisions? Be honest.

If you want your performance management process to produce meaningful outcomes, you need to define why you’re doing it.

For example, there’s no point asking managers to review employees biannually when they work on a monthly project cycle. In a case like that, it would make more sense to have a more regular review schedule while introducing some less formal elements to address issues when they arise.

3. Know your performance management building blocks

Want to know a secret?

This performance management stuff isn't as complicated as it sounds.

It all boils down to 3 simple elements. Once you know those, it's easy to come up with an arrangement of those blocks that makes sense for you. For instance, Asana has an end of the year self-review that it combines with a biannual review, while the video game company Valve has a 360 system where teams of employees conduct performance interviews with everyone in the company.

Here are the 3 simple building blocks every performance management process has in common:

Reviews — Does a formal or informal approach fit better with your company culture? How often do you want to review your employees (annually, semi-annually, at the end of every project)? Who else do you need to hear from (self-appraisal, manager, peer-to-peer)?

Goal Setting — What types of goals will you set? Can you connect individual goals to the company's overarching vision? Have you created an opportunity for employees to include their personal goals?

Feedback — Where in your organization's work streams is it easiest and most natural to provide employee feedback? How do your employees want to receive feedback (in a one-to-one meeting, regular check-ins or through 360-degree-feedback)?

4. Don’t rush it

Rome wasn't built in a day, and you better believe your perfect performance management process won't be either.

Sure, HR case studies make it look easy but for some companies, it can take years to implement a new process. Managers and employees need time to familiarize themselves with it and they need a well-thought-out argument for why they should change in the first place.

So start with small steps like changing or removing appraisal questions, feedback methods or resetting the cadence for your reviews. Some of the most impactful change happens incrementally. You could even start by simply taking a much a smaller version of your current appraisal and executing it four times a year to test the waters.

5. Revisit, refine, repeat

Performance management is a moving target.

Finding an approach that works for your company means getting some things right and some things wrong. You have to be brave enough to take that leap and find what works for you. Create reflection points where you can assess what's worked, what hasn’t and how to remedy it.

And whatever you do, don’t be fooled by thinking you need to create the perfect process, especially if it takes you away from your true purpose for performance management at your company.

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Examples & Questions for an Upward Performance Appraisal

Upward feedback, a.k.a. asking employees to review managers, can help you create the kind of feedback-rich culture that makes big things happen for your business. And not only that, it can also help squash some of the nasty, business-killing side effects that come as a result of bad bosses.

How to structure your upward performance review

Regardless of whether you're evaluating employees or managers, most performance appraisals will include a healthy mix of ratings and open-ended questions to keep the feedback clear, specific and relevant.

Most upward appraisal forms will include anywhere from 3 to 20+ ratings-based statements and another 2 to 5 open-ended questions to collect feedback verbatim.

Let's tackle the ratings section first.


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Part 1: How to rate leadership competencies in upward reviews

The first thing to know about ratings is there's a right and wrong way to use them in performance reviews. Upward reviews are no different.

If you want to use ratings fairly and effectively, start with a system that's simple, clear and based on behaviors — not vague metrics or subjective personality traits. First, choose the manager competency or characteristic you want to evaluate, then construct your rating statement.

Ratings for measuring a manager's ability to coach and lead

According to leadership consulting firm The Ken Blanchard Companies, the average organization loses up to $1 million dollars per year in missed opportunities due to sub-optimal leadership.

With the right questions/ratings statements, your upward appraisal can help identify opportunities to coach the coaches within your organization and make sure everyone from top to bottom is getting the support they need to do their best work.

Example statements

My manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis

My manager's feedback is clear, direct and empathetic

My manager always follows feedback with a suggestion for how to improve

My manager assigns stretch opportunities to help me develop in my career

My manager's feedback is objective and backed up by clear examples

My manager listens to feedback and takes action on it

Ratings for measuring a manager's commitment to a specific business value

Most performance headaches usually boil down to a misalignment between manager expectations and employee behavior. But if a manager isn't exemplifying the company's core values, you can bet your employees won't either.

An upward performance appraisal is a great way to go deeper on a specific competency that aligns with one of your key business values. For example, if a culture of transparency and open communication is central to the way you run your business, you may want to create specific ratings statements geared specifically toward that.

Example statements

My manager is always ready to hear me out

My manager is a good listener

My manager cares about my feedback

My manager takes action on my feedback

Google’s upward feedback survey is a stellar example of how to ask about a manager’s leadership skills in addition to their company-aligned strengths that support the overarching cultural values. Google gives 13 quantitative, strongly disagree to strongly agree statements that cover eight behavioral goals for managers:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don't micro-manage
  3. Express interest in employees' success and well-being
  4. Be productive and results-oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team

If you take some time to lay out the core behavioral values that make up a great leader at your org, your rating statements will essentially write themselves.

Ratings for measuring a manager's progress on a short-term goal or initiative

Finally, ratings are also a great way to track short-term improvement.

For example, if you want to get a read on the progress of a particular change management initiative, let's say an internal campaign to support greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, you could include statements like the following.

Example statements

My manager clearly explains how change will impact the team

My manager is transparent about the role of bias in the workplace

My manager seeks feedback from diverse groups of people

My manager keeps the work environment inclusive by respecting the team's scheduling needs

Part 2: How to collect upward feedback using open-ended questions

As with ratings, open-ended questions can be used to support any number of goals, values or change initiatives within your company.

Using the above example of measuring a manager's progress toward a D&I goal, you could ask open-ended questions like:

  • What specific steps does your manager take to ensure that everyone on the team is heard?
  • How comfortable do you feel voicing your ideas to your manager?
  • What are some possible ways your manager could help you achieve greater work/life balance?

The open-ended section of your upward appraisal could also take the form of statements as opposed to questions, for example:

  • Tell me about a time your manager personified one of your company values.
  • Describe one way your manager exemplifies the company culture.

Now, the way you'll phrase your statements and questions will depend on who's asking.

And it's important to know that there's some debate on the validity of making upward feedback anonymous. Proponents of the anonymous upward review say it encourages honest feedback and protects employees from retaliation from bad bosses. Critics argue that anonymous appraisals are rarely truly anonymous and thus can lead to a toxic working environment.

But if you're here, we're guessing a feedback-rich working environment is high on your list right now. If that's the case, creating at least one part of your system that's completely dedicated to encouraging direct feedback between managers and employees is an important step.

Here are some questions managers can use to solicit feedback directly from employees.

  • What concerns do you have when it comes to giving me feedback? What can I do to alleviate those concerns?
  • What's your favorite way to receive feedback and recognition for your work?
  • What are three things could I do to make your work easier and more fun?
  • What's most helpful thing I do to help you complete your work?
  • What's the least helpful thing I do?

A few things to keep in mind

Unfortunately, nothing in the sticky world of talent management is ever as simple as copy/paste. If you're new to the idea of upward feedback, there are some potential roadblocks to look out for.

  • Know your goal - No two upward review forms should be the same. At Google, the upward review is there to gauge the manager's ability to communicate as part of its wider goal to support the goal of creating a feedback-driven culture. The review has no connection whatsoever to performance or compensation decisions.
  • Rating the wrong things - Ask employees if the leadership competencies you laid out really make sense for the type of work they do in each department. Measuring managerial-level product engineers on their ability to be a team player may or may not be necessary at your company. Only rate what's necessary.
  • Anonymous or attributed - In many organizations, employees are afraid to let their manager know what they really think, resulting in skewed feedback and bad data. If you think this might be the case in your company, you may want to consider using an anonymous review for at least some parts of your upward performance management system.
  • Get your managers ready - Whether it's your leaders or your employees, every human being in your organization has a right to know why and how they'll be judged. Take time to explain the benefits of the upward review — securing that buy-in will pay back tenfold down the road.
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How To Create a Feedback Culture

Every business leader wants the kind of company where each and every employee feels like they have skin in the game. Where lightning-strike ideas turn into multi-million dollar revenue streams.

For most of us, it's a vision that just doesn't feel real.

Despite the myriad business books, scholarly articles and flowery Forbes editorials, the idea of a 'feedback culture' just doesn't feel viable at our companies — and we all have our "reasons". You can blame it on the industry, the economy or the team itself, but whatever the reason (or cough, cough excuse), you're sure this stuff won't work for you.

But what if it weren't really that complicated? What if the transition to a can-do culture were as simple as asking a question?

The need for feedback won't go away

The annual review is the proverbial dead horse of HR topics. And our obsession with it is understandable. As humans, it's natural to crave a magic pill. Our brains want a simple solution that's easy to follow: give your employees feedback at this specific time and place each year and solve all your business problems.

But the truth is this: There's no stone-set rule stating there has to be a separate time for giving and receiving feedback.

At its core, performance management is shockingly simple. It's an ongoing exchange of feedback. A two-way street that's always open. Call it "continuous feedback." Call it building a "feedback culture." Call it whatever you want. What matters is that it's an intentional dialogue — one that spurs people into action.

Like it or not, your company already has a performance culture. And the feedback you're giving (or not giving) could be speaking louder than you realize.

The thing about negative feedback in a group setting

A simple way to get past the analysis paralysis and start building a culture where 'feedback' isn't a dirty word is to get clear on when and how to deliver negative or corrective feedback.

One standout example of a company built completely on the value of candid, team-centered feedback is Pixar.

Pixar President and co-founder, Ed Catmull ran the company alongside Steve Jobs and John Lasseter for decades. Here's what he has to say on the importance of open dialogue.

"A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments. So how can a manager ensure that his or her working group, department, or company embraces candor? By putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable."

Candor is a value held so tightly at Pixar that Catmull and his team created an elite collective feedback team called Braintrust. Braintrust is what Catmull describes as Pixar's "primary delivery system for straight talk". Every few months the team gets together to discuss the movie they're making and get clear on what works, what doesn't work, and why.

Sounds great, right? But here's where it gets hairy.

Business legend has it that Steve Jobs got some of his best ideas from his time working in Pixar's open and creative environment. (Some even credit his groundbreaking "Think different" campaign to the creative storytelling skills he learned while working there.)

But Jobs also had a nasty habit of giving harsh corrective feedback in a group setting — like the time he fired the head of Apple's MobileMe unit in front of a crowd of Apple employees. Group dialogue can be a powerful productivity tool — but only if you're clear on the ground rules.

How to talk about performance as a team

First, know that there are some key moments when it's absolutely critical not to give feedback.

  • When your feedback is more personal than professional
  • When creativity and autonomy matter more
  • When the failure speaks volumes
  • When you just don't have the patience

You can explore each of these circumstances in more detail here, but you get the gist.

If someone makes a mistake and doesn’t know it, that isn’t the time to have a team discussion about collective improvement. Your employees can read between the lines. So don't underestimate them.

Here are some better ways to start and maintain a performance-focused dialogue.

1. Use questions, candor and curiosity

HR leading companies like Asana use questions to help guide conversations, coaching and team-based decisions.

Asking questions, rather than prescribing answers, is a great way to both give and receive constructive feedback in a way that balances the positive and negative and keeps the dialogue focused on finding solutions.

2. Offset negative feedback with peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition strengthens team unity and gives everyone a stake in the game. And as a major bonus, 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction.

3. Collect upward feedback

Last but not least, show your commitment to the importance of feedback by truly making it a two-way street. Companies like Google have developed a super smart way of approaching upward feedback, but if you just want a simple approach, try the SKS model which simply asks:

  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I keep doing?
  • What should I start doing?

In a performance-driven culture, feedback is always about a team coming together to improve their performance as a whole and never about what one or a handful of individuals failed to do. Keep your eyes fixed on the bigger picture and your team will do the same.

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The Science of Performance Management

How often do you hear phrases like 'she's a natural athlete' or 'he's a gifted designer'?

Behind these common expressions, there's a hidden assumption that some of us are more talented than others. But is that true? Is the secret to high performance really just natural-born talent?

Or is performance something we can nurture within our environment? In June 2017, when Alex Honnold made history by becoming the first person to climb to the top of El Capitan without ropes safety gear, the internet was buzzing with speculation over these very questions. What was it that helped Alex accomplish this extraordinary feat? Was it physical aptitude, natural climbing talent or sheer mental will?

HR teams are considering the science more than ever when they design modern performance management strategies. And according to the research, the drivers behind an Olympic goal medal and a Nobel Prize is actually very similar. Let's take a look at what some of the brightest minds in business science have discovered about the "secret sauce" of great performance.

What do we know about human performance?

Our quest to understand human performance has intrigued scientists and psychologists for at least a hundred years.During the first half of the 20th century, the labor market was rich in human capital. With plenty of workers at their disposal, employers needed a way to discern between good and bad performance (or in more direct terms, who to keep and who to fire).

But it wasn't just employers who needed help classifying talent. During the First World War, the US military had so many recruits, they needed a quick way to identify poor performers and select stellar soldiers. They designed the first recorded merit-rating system to achieve that aim. By the 1990s the McKinsey War for Talent Study pointed a spotlight onto a fast-changing labor market. A shortage of talent due to the departing baby boomer generation was driving demand for a more sophisticated understanding of performance and reward systems.

This sparked a kind of "performance management golden age" in psychology and organizational theory that shaped our current thinking about performance management.

Meet the theorists behind modern performance management

Douglas McGregor — The Human Side of Enterprise

In 1960, Douglas McGregor penned his well-known Theory X and Theory Y. Together, these two theories clarified the differences between the key management styles of the time.

The authoritarian management style, Theory X, dominated business in the first half of the 20th century. The focus was on productivity, accountability and recognition. It assumed that when left to their own devices, workers will inevitably slack off. Under Theory X, managers were expected to control employee output through rewards and rankings.

In contrast, Theory Y defined a management approach that seeks to support employees. Rather than the classic carrot and stick routine, leaders who subscribed to Theory Y believed that employees genuinely want to perform well. Under this theory, it’s up to managers to develop and nurture this commitment in order to help employees reach their full potential at work.

Abraham Maslow — The Hierarchy of Human Needs

The influential psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his motivational theory The Hierarchy of Human Needs, often shown as a five-tier pyramid.

Each level, starting at the bottom must be satisfied before you can move up. Maslow outlines human needs in the following order, bottom to top: physiology, safety, love, belonging and finally, self-esteem and self-actualization in the top spot.

Until this point in the history of performance management, psychology only focused on curing mental illness. No one bothered to investigate people who were mentally healthy. This piqued Maslow's curiosity. He noticed a correlation between healthy people and increased states of being that he named 'peak experiences'.

Today, the entire field of positive psychology, made up of theories that focus on human strengths rather than weaknesses, is grounded in Maslow's work.

Peter Druker — Father of Modern Management Theory

With self-actualization now pinpointed as the holy grail of human performance, management consultant and author Peter Drucker set out to develop a framework that would help managers lead their employees to the top.

In 1954, Drucker argued that employees should have access to learning and development opportunities equal to those of managers and business leaders. And at the time, this was a radical position. Until this point, the biggest names in organizational theory had presented employees as subordinates whose only real job was simply to do what they were expected to do.

Fun fact: Drucker is also the brains behind SMART goals and the term "knowledge worker."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — Reaching Flow for Peak Performance

In the 1970s, pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted one of the largest psychological studies ever in human performance. As part of the study, Csikszentmihalyi interviewed individuals across all ages, genders and ethnicities about their performance.

He spoke to Japanese teenagers, Navajo farmers, athletes, chess players, dancers and factory workers to name a few. The result was fascinating. Regardless of their background or career, they all described experiencing a sensation they called ‘flow’ during peak performance.

In the 1990s Csikszentmihalyi utilized these findings to fully develop his theory on happiness, considering the two completely interlinked. He defined flow as the experience a person has when they are "completely involved in what he or she is doing." In the example of a musician, Csikszentmihalyi explained: "If you are playing a musical instrument you know what notes you want to play, every millisecond.”

A person performing under Csikszentmihalyi's definition of flow, reaches maximum productivity almost effortlessly and feels great as a result.

Steven Kotler — Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

Steven Kotler took the concept of flow a step further with his Flow Genome Project.

Kotler is often described as one of the world’s leading experts on human performance. He calls flow the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” He explains that when we're in a state of flow “all aspects of performance both mental and physical go through the roof.”And according to a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, Kotler's theory holds water. The study found that senior employees were up to five times more productive when performing from a state of flow. The bad news? The study also found that the average employee spends only 5% of their overall time in flow.

Just imagine the impact of increasing this to even 15 or 20%.

But how can you create flow in the day-to-day? According to Kotler, flow happens more often if you surround yourself with novelty, complexity and unpredictability.

The ‘fail forward’ ethos is one example of how companies can alter their culture to encourage more flow at work. For example, Google asked employees to deliver ten times more improvements, rather than 10% growth. By saying ten times instead of 10%, they're opening the door to radical new ideas rather than simply trying to optimize the status quo.

What's really happening in a high-performing brain?

These are the theories, but what about the science behind the theories?

Let’s take a quick look at what happens to the human brain during performance.

Neuroscience tells us that the human brain is malleable. It can adapt to its environment, creating new neural pathways and thinking patterns. Our flight or fight response is a perfect example of this.

The stress question

Discovered by physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon at the beginning of the 20th century, flight or fight response asserts that when humans perceive a threat, adrenaline is released in the brain causing an increase in our heart rate and often making us feel sweaty or even nauseous. The idea is we'll either stay and fight the threat or take off running.

Thousands of years ago, this physiological response gave us a life-saving biological advantage when faced by hungry tigers and other prehistoric dangers. But in the modern world, our threats are much more minor. Today, it's mostly things like public speaking, deadlines and of course, performance reviews that tend to make us sweat.

So how does this impact our performance? Does a shot of adrenaline speed us up or burn us out? A study by VitalSmarts found that 83% of leaders and 77% of workers say that top performers have less stress, confirming that increased stress and pressure does not lead to increased performance.

Why a slow brain is a good thing

Thanks to technological advances like brain imaging, we can now map the brain patterns of high performers to see what's really happening in there.

Historically, many theorists believed that during peak performance our brain usage actually increased and went into hyper mode. But actually, the human brain slows down and becomes hypo during peak performance. The pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for our inner chatter and sense of time, gets essentially switched off in a phenomenon that neuroscientists call transient hypofrontality.

That's why when a person is deeply focused on completing a task, they seem to make decisions almost automatically. If your inner voice of self-doubt is activated, you become distracted and lose focus.

The answer to the question what makes one person perform better than another is anything but straightforward. The research shows us it’s a complex interplay of internal and external factors and unfortunately, there's no magic formula for getting it right. But one thing we do know is that given the right set of circumstances, support and mindset, we all have the ability to do great work.

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How Regeneron Built Their Performance Management System

Have you ever looked up from your day to day and realized there's no rhyme or reason to your performance management process?

Sure, you have all the ratings, weightings and paperwork in place. But what if it all amounts to nothing more than an administrative exercise?

This was the situation Michelle Weitzman-Garcia found herself in when she joined Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in 2015 as Head of Workforce Development. From the get-go, it was painfully clear that Regeneron's performance management system was in need of an upgrade. Managers hated it, and so did employees.

Fast forward to 2018, Michelle and her team have redesigned Regeneron's performance management process and the global biotech company has doubled in size. They have kept pace with that breakneck speed of growth and secured a 92% participation rate in the company's performance management process.

Here's how she did it.

Transforming performance management from the bottom up

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals develops life-changing medicines for patients with serious diseases. Founded in 1988, the company started with a small team guided by two core principles: hire the smartest people and do great science.

One of Regeneron's largest performance management challenges is that their business units do radically different work.

From drug development, corporate functions and product supply — they needed a flexible performance management system that could match the needs of their diverse workflows. For example, it can take a new drug up to 20 years before it's market-ready, but a marketing and sales plan for the same product might only take a few months to organize.

Each business unit needed its own customized approach. Figuring out what exactly that should look like was the first challenge Michelle faced.

She embarked on a three-year intensive redesign of their entire process, And she started by asking each unit of the business what they thought performance management should be.

Goodbye Ratings: a focus on simplification

One of the first things Michelle learned was that Regeneron's original performance management system was complex and antiquated. Structured around an intricate 12-point rating scale, it was also immensely confusing for managers.

Michelle reduced the rating scale to 4-points to make the process faster and easier. "There's a very strong consideration given to making sure that we're not taking time away from our scientists to do HR things, so that they can spend more time doing science and being more creative," she explains.

Armed with this feedback, Michelle and her team created four different review forms, including a traditional structured form for the R&D team and a 30/30 process (every 30 days employees get 30 minutes of feedback) to completely replace the appraisal process for the product supply team.

In 2016, Michelle and her team eliminated the rating scale for half of the company and each year they continue to scale down. As of today, less than 10% of the company uses ratings.

"The benefit we found of not having a rating is that it opens up more authentic conversations between managers and employees," says Michelle. Regeneron still uses compensation ratings behind the scenes, but they're working to separate that from the performance management process altogether.

Replacing goals with behavior-focused feedback

Rather than setting corporate and individual goals, managers at Regeneron talk about performance targets in terms of "what you need to accomplish."

According to Michelle, "It's really about teaching them about behaviors and performance. You can't have one without the other." Employees are asked to think not only about what they got done, but also how they got it done it. This shift in focus empowers engaged conversations about employee behavior, rather than focusing exclusively on how much they'll be paid.

Michelle and her team also introduced mid-year calibrations to hone in on performance and behaviors. For this, she uses a 9-box model with Results on one axis and Behaviors on the other. This shows her a full picture of how employees live up to both expectation and goals, all the way from "Exceptional Results, Inconsistent Behaviors" to "Inconsistent Results, Exceptional Behaviors." Behaviors are composed of important competencies and are defined at the local or departmental level.

Regeneron also does an annual calibration and discussion, and employees across departments are offered the chance to participate in voluntary mid-year discussions. Additionally, Michelle implemented a learning and development framework to help give more clarity to an individual's career planning and steer conversations around performance.

Would this approach work for you?

In 2016, 92% of Regeneron's employees were participating in the performance management process.

So, would Michelle's approach work for you?

The answer is probably yes. A bespoke performance management approach can do wonders for employee participation and engagement. But it's important to remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. And your managers and employees won’t thank you for rushing through a new process, only to discover a few months later it’s actually created more work.

If your goal is to abandon the old ways and create a custom-fit process that works, the unsexy truth is that it will take time. By allowing themselves three years to implement a new performance structure, Regeneron took the time they needed to do three core key things.

  • They objectively reviewed their existing process.
  • They clarified the purpose of their new performance management strategy.
  • They made space for future iterations and feedback from managers to help get it right.

And they haven’t stopped. Regeneron's process will continue to evolve, just as the company does.

More Inspiration

Regeneron 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 Asana 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

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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4 TED Talks on Performance Management

Everyone loves a good TED Talk.

World-renowned experts sharing cutting-edge ideas in a bite-sized format — there's really no better (or quicker) way to get inspired.

And for performance management, a little inspiration in the form of a beautifully original idea is often just what we need. After all, there is so much NOISE out there. It can be hard to steer through the jargon and find a voice that can tell you clearly and simply why this stuff matters.

Luckily, we found four of those voices. So whether you want to be an HR trailblazer, or simply a better manager— sit back and be inspired.

1. The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink

Watch time: 18 minutes

There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”


The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink is one of the most popular TED Talks of all time.

What Dan will teach you about performance management:

This video, released in 2009, became part of the performance management canon because it flies in the face of the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ approach which, Dan points out, is actually pretty detrimental to business outcomes.

According to Dan, there's a 40-year-old body of expert evidence proving the classic reward incentives don’t work. Not only that, they're counterproductive. Dan's big idea is based on what he calls ‘intrinsic motivation’ — the desire to do things because they matter, not because we’ll be paid more.

Dan lays out a new business model based on three essential components for employee success: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If you can come up with creative ways to use these tools, you can make your employees feel more motivated than money ever could.

One way to nurture greater autonomy at work is to rely on your performance management process to check in regularly, but not too regularly. When you get the timing right, you reduce your risk of falling into a culture of micromanagement.

The can't miss moment: minute 9:00, hear Dan explain why reward incentives simply don’t work.

2. What Makes us Feel Good About our Work by Dan Ariely

Watch time: 20 minutes

“Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes.”


Chances are you’ve seen that quote before. It has made appearances in almost every HR publication on the internet — and for good reason.

What Dan will again teach you about performance management:

In this TED Talk, world-renowned behavioral economist Dan Ariely dives deep into the relationship between motivation, meaning and productivity. By taking us through a series of experiments, Dan demonstrates just how important meaning is in our working lives. And all too often, it's the missing piece.

Dan presents seven key principals that underpin employee satisfaction: Meaning, Ownership, Creation Challenge, Pride and Identity. And the other six principles are just as important as meaning (seriously check this one out!).

In one simple example of how to help employees develop a sense of ownership, take a look at how prototype optics manufacturer Optimax uses peer reviews. Under the right circumstances, peer reviews can not only help identify areas for development, they can also help your team feel a sense of collective support for your performance management process.

The can't miss moment: Minute 13:20, Dan's clever ‘instant cake’ anecdote, which outlines his theory that the more effort we put into a task, the more meaningful it becomes.

3. The Happy Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor

Watch time: 9 minutes

“It’s not just the reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”


In this immensely enjoyable talk, Shawn Achor takes us on a fast-paced journey into the science of happiness.

What Shawn will teach you about performance management:

According to Shawn, the old formula for success — ‘If I work hard, I’ll become more successful and I become more successful, I'll finally be happy' — is broken. Believe it or not, this broken belief system is more a recipe for unhappiness than anything else. That's because our brains are conditioned to constantly move the goal posts. For instance, an employee gets a promotion, but rather than being happy about it, they end up obsessing over hitting the next step on the ladder. And on and on it goes.

By switching into a present, positive mindset, employees and managers can experience what Shawn calls the ‘Happiness Advantage.’ With this performance power tool, employees can essentially harness the happiness hormone, dopamine, to become smarter, faster and more successful at work, without stressing out about it.

In your employee reviews, there are always questions about what’s gone well. But if you really want to tap into the 'Happiness Advantage', you need to narrow down the focus to what's good about the present. One way to do this is to simply ask employees what aspects of their work they feel the most grateful for.

The can't miss moment: Minute 9:20, Shawn explains the 'Happiness Advantage' in detail.

4. Forget the Pecking Order by Magaret Hefferman

Watch time: 15 minutes

“Companies don’t have ideas only people do.”


With that statement, Margaret Hefferman poses a radical idea: it’s not leaders that save the day but the team.

What Margaret will teach you about performance management:

She argues that the bonds and trust we develop with each other is a key driver of outstanding employee performance. Yet many companies ignore this. Leadership has been conditioned to create a competitive environment that values the "stars" rather than the group.

For those of us who see the importance of social cohesion at work, we often we assume it'll happen organically. But it doesn’t. (After all, anyone who's ever worked in an open plan office can tell you it's no guarantee of camaraderie.)

So how do you overcome this age-old culture of competition?

A great starting point is to encourage peer-to-peer recognition. For instance, the healthy snack delivery company Snacknation has ‘crush’ Friday, where employees are encouraged to publicly praise each other by simply calling out someone on the team who's really "crushing it". And it doesn’t matter if it’s for finishing a massive project or simply a small act of kindness. All crushes count.

The can't miss moment: Right at the start, hear Margaret talk through ‘the super-chicken model.’ It's pretty great. 

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Our 5 Big Predictions for Performance Management in 2019

It's that time of year again. HR events are in full swing, 'Best of' lists are hitting the internet on the daily and big ideas abound.

But which ones are worth your time?

At PerformYard, we're big believers in substance over form. We've combed through the most relevant and comprehensive HR reports to separate the fact from the clickbait and bring you the big-picture predictions that will have a tangible impact on the way you run your performance management process.

1. Automation sparks augmentation

Klaus Schwab is the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF). So why is he on this list?

Though you might be tempted to think of the WEF solely in terms of high-level Davos meetups, the world-leading economic think tank became highly relevant in HR circles in 2016 after publishing their seminal paper on The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For their latest follow-up, Klaus and his team at the WEF surveyed a collective of in-the-know Chief HR Officers at some of the world’s largest employers. And while many HR predictions this time of year will focus on the shiniest new tech, the WEF found that what really matters is how tech will be used. Or, more specifically, how it will be used to "vastly improve the job quality and productivity of the existing work of human employees."

"As has been the case throughout economic history, such augmentation of existing jobs through technology is expected to create wholly new tasks — from app development to piloting drones to remotely monitoring patient health to certified care workers — opening up opportunities for an entirely new range of livelihoods for workers."

— Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

While the onslaught of tech means that the number of employees needed to complete certain tasks will likely decrease, it also means there will be opportunities for employees to transition into new areas of innovation, including brand new roles. Research from a 2018 Randstad survey seems to support this, with 65% of employers globally saying they believe HR tech will free up workers to focus on more knowledge-intensive tasks.

But for many employees, this won't be an easy transition. If you're considering introducing a new tool or workflow next year, use your performance management strategy to establish clear expectations about how an employee's role has shifted, identify changes in their core KPIs and, if you want to go the extra mile, give them access to the learning and development tools they'll need to stay ahead of the curve.

2. Systems of productivity

Discussion about the future of work has been marked by hype and panic — but now that there's more proof behind the argument that technology is here to "help us, not hurt us", it should be easy to figure out which tools to add to your HR tech stack, right?

Wrong. As one of HR's biggest thinkers Josh Bersin puts it, "I’ve been studying this market for close to 20 years and it is now more confusing than ever." In order to make sense of it all, Josh and his team are launching a 2019 study with a view to reframe the role of HR tech.

From my perspective, we’re moving into a new era. One where HR technology is no longer a forms automation system, but is now becoming a true “system of productivity.”

— Josh Bersin, Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

According to Josh, tech should be natural and easy to use. And it should meet employees where they are in their actual daily workflow (hence the name of his research theme, “HR in the Flow of Work”). As the nature of work shifts, placing increasing demand on knowledge-intensive tasks, it's important to track performance at the practical level.

Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it matches the unique shape and rhythm of your business, and that it's light and easy to implement across teams. Because the counterintuitive truth about tech is that there is no shortcut. Making it easy and relevant is the only way to guarantee a solid participation rate.

3. All types of analytics

If you've attended even one HR conference this event season, you've likely heard one (or more) of the following phrases: people analytics, predictive analytics, prescriptive analytics.

It's a lot. But with the lightspeed rise of tech, it's no surprise that analytics are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the HR picture. Erik van Vulpen is the founder of Analytics in HR and the HR Analytics Academy. He believes HR analytics can transform the way businesses evolve and innovate. But how does that look on a practical level?

“People analytics is changing how we do business for the better.”

— Erik van Vulpen, Founder, Analytics in HR

In one of the best examples, HR leaders at Credit Suisse launched a people analytics project to help offset high turnover. The company was investing heavily in attracting and training young talent, but their strategy just wasn’t working. Employees were leaving in droves.

After an investigation into their turnover analytics, the team was able to identify the key drivers of employee turnover and predict on an individual level which employees were most likely to leave. They then gave this information to a team of trained managers who would provide individual coaching and feedback to get those at-risk individuals back on track. Experts estimated this saved the company up to $100 million annually in attrition-related costs.

While this is a great example of predictive people analytics (i.e., analytics used to predict a probable outcome), many HR leaders are now exploring the idea of prescriptive analytics, or analytics that predict which solution to a problem might work best.

Robust performance management data can help you "prescribe" a performance coaching plan to individual team members based on what has consistently worked (or not worked) in the past.

4. Performance guides recruitment

You could have the best performance management process in the world, but it won't make a bit of difference if you've made the wrong hire.

Tom Haak is the director of the HR Trend Institute and one of many HR leaders who believe the interview is a poor selection tool. Luckily, the right analytics can help here, too.

With good workforce analytics, we can determine the characteristics that differentiate the high performers in our organization from the average performers.

— Tom Haak, Director of the HR Trend Institute

Performance data can help narrow down the traits of high performers and enable HR and hiring managers to make better decisions. For example, tailoring your interview questions to draw out the behavioral insights about what makes a great candidate can help you make a hiring decision that is both values-based and performance-driven.

Even smaller insights, like knowing where your top performers hang out online, can maximize your recruitment budget by helping you source from the right places. But you have to be close enough to your top performers to get those insights. You also need a system that helps you close the gap between collecting performance insights and using them to guide hiring decisions.

5. The rise of agile HR

Now we've arrived at what may prove to be the biggest HR buzzword for 2019. But unlike most buzzwords, this one holds its weight.

What started as a strategy swiped from Silicon Valley by business big-wigs like Gap, Pfizer and GE has now quickly caught on with organizations of all sizes. And it makes sense. With the pace and shape of business looking markedly different than in the post World War II environment when HR was born, agile HR presents a fast and nimble alternative that gives businesses the competitive advantage they need to stay relevant.

With the business justification for the old HR systems gone and the agile playbook available to copy, people management is finally getting its long-awaited overhaul too.

— Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management, Wharton and Anna Tavis, clinical associate professor of human capital management, New York University

For those who don't already know, the Agile Manifesto was created by a small group of fed-up software developers. Tucked away at a meetup in the mountains of Aspen, they set out to create a better approach to building tech products, thus the Agile Manifesto was born. It laid out four core principles for agile development:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The founders pointed out that while all of the above are valuable, the bolded items on the left are more valuable. Which begs the question, what's valuable to you as the New Year approaches?

Perhaps more than ever before in the history of HR, we've arrived at a moment of less talking and more doing. If HR leaders are to rise up and finally get that "seat at the table" that's been mentioned on lists like this year after year, action is what's needed more than anything else.

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360 Reviews: Self, Manager, Peer and Upward, which ones do you really need?

For most organizations, performance management isn't as linear as it seems.

To really get a grasp on employee performance, you need a variety of feedback models for both employees and managers. But with so many tools in the employee appraisal toolkit, which ones do you use to get the job done?

Here we take a clear look at what a self-review, manager review, peer review and upward review can accomplish in a performance cycle, using the hypothetical case of Jane, the Director of Finance. Let's pretend it's time to evaluate Jane's performance. Read on to find out which types of reviews you might use.

The Self-Review

What is it: The self-review is exactly what it sounds like. This self-discovery piece of the performance management puzzle usually shows up in the form of a brief survey asking an employee a series of general questions about their contributions over the course of the year and what the company can do on its part to help them perform better.

When to use it: It's usually used as part of a performance review process, not a stand-alone review. At many companies, employees are asked to complete a self-review as a way to prepare for their year-end annual review.

How to use it: Though self-reviews are most often used as a way to pave the path for an individual's annual appraisal with their manager, they can also be a great way to help get clarity on a role that may have changed over time. For leaders and managers they can help you identify job/scope creep, keep your finger on the pulse of employee engagement and uncover innovations that might have otherwise stayed siloed.

Do you need it?

Using our example of Jane, the Head of Finance, you might want to consider asking her to complete a self-review if you've noticed a drop in some of her standard KPIs. If Jane has traditionally been a reliable performer, the issue might be that changes in the business, market or regulatory landscape have drastically or incrementally changed the amount and/or type of work she's required to do each day. This will also help focus your appraisal around any aspects of Jane's role that might not be a fit for her personality and could be damaging her level of engagement on the job.

A self-review can be a great way to help Jane prioritize and develop a plan for her future growth. But be careful. You must be ready to follow up on the feedback received in a self-review, otherwise, you could risk losing her for good.

The Manager Review

What is it: The manager review is the classic review most of us think of when we hear the words, "employee appraisal." This is where a manager or supervisor assesses, using questions, ratings or a combination of both, the performance of an individual employee over a specific period of time.

When to use it: The manager review has traditionally been a year-end occurrence but with the rise of continuous feedback, many companies, including household names like Adobe, GE, Deloitte and Microsoft, have incorporated real-time, project-based and quarterly reviews.

How to use it: The way you use the manager review will have everything to do with your unique size, shape and ethos as a business. While it's true that companies of all sizes are shifting away from annual appraisals, many are still keeping the annual manager review and simply integrating more feedback during the year.

Do you need it?

As flawed as manager reviews are, research shows they're still the most accurate type of review available to us. But the results you get are all about how you use them.

Research shows that 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week. So if Jane's feeling disengaged because of an overwhelming workload or because she hasn't heard any feedback (positive or negative) for weeks or more, you might consider introducing a quarterly review that fits the rhythm of her work in finance and then follow that up with weekly or biweekly informal check-ins guided by the outcomes of those reviews.

The Peer Review

What is it: The peer review is an appraisal that asks an employees' co-workers to provide their feedback on an individual's performance, skills, competencies or attitude.

When to use it: Similar to the self-review, the peer review is usually used to provide guidance for the manager review, rather than act as a replacement. Peer reviews can help managers get a fuller picture of an employee's strengths and weaknesses, and potentially offset bias. (Though peer reviews can often end up biased in favor of the most popular employees.)

How to use it: While self-reviews and manager reviews are often seen as a staple, the decision to use peer reviews isn't always taken for granted. The way you incorporate peer reviews will have a lot to do with the overarching goal of your performance management strategy and unique company culture. For example, at prototype optics manufacturer of Optimax, peer reviews are used to assess skills and identify areas for improvement, while at Google, peer reviews are an essential element of upholding culture (e.g, "Do the right thing" or formerly, "Don't be evil").

Do you need it?

If you feel you need a wider view of Jane's performance, including how it could be impacting the working culture and vice versa, a peer review (or series of peer reviews) can give you that perspective.

The Upward Review

What is it: There's a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that feedback should go both ways. Companies like Google give employees that chance by letting them rate their bosses in an upward survey.

When to use it: Similar to the peer review, upward reviews work best when you have a culture of transparency and trust to support it. In these cases, you can use the peer review as part of your standard review process or as a supplemental review to help guide your top-level performance strategy. At Google, the upward review is issued on a semi-annual basis.

How to use it: With a growing emphasis on the impact of bad bosses, it can be tempting to jump on the upward review. But like all reviews, the upward review comes with its share of pros and cons. As a general rule, aim for a mix of specific quantitative and qualitative questions and make sure your managers know its coming.

Do you need it?

If it turns out that what Jane really needs is a little help learning how to be a better leader, you might lay out a growth plan that includes some learning and development in this area. From there, you can let Jane know about the benefits of upward feedback and see how she'd feel about using an upward survey with her reports. If she and the rest of the team are fully bought in, it could be a great way to track a game-changing cultural shift.

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4 Common Reasons Performance Management is Broken""

Ask the HR critics and they'll tell you, the future of performance management has been hanging in the balance for quite a while now. Clickbait headlines like, "The Annual Review Is Dead" and "15 Reasons Your Employees Hate the Performance Review" hit a strong note with those of us who know there are improvements to be made.

But the truth is, there will always be a need for a system of checks and balances to help employees be their best at work. As humans, we just care more when we know where we stand. In fact, in one survey 92% of employees that negative feedback is effective at improving performance (that is, if you deliver it well).

Love it or hate it, performance management is here to stay. But that doesn't mean you need to rip out and replace your entire system. More often than not, a couple small tweaks is all it takes to get your existing process back on track.

Let's take a closer look at some of the most common issues that might be tripping up your system.

1. Your Annual appraisals are too heavy

If that sounds like you, know that you're not alone.

In many ways, the annual review has become the scapegoat for companies that have much bigger cultural problems. Do they take too long? Usually, yes. Are they too one-sided, formal, and complicated? Probably. Does that mean you should throw the performance review baby out with the bathwater? Not so fast.

Before you get rid of the annual review altogether, first consider a faster, more efficient framework, including more feedback opportunities throughout the year. Second, engage employees in the process so they feel a sense of ownership over their performance goals and the metrics you use to measure their performance.

2. Your ratings are meaningless

Rating employees can be a contentious endeavor, especially when ratings are tied to pay increases and promotions.

But when used correctly, ratings can be a great way to create and uphold workplace standards. The challenge is knowing when to use, and when not to use ratings in performance reviews. For instance, if you're rating an employee on a vague personal identity characteristic like how "collaborative" they are, you could easily see a backlash. Especially, if you're not bothering to follow that rating with development opportunities to help them learn how to play better with others.

Instead, focus your ratings to help carve out a growth path for employees or measure a manager's subjective opinion of the employee, not the employee themself.

3. Feedback has no connection to mission

The biggest mistake in performance management is forgetting why you’re doing it. But if your approach isn’t aligned with your company goals, you’re working with a blunt tool.

A 2016 study found consumer companies whose employees understood their role in delivering the organization’s aims managed to triple their annual growth rates.

Start by finding your performance management north star. And keep in mind, this probably won't be an exact match to the mission statement hanging in the lobby wall, but it should definitely be related. For example, Starbucks's mission statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

It’s ambitious, but also simple. So for Starbucks's employees, the ‘north star’ is all about creating the kind of culture that leads to stellar customer service.

4. Employee reviews are full of fluff

When you sit down to evaluate an employee, are you asking the right questions?

A well thought-out question can mean the difference between a productive employee and a toxic workplace culture. And there are many ways to say the same thing. Think about your language, tone and phrasing. Is it accusatory or focused on growth? Is your intent clear? Dig deep, ask follow-ups and allow a two-way conversation to take place.

Here are a few example questions to help get you started:

  • What was your biggest achievement in the last year/quarter/month and why are you proud of it?
  • Which aspect of your job do you enjoy the most and why do think you're good at it?
  • What other ways do you think could contribute to the company?
  • What's been the most challenging part of your work and how did you deal with it?

Despite the buzz, there's no one-size-fits solution to performance management. Your performance management must evolve right along with the rest of your business. And if your business has changed and your performance management process hasn't, it's probably time for a tune-up, not a complete trade in.


Ready for a modern and effective performance management system?

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What are Cascading Goals? (And how to use them.)

The idea of using goals as the lifeline between a company's grandest vision and an individual employee's daily actions has been around for decades.

So why is it that only 14% of employees know their company’s objectives?

It's not like organizations don't bother to set goals — 65% of organizations have an agreed-upon strategy. But creating a strategy is easy — executing it is a whole other ball game. Less than 10% of all organizations succeed in executing their strategies.

And executing strategies consistently?

We don't have exact numbers on that, but you can bet they're pretty minimal. The ability to deliver solid results over the long-term is undoubtedly what makes a company (and its leaders) great. But the secret to consistent performance at the company level, is all about the people who make the strategy happen at the ground level.

That's where cascading goals can help...IF you use them right.


Company goals, team objectives and employee progress are easy to track in PerformYard.


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What are cascading goals?

Cascading goals are goals that are translated from one level of the organization to the next. The point of a cascading goal is to get everyone from top to bottom completely aligned with the big picture organizational goal, and to make 100% sure they know exactly what to do by breaking that strategy down into clear tasks and deliverables that can be easily communicated and tracked.

Goals can be seen in a "cascade" — with a clear set of objectives at the individual, departmental and company levels. This can make it much easier to communicate and document your strategy, while eliminating any confusion over who owns what, when a goal needs to be accomplished, or even how to achieve a goal at the task level.

According to Billy Elliott, Country Manager of the Top Employers Institute in Africa, “Unless organizations take specific steps to cascade goals throughout the organization and align these with employee goals, the best laid plans will come to nothing. To drive true purpose and effectiveness in the everyday lives of employees, the company strategy needs to be filtered down to each level of staff."

Cascading your goals is how you achieve that "filtering down" so that no one in the organization is ever confused about what to do or when to do it.

The pros and cons of cascading goals

Like all things in life, business and HR, there are two sides of every story. The magic of cascading goals will be quickly lost, if you fail to use them intentionally.

While cascading goals are a great way to break down your company's vision into actionable chunks employees can bite into, they're also inherently hierarchical and can become prone to the kind of bureaucratic workflows and tunnel vision that have upended many an industry dinosaur.


  • Align business objectives with employee goals
  • Increase transparency and accountability when shared publicly
  • Reduces workflow redundancies, conflicting objectives and unclear responsibilities


  • Prone to blanketing diverse departments under one generic goal
  • Can become a time-intensive red tape exercise where the real goal becomes muddled
  • Can become rigid and outdated if not actively tracked and followed up

Stuart Hearn, commercial director at HR software company Vaado Software (previously HR director at Sony Music Publishing) sums it up perfectly in an interview for HR Magazine:

"If performance management is taken seriously within the senior team and they lead by example, then this tends to cascade through the organization. In organizations where the process is HR-driven and senior management is not committed to performance management, it tends to be more of a box-ticking exercise."

With cascading goals, any attempt to "set it and forget it" will backfire. Let's take a closer look at how to use cascading goals for good (rather than superfluous HR "box-ticking").

3 must-know tips for effective cascading goals

If you're doing it right, your cascading goal process won't stop after the CEO sets those initial goals.

Here are a few ways to break free of the linear approach and make your cascading goal setting process equally as dynamic as your business (and the people in it).

1. Get real about your goals

Don't overload your performance management process with too many organizational goals — but don't force autonomous departments to adopt one blanket goal, either.

Think about the top 3 things you really want to achieve and be SMART (e.g., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Based) about how you set out to achieve them at every level of your cascading goal process.

2. Check your alignment

Alignment is key. Rather than investing all your energy at the front-end (setting up a strategic top-level goal and then walking away), give each department and employee some autonomy in setting the goals that make the most sense for them.

Make sure everyone is completely clear on what tasks are assigned to each goal, then set firm deadlines, performance metrics, and dates and reminders for check-ins.

3. Always follow up

Creating a strategic goal may feel like a lot of work for your CEO, but it's nothing compared to the burden your employees will feel if they don't have the tools and support they need to achieve those goals.

Always align goal reviews with performance reviews and make it a point to ask your people if they're getting the resources they need (including training, mentorship, and clear and specific feedback) in order to keep moving toward their goals.

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How to Fix Low Performance Review Completion Rates

Perhaps more than any other business function, HR performance is hard to measure. How do you know a benefit is worth offering? Can you justify the ROI on that shiny new tool or initiative?

Questions like these plague many an HR leader.

But when you're dealing with hundreds of different personalities, how can you ensure everyone's taking the time to provide their feedback. And, importantly, how can you do it in a way that won't annoy them or turn them off from the process completely?

Departmental competitions rewarding managers with free parking spaces for 100% completion are great and all, but if there's a crack in the foundation of your performance management process, those attempts will still feel forced. Here are some subtle yet effective ways to get your performance review participation rates back on track.

1. Eliminate the unnecessary

Raise your hand if you've heard this one before: "Sorry. I just don't have time for this right now."

It may sound like an excuse but in a world where managers typically spend 30-60% of their time on admin and meetings, it's not hard to imagine how they could come to resent the appraisal process, especially if it comes with a heavy paper trail. Research shows that managers spend up to 210 hours per year on performance management, and employees spend roughly 40 hours per year. For many employees, that's just too much.

If your employee appraisal process is overly complex, employees and managers alike will do everything they can to avoid it (even play hooky). Rather than loading an entire year's worth of feedback into one red-tape heavy annual review, consider some simple ways to deliver feedback more regularly, or try to adjust your appraisal forms to get the same or better insights with fewer questions.

If you're not sure what to keep and what to scrap, here's a quick guide to help walk you through.

2. Fight cynicism with purpose

If you get the feeling everyone dreads or even despises, your review process, you're probably right.

The reality is it's not just managers who are skeptical. A 2014 Deloitte report surveyed over 2,500 CEOs and HR leaders around the globe and found that 58% believe performance reviews aren't an effective use of time.

But if you can't see the value in the appraisal process, how can you expect anyone else to?

The good news is every review season is a fresh chance to reframe your approach. If you've recently implemented a lighter, faster review process, why not tell your employees about it? Tell them what you removed, what you kept and why. And if you're not sure where to start, sit down with your leaders and managers to find out what they want the review to accomplish. For example, do they want to encourage growth and development or raise the bar on autonomy and accountability? Performance management isn't a "set it and forget it" activity, but if it were, what would be the end game? What do you want to get out of it?

When your review process has a clear reason for existing, employees, managers and even the top-level players who are always "too busy" will find it much easier to get their reviews done.

3. Clearly communicate why and how

As HR managers, we take it for granted that this stuff's important. We've read the articles, we've seen the stats, we get it. But do your managers and employees know what's in it for them?

Fact is, 9 in 10 managers are dissatisfied with how their companies conduct annual performance reviews, which means they simply don't see the value in it. But if you've taken the time to develop a fair, focused, efficient process for evaluating employee performance, you should have no problem getting that buy-in.

Here are a few factors to include in your next announcement:

  • The overarching goal of your performance management process
  • A clear explanation of what the process was like then vs. now (if you've made a change)
  • Real-world stats, examples and testimonials of how performance reviews help employees, managers and the business at large (feel free to use another company's example if you don't have your own yet)
  • A step-by-step breakdown of how the process works and what the major deadlines are
  • Tips for giving clear and compelling feedback

Once everyone's clear on the why, how and when, use an automated tool to take the pressure out of following up with managers who are still dragging their feet.

How to make it stick

At the end of the day, the purpose of your performance management process matters just as much as the process itself. A great way to ensure higher participation rates in the long-term is to involve your managers in designing the strategy to include the things they view as important.

What have they seen that does and doesn't work? In an ideal world, how much time would it take them to complete an appraisal? What would they get in return? Set a review process and schedule they can feel good about and use the right set of automated tools and systems to make the implementation as pain-free as possible.

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How Does Amazon Do Performance Management?

Is Amazon a lone wolf in the tech world?

Unlike Apple, Microsoft, Google or Netflix, Amazon's working culture is anything but glamorous. You won't find employees skateboarding across the office or kicking back in high-tech meditation pods. Yet, Amazon is undeniably a direct competitor to some of the brightest Silicon Valley darlings. So if it's not competing on Michelin-star rated lunches and unlimited vacation time, how is Amazon winning its talent?

In 2015, a controversial New York Times article described Amazon's culture as "purposeful Darwinism" and accused the company of creating an environment where employees are ruthlessly pitted against each other using a brutal rank and yank performance management system. But employees, including Jeff Bezos himself, spoke out against the article saying that much of it was nothing but hype.

So what's true and what's false when it comes to the retail giant's performance management system? Unfortunately, it's tough to know for sure. But luckily, there are a few clues that can give us a good glimpse into how leaders at Amazon run their employee appraisal process.


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


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Who is Amazon?

Before we start piecing together what we know about Amazon's performance management strategy, let's not forget how influential the tech giant is.

Amazon is arguably the most successful startup of our era, and has eclipsed the likes of Walmart as America’s largest retailer. Amazon created the modern category of retailing, pushing the boundaries on everything from eReaders to video streaming, web hosting, smart devices and so much more.

The tech giant currently boasts 100 million prime members and a market cap of about $380 billion. Its workforce is comprised of 560,000 employees from all over the world. Despite their top-dog status, Amazon remains ever-aware of the competition. “Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service,” says CEO, Jeff Bezos, “And I love that. it’s super-motivating for us.”

The role of performance management at Amazon

Jeff's known to lead by lean, Six Sigma–style processes that enable Amazon to offer the best possible customer experience at the best possible price.

But Amazon arguably gets its edge by using a data-driven approach with clear metrics to measure both consumer and employee behavior. In Gallup's more objective assessment of the company's work ethos, head of finance for Amazon Web Services, Sean Boyle says, "Data creates a lot of clarity around decision-making. Data is incredibly liberating."

So is performance management at Amazon about liberating employees to make the best decision on behalf of the customer or is it as ruthless and unfair as the Times suggested? The answer depends on who you ask. (More on that in a minute.)

Only the best

“You can work long, hard or smart, but at you can’t choose two out of three.” — Jeff Bezos

At PerformYard, we're strong believers that every performance management process should have a clear reason for existing. Whether you're pro or anti-Amazon, you have to admit, its performance management purpose is clear: always demand the best.

Amazon's 14 leadership principles serve as clear performance guideposts. And almost all of them focus on an individual's ability to own and objectively test and defend their ideas, as opposed to "softer" things like collaboration or development.

But how does this play out in practice?

Continuous feedback meets annual stack ranking

From what we were able to garner from a limited amount of public info, Amazon uses a "stack ranking" (a.k.a. "rank and yank") performance management process in which employees are rated against each other in an annual review.

As Don Weobong President of Telania e-learning platform puts it, "every aspect of a worker’s performance is measured and ranked — from the earliest stages of the onboarding process, employees are also treated as data subjects in every respect. At the end of the day, employees are only kept if their metrics add up."

But here's where it gets interesting. Amazon also uses continuous feedback via its "Anytime Feedback Tool". This is an internal platform where workers can anonymously praise or critique colleagues. While the majority of the business world grapples with annual vs. continuous feedback, as if it's an "either/or" debate, Amazon boldly powers ahead with both.

And for employees who literally don't stack up?

Amazon uses a 3-month "Performance Improvement Plan," (or "PIP") to help the employee get back on track. You can guess what happens if they don't.

What do employees and managers really think?

If scathing accounts like that of the Times are to be believed, you might be thinking, "No wonder turnover at Amazon is so high."

And it's true. Median tenure at Amazon is just 1 year. But at Google, it's 1.1 years — not much better despite its cushy 5-star perks and seemingly well-rounded performance management model. So what do employees love and hate about working at Amazon?

Here are a few anonymous Glassdoor testimonials that can help shed some light.

The pros

“Keep doing what you're doing. The reason such a big company can still operate successfully is because it runs as a start-up, and you can see that in every part of Amazon. Every Day is Day 1.”

“The culture demands that you're able to defend your views or decisions in a rigorous, data driven way, and accept criticism constructively without taking it personally. This doesn't suit everyone, however if it does, then both these things become significant Pros, adding to your experience and growth.”

“You work with smart people, you work on exciting projects, you are pushed to your limits...which can be rewarding when you accomplish great things. The diversity of the potential work and innovation can be very alluring. I've often called Amazon my 'Sexy Mistress'...she's emotionally abusive, but she's so sexy that I go back for more punishment."

The cons

“The management process is abusive, and I'm currently a manager. I've seen too much ‘behind the wall’ and hate how our individual performers can be treated. You are forced to ride people and stack rank employees...I've been forced to give good employees bad overall ratings because of politics and stack ranking.”

“You're responsible for your own career progression and finding the places and teams that are doing the stuff you want to do. No one is going to take you by the hand and help you with that.”

“You have to be self motivated. NO ONE will hold your hand and tell you that you're doing a great job. If you need constant affirmations from management, this company isn't for you.”

All of the above

Then there's the most famous employee review. The one that virtually cemented Amazon's reputation for "purposeful Darwinism".

“Amazon is built, quite deliberately, to be Darwinian. The strong survive and the weak perish (metaphorically speaking) and the 'bar' is constantly increasing. The level of performance that would have been acceptable five years ago will get you canned today. It’s a kinda crucible that will help you develop a harder edge, if you can survive, that will service you well in your career and in life.”

Diverse challenges, breakthrough performance, zero hand-holding — these are attributes that may work well with a specific type of high-performer, and they definitely seem to match Amazon's unique position as a fast and fearless innovator.

And there is some indication that respect for this approach is growing. The average company rating on Glassdoor from current and former employees is a 3.4 out of 5. As of 2018, Amazon receives an above average rating of 3.8 — up from its score of 3.4 in 2015.

But not every company has the kind of magnetic employer brand that can be considered the "Sexy Mistress" of professional growth. While Amazon's clarity of purpose and hard focus on objective, data-driven feedback are solid performance management principles, smaller brands who need to hang to their people might be better off leaving the "ratings politics" and "emotional abuse" at the door.

More Inspiration

Amazon 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.

3 Approaches to Performance Management: Google, Betterment and IBM

How Does GE Do Performance Management Today?

How does Facebook do Performance Management

Performance Management at Tesla: What we know.

How Regeneron Built Their Performance Management System

How Does Uber Do Performance Management?

How Does Asana Do Performance Management?

How Netflix does Performance Management

Deloitte's Radically Simple Review

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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How to Choose the Right Goal Cycle Frequency

Goals are an elusive subject. Research on how to set them, track them, and of course achieve them has dominated both the personal and business spheres for decades, maybe even centuries.

According to some of the crème de la crème goal-setting researchers, a goal "is the desired outcome of a particular behavior or set of behaviors, and therefore goal setting involves specifying the level or standard of performance to be attained, usually within a predetermined time frame."

Let's think about that last part for a minute. Goals can be incredibly motivating, but only if the time period makes sense. If a goal cycle is too short, we don't get the rush of taking those giant performance leaps. Too long and we risking working on outdated, ho-hum goals that no one takes seriously.

But how do you really know when one goal should end and the next begin?

Simple benchmarks for choosing the right goal cycle

Spoiler alert: As much as we'd love to give you one, there is no magic formula for setting the perfect goal cycle.

In today's rapidly-changing business climate, even the time-honored quarterly goal has come under scrutiny. At the end of the day, establishing a relevant end date for your business goals is about asking yourself the hard questions, things like:

  • What matters to us more, profits or innovation?
  • Does why we have a goal, or how we reach it, matter as much as when we achieve that goal?
  • What do we want the future of the business to look like?
  • Are our goals meant to be reached? Or just pursued?

Long-term goals vs. short-term goals

One way to simplify the process is to start by drawing a line between your long and short-term goals. Again, this will look different depending on what business you're in.

A startup may have vastly different long-term goals than a centuries-old business that functions in a slow-moving industry. For example, 10x growth within 5 years might be the kind of high-stakes long-term goal that makes sense for a sparkling new tech company. But without clear criteria for how that goal will break down in the day-to-day, you could be putting your business at risk for the sake of pleasing investors.

For a 3-5 year goal, you might need performance reviews every month, or even week to keep your teams on track. But what if you're a major contractor who's just won a big-ticket infrastructure project that will take a decade or more to complete? In that case a long-term goal might be a 20-year goal broken down into "short-term" annual or biannual goals based on project specs that are already fully fleshed out.

Here are a few examples that can help give a little more context to how you think about the right goal cycle for your organization.

Apple - 3 Annual Objectives

"I want to put a ding in the universe.” – Steve Jobs, Former CEO, Apple

Steve Jobs was known for setting massive goals. Every year, Apple hosted a strategy meeting where the famed CEO would gather dozens of yearly objectives from key staff, then narrow them down until they were left with just three. Τhose 3 goals then became the core goals for the next year.

Jobs also set expectations for how those goals were to be reached. Focus was big. He was known for demanding zero distraction. Every activity his teams undertook either supported the annual goals, or simply weren't a priority. Apple even assigned a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) to every project to make sure their teams stayed on track to hitting their yearly goals.

Starbucks - Why over when

“These goals represent our aspiration to create impact on the issues that matter.” - John Kelly, SVP of Global Social Impact and Public Policy, Starbucks

For Starbucks, social responsibility is the north star. The coffee giant's 2020 vision for social responsibility has clear guidelines and expectations. Starbucks breaks down their 2-3 year responsibility vision to smaller, more actionable goals under following headings:

  • Sustainable Coffee
  • Greener Retail
  • Creating Opportunities
  • Strengthening Communities

By stating that these are the goals for 2020 "and beyond", they're letting stakeholders know that this is an ongoing, long-term goal that they're committed to setting and resetting every couple of years.

Facebook - Non-goals take you farther

"Lots of times you have very good ideas. But they're not as good as the most important thing you could be doing. And you have to make the hard choices." - Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

At the end of the day, there isn't enough time to do it all.

Sheryl Sandberg has a great trick for choosing which goals really matter. Non-goals are secondary goals employees should focus on only after the main goal has been met. "You have your goals and non-goals. The non-goal is the next thing that you would do, because it's a really good idea," she says.

A rule like this might make more sense for a 20,658-person company like Facebook than a ruthlessly determined startup, but it's a form of prioritizing we could all learn from — both for the big picture long-term goals and the smaller day-to-day actions that get you there.

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Make Your Employee Appraisals More Fair with 4 Simple Ideas

If you've been following the performance management space for any amount of time, you know how controversial performance reviews can be.

Still, they're often necessary. So once you're caught up on the research, once you've read all the headlines, once you've accepted the fact that we can (and should!) do better — where does that leave you? What can you actually do to make your employee appraisals more fair?

Here are 4 practical tips you can take back and apply to your appraisal process right now to make everyone feel better at work.

1. Don't compare employees' past track records

At work, as in relationships, there's nothing more annoying than being compared to someone else.

Research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (and summed up in this brilliant HBR article) examined four studies using data from 1,024 American and Dutch employees in order to compare two types of reference points in employee performance reviews.

The first reference point, called "temporal comparison evaluations", uses the employees’ own past performance to show them how they've progressed over time. The other reference point, called "social comparison evaluations", uses other employees’ performance during the same period, so that a manager can rate an employee based on how much better or worse they performed over their peers.

As you might expect, researchers found that participants who received temporal comparison evaluations (feedback based on their own past performance) had a much easier time getting on board with the feedback given. They felt their performance appraisal was more individualized, discerning and accurate. They felt they'd been treated with respect.

On the flipside, everyone (strong and poor performers alike), who received a social comparison evaluation, felt the appraisal was unfair.

2. Link performance to outcomes

But if you can't compare employees' past performance, what can you do?

Using clear and specific outcomes is a great way to show employees how their work makes a tangible impact on the bottom line, while proving that your appraisal process is anything but arbitrary.

The outcomes will of course vary from role to role, but a good place to start is to think about the KPIs that matter most to each department. Make sure they're things your employees can actually own. For example, increased revenue might be a great outcome for your sales reps, but does your engineering department truly have the tools, resources and autonomy needed to draw a clear line between their work and its impact on revenue? If yes, great!

But keep in mind, there's a reason 65% of employees say performance evaluations aren't relevant to their jobs. Holding your people accountable for outcomes they have no real impact on is a sure way to make them resent you, so choose wisely.

3. Know exactly what you're measuring

I once knew a star performer who was about a foot taller than everyone else on the team. At almost six feet tall, no matter what she wore, it looked "short".

Despite the fact that she consistently outperformed the rest of the team on all the departmental KPIs, she was always rated a 2 out of 5 on dress code. Rather than settle for wearing pants every day, she quit and became a manager at a competitor company.

When employee appraisals muddy the water between expectations and goals, confusion abounds. Managers can lose sight of what's really important in an effort to force a "cultural fit" — and that's a sure way to lose your best people.

Once you've identified the core metrics that really drive performance, consider dropping any expectations that don't actually move the needle on your goals. (And never, ever rate an employee on metrics that just don't matter.)

4. Define your performance management goals and values

Perhaps the biggest reason 71% of American employees surveyed by Gallup said their performance appraisals weren't fair, is because they don't know why they exist in the first place.

Fairness cannot exist without clarity. Yet, how many managers do you know who can actually explain why the performance review process exists in its current form? (And no, "figuring out who to keep and who to fire" isn't an answer that will inspire confidence from your employees.)

One great example of a company with a clear performance management goal is Huawei. The major manufacturer has a performance management goal of "development over time" and they're known for evaluating employees based on their own past performance. In the words of their founder, Ren Zhengfei, “I will not judge whether each team has done a good job or not, because all of you are moving forward. If you run faster than others and achieve more, you are heroes. But, if you run slowly, I won’t view you as underperformers.”

If it's time to rethink your employee appraisals, consider including your people in the process. There's no better way to establish an environment of trust and fairness, than to involve them in finding a better way forward.

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Does Your Performance Management Process have Purpose? These 9 Companies Do.

We've all heard the epic stories of game-changers like Jack Welch who seemingly pull off the impossible by getting 250,000 employees to "pull in the same direction" and reach record-breaking levels of success in their business. We've seen the stats. We've read the headlines. We get it.

Performance management matters.

For many of us, the question isn't whether or not to use a performance management process, it's: Where the heck do you start?

(Check out our getting started guide too!)

Most performance management is missionless

For most of us, what performance management is clear. We do reviews, encourage feedback, and set goals. But beyond these activities, what's the point of doing it all? Why does your organization do performance management?

Taking a hard look at the purpose of your processes is REALLY important. As great as performance management can be, it can also go horribly wrong.

When we talk about performance management gone wrong, there's always one underlying theme uniting these cautionary tales: Businesses veer off-track because they've lost sight of the why.

Why you need a "north star" for your performance management strategy

From launching a new service to enabling human life on Mars, every awe-inspiring mission starts with a compelling goal — or, "north star" — to keep its supporters firmly on track.

In fact, a study by Korn Ferry titled, “People on a mission" found that consumer companies that focused their employees on the organization’s purpose boasted annual growth rates that were nearly triple the annual rate in their sector.

If you want to prevent your performance management process from becoming just another blip in a miles-long HR paper trail, you need a clear goal to keep it on track.

But if you're like most businesses, you probably have multiple goals, objectives and values guiding your business. Which one should be the focus of your performance management process? It's a tough call. And the answer will always depend on the unique culture of your organization and the industry you're in.

From classic innovators to the new and "unusual", here are 9 examples of companies with a clear goal for their performance management processes. Hopefully, these examples will inspire you to create the one that's right for you.

9 companies with clear performance management goals

1. Employee Development at Deloitte

In 2015, Deloitte radically revamped their performance management system from the traditional annual review system which, like so many others, had a north star of "accountability" based on past performance.

The big four consulting company now uses a quarterly review system with the overriding goal of coaching and developing its employees. In shifting their focus from past to current and future performance, Deloitte shed a floodlight on one of the biggest intrinsic challenges in employee reviews, striking a balance between development and accountability. In the words of one Deloitte manager, "The conversations are more holistic. They’re about goals and strengths, not just about past performance."

2. Collaboration at General Electric

Like Deloitte, GE is another major name in performance management. Jack Welch's famed "Rank and Yank" approach to performance management has become synonymous with competitive 1980s business culture. But in recent decades, the company has shifted its PM process from one of ruthless evaluation to goal-setting and aspirational guidance (drivers which some would argue were always there.)

Though the rank and yank model was effective in improving performance and encouraging candor between managers and employees, it fueled an element of competition that proved counterproductive to the collaborative way in which most businesses must now operate. In perhaps one of the most extreme examples of a performance-management-180, GE now uses a continuous feedback approach. Managers and employees use a performance-tracking mobile app (called PD@GE) that allows managers and employees to make text or audio notes, attach documents and upload handwritten notes which they can later discuss in their next check-in.

3. Personal Accountability at Accenture

Like Deloitte, Accenture is a giant in the consulting world. The management advisory firm is also a regular on Fortune's best companies to work for rankings. And like Deloitte, Accenture moved away from a rigid performance management system, shifting from evaluation to development. It was again, a massive undertaking, “Imagine, for a company of 330,000 people, changing the performance management process — it's huge,” said Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture in a 2015 interview with The Washington Post. “We're going to get rid of probably 90% of what we did in the past.”

While Accenture's approach looks very similar to that of Deloitte and others, the company's PM strategy has one clear differentiator — employees work with managers to set goals for themselves. At first glance, it can be tempting to view this as just another thinly veiled approach to rank and yank, but for Accenture, this focus on individuality is fundamental to coaching employees to "know thyself" and encourages a greater sense of passion and dedication at work.

4. Removing Teamwork Barriers at Microsoft

It's one thing when a millennial-run tech startup bucks an ongoing HR trend — it's a whole other thing completely when a giant like Microsoft does it. In 2013, the software giant was under increasing heat from former employees to eliminate its cutthroat stack ranking system, prompting Microsoft to become one of the first big-name brands to ditch employee ranking. Instead of sticking to forced timelines and rating curves, Microsoft created a performance management process called “Connects”. Similar to PD@GE, Microsoft optimizes their workflows to accommodate for timely feedback based on the rhythm of each part of their business — rather than following one timeline for the entire company.

While there is definitely an element of collaboration and development in Microsoft's new system, the real goal is to eliminate the many silos that exist in a company their size and foster a better sense of teamwork in order to act more quickly on changes in the market and avoid becoming the proverbial business Titanic. "The changes we are making are important and necessary as we work to deliver innovation and value to customers through more connected engagement across the company," said former EVP of HR, Lisa Brummel.

5. Emphasizing Agility at Adobe

If it weren't for Adobe's fearless approach to performance management, companies like Microsoft and GE might still be stuck in a rigid ratings-based system. The company is credited "killing annual performance reviews," in keeping with the famous “Agile Manifesto” and the idea that annual targets are actually pretty irrelevant to the reality of day-to-day business operations.

In 2012, they introduced the concept of "Regular Performance Check-Ins", an informal system of ongoing, real-time feedback. Under their game-changing system, there are no deadlines and no forms to fill out and submit to HR. Managers decide how and when to set goals and give feedback. In removing the red tape from the performance appraisal process, Adobe allows teams to act more independently and more quickly in response to changes in the business and market. Since implementing their agile approach, the company has seen a 30% decrease in voluntary turnover and a 50% increase in involuntary departures.

6. Cultural Alignment at The Stanley Clark School

Ok, enough with the Fortune 500 examples. The best inspiration doesn't always come from the biggest names. Take The Stanley Clark School for example. This independent, private school serving children from preschool to eighth grade in South Bend, Indiana shows how a clear performance goal can help you punch above your weight. Schools across the US are plagued with toxic working environments, which undoubtedly has a negative impact on students. In her guest post for Gibson, Melissa Grubb, Head of School at The Stanley Clark School explains how they set their unique goal for a performance system and culture to rise above.

"First , a word about the assumption made as we embarked on creating a new process. We assumed each employee is competent and that the process should support our expectation of continuous improvement. Our interview process lasts for days in most cases and, if we make a hiring mistake, we correct it as soon as possible regardless of the evaluation cycle. We assume the process is designed for the employees we wish to keep, not the occasional bad fit."

Because they removed the accountability factor from the process completely, Melissa and her team can firmly focus on developing the employee within the context of the school's unique cultural values. Employees are given 6 questions and 30 positive statements to review before each performance-related meeting in order to help spark a productive conversation about their performance and how it fits into the greater whole.

7. Democratic Accountability at Valve

In case you haven't heard of Valve, they're the billion-dollar company behind some of the world's most popular video games. With no hierarchy, no set performance metrics and no seating chart, Valve's unique company culture (referred to as "Flatland") is designed to get maximum creativity out of its employees. So what purpose does its performance management process serve?

For a company so "out there", Valve uses performance appraisals in surprisingly traditional sense. The company creates a team of employees who then conducts performance interviews with each individual in the company, asking them who they worked with and what their experiences were working with that person. They then anonymize the feedback and present it to employees in what is a fairly typical 360 review system. When performance issues arise, they work with the individual to try to find a solution. If firing is the consensus, they make an attractive severance offer and attempt to part on amicable terms. For Valve, using their PM process to enforce accountability at the group level is a great way to loosen the reins in the day-to-day.

8. Growth at Gap Inc.

Gap is another company considered an early innovator in the world of performance appraisals. The company has a firm commitment around maintaining a growth mindset — the belief that everyone can be learn from their success and failures. While traditional performance management almost always begins with a lofty, passionately-worded goal, the high street retailer focuses on short-term quarterly goals supported by real time feedback, regular check-in and annual “GPS” (Grow, Perform, Succeed) meetings.

At Gap, there's no annual review and no ratings. By coupling short-term goals with individual accountability, the retailer puts growth front and center in their performance management strategy.

9. Autonomy at Asana

Tech startup Asana doubles down on the idea of aligning values with performance expectations in their famous AOR (Areas of Responsibility) framework. Instead of a traditional hierarchy, managers (a.k.a. "AOR-holders") trust their people to make the best decisions for the business.

And their performance management system is a clear reflection of their culture. Instead of annual or quarterly reviews, Asana gives face-to-face feedback often, and with zero paper trail. The company has a self-review at the end of each year, in addition to a biannual review of the company’s general direction where teams take weeks out of the office to discuss goals and performance-related issues and hold regular feedback sessions with peers and managers in a closed retreat-like setting (not unlike Microsoft's famous Think Weeks).

The focus on autonomy and objectivity are upheld through regular one-on-ones where AOR-holders and leaders ask personal development questions like, "What are you feeling?" and "What are your long-term human aspirations?". It may sound a little woo woo for those of us who have been in the game since the pre-Facebook days, but with over 20K+ paying customers and plans to go global, the company seems to be onto something.


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7 Traits of Effective Self-Review Questions

How would you rate your job performance at our company?

For many employees, this feels like a question that's just a little too loaded.

By its very nature, employees feel like there's a right and wrong way to answer, making it impossible for them to take a breath and engage in the kind of quiet self-reflection that can give you the authentic insights you need to help them actually improve their performance at work.

In Gallup's 2017 analysis of high-performing teams, only 14% of employees said they strongly agree that performance reviews inspire them to improve, and only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. Making your employees feel like the cards are stacked against them is probably the worst possible way to kick off the performance review process, and in cases of extreme employee resentment, the self-review is often a major culprit.

But wait. Before you go deleting your self-review template, you should know that it can be a valuable part of the performance management process, IF you know how to use it. Here are 7 things an effective self-review form should accomplish.

1. See your employees for who they really are (and what they really do)

There's a pretty big gap between employees and managers. In fact, according to Gallup, only 50% of employees say they clearly know what's expected of them at work.

An effective self-review lets both you and your employee get crystal clear on what it is that they do, what others think they do, and what they actually do. Businesses regularly let performance gaps slip through the cracks simply because they don't understand that all performance gaps — no matter how strategic or far-reaching — begin at the ground level. An effective self-review, followed by fair and focused coaching, can help you close those gaps before they grow out of control.

2. Gauge employee satisfaction

At the risk of sounding "buzzy", employee experience and employee happiness are truly the name of the game in the new talent economy. According to experts like Brad Grossman, founder and CEO of the cultural think-tank Zeitguide, “More jobs available means more competition for great employees. So it’s very important that you appeal to them in a great, amazing way, so that they choose your company as opposed to another company.”

A study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, so from the looks of it, experts like Brad aren't far off. Perhaps more than other parts of the employee review process, the self-review form can be a great place to inspire your employees to connect with the parts of their job that give them the most satisfaction and remove, reduce or transform the parts of the job that tend to drain them of their energy.

Instead of putting the onus on the employee with generic questions like, "Do you have suggestions on how to improve employee morale?", try literally asking them which tasks tend to make them feel energized vs. drained.

3. Reinforce the vision

Employees who can link their individual goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.

Your top performers see themselves in the future picture of your company. A great self-review enables them and you to get a better idea of what that picture looks like. Use the self-review form to prompt employees to think about the common values they share with your organization, share their personal goals and find out how they imagine growing and developing moving forward.

Again, keep it specific. Rather than asking, "What goals would you like to achieve in the future?", try linking their growth path to the parts of the job they most enjoy.

4. Make recognition a breeze

Most of us get so busy, we forget to celebrate our successes. And in some cases, we can even forget we had any successes to begin with.

But great managers want to know what makes their team members feel like they're totally on top of their game. An effective self-review form helps employees identify their biggest wins and gives team members and leaders a chance to think more deeply about the kind of activities that light the team up and where the lightning-strike moments tend to come from. These insights can give managers a ton of ammo they can use later on down the road to help keep employees engaged and on the right path.

5. Uncover innovations

As part of an awesome performance management process, an effective self-review form can shed a light on inefficiencies and enable you to quickly replace them with innovations.

If there's a dark spot in your SOPs or workflows, your employees are usually the first to know. Encourage them to speak up about any challenges or problems that may be preventing them from doing their jobs more effectively. Making them part of the problem-solving process will also help ensure they're all-in on whatever new tool, system or innovation you choose to solve it with. Again, be careful not to shift the responsibility back to the the employee with questions like, "What can we do to help you perform your job better?". Too often, these questions raise an issue, but fail to scratch beneath the surface. Follow it up with 2-3 more questions about what workflows or inefficiencies are wasting their time or energy, then get together to brainstorm solutions as a team.

6. Pave the way for a more productive performance review

At The Stanley Clark School in South Bend, Indiana, employees are given 6 questions and 30 positive statements to review before each performance-related meeting in order to help spark a productive conversation.

Rather than nailing your employees down to a few key moments, why not use the self-review to help them see how they fit into the greater whole of the business? Getting the employee to see themselves as one crucial part of a worthy bigger picture is a great way to set the scene for any future conversations that might include an adjustment or work expectations or negative feedback.

7. Find common ground

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the self-review form is that it empowers employees and managers to walk in each other's shoes.

By asking employees to reflect back on their own performance, you're effectively asking them to see things from their manager's point of view. And if you're doing it right, your employees will be encouraged to show managers how much they know and care about the work you're doing together.

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Encourage Employees to Recognize Each Other (without Forcing It)

Is this thing on? As leaders and HR managers, we've all felt the humiliation of being the only one on the company channel sending shoutouts.

And beyond the damage to our egos, that's pretty problematic for the company. If HR and managers are the only ones making sure the values of the company are acknowledged and upheld, they simply won't be.

While the vision of your employees singing kumbaya over your company mission statement may feel like just another fluffy HR trend, there are plenty of numbers drawing a clear line between profits and peer-to-peer recognition.

Why is peer-to-peer recognition so important?

In a Harvard Business Review interview, Whole Foods Market co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey put words to what most of us instinctively know:

Happy team members result in happy customers. Happy customers do more business with you. They become advocates for your enterprise, which results in happy investors. That is a win, win, win, win strategy.”

While there's been an increasing emphasis on employer-to-employee recognition in recent years, less has been said about the value of employees saying "thanks" to each other.

But peer-to-peer recognition matters in ways that top-down recognition never could. According to an SHRM report, 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction.

When your employees are actively uplifting each other, they're actively uplifting your customers, too. Maybe that's why companies who spend a minimum of 1% of payroll on recognition are 79% more likely to have better financial results.

5 awesomely unique approaches peer-to-peer recognition

Ok, so employees who give each other props have more fun at work and are also great for your bottom line. But how do you implement a peer-to-peer recognition program your employees will use?

Here are a few examples to help get your wheels turning.

1. Zappos Dollars - Classic rewards

Zappos is famous for being an epically awesome place to work and, as you'd expected, they have a set peer-to-peer recognition program in place. At Zappos, every employee can give a $50 reward to any other employee for a job well done.

The only catch is that managers, team leads and supervisors can't be recipients. Fair enough!

2. Jetblue - Public P2P recognition

JetBlue started their peer recognition program, “Lift” in 2012. Employees and team leaders can access the company's recognition platform via mobile, desktop, or tablet to call out each other's awesomeness — both for everyday tasks, as well as big, juicy game-changing acts. The stories are then shared throughout the company.

It seems to be a pretty productive approach — Lift has increased recognition satisfaction at Jetblue by 88%! JetBlue data also revealed that for every 10% increase in people who reported being recognized, the airline saw a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement. Not too shabby!

3. Typeform - Keeping recognition spontaneous

If you're worried about not having the budget to rival the recognition programs of Zappos and JetBlue — don't fret.

In one of our favorite examples of peer-to-peer recognition, software company Typeform has what they call a "Spontaneous Applause clause". Employees are invited to start literally applauding an individual team member for a job well done. And because the whole company has embraced the quirky approach, once one person starts clapping, the whole office joins in.

This one takes the concept of slow clapping to a whole new, HR-friendly level.

4. Snacknation - Crushing it weekly

Afraid peer-to-peer recognition just won't happen on its own?

Why not take a page from Snacknation's playbook and make it a Friday thing?

The snack delivery startup has company-wide meetings every Friday where team members get call out someone they want to "crush", meaning "praise". Employees can crush each other for any task or activity, no matter how large or small. As long as it jives with the company’s core values, it's considered crushworthy.

5. Cloud 9 Living - Put it in writing

Cloud 9 Living is a gifting platform, so it makes sense that acts of appreciation are fundamental to the way they do things. The company has what they call the 'G' Book, standing for "Good Stuff." Team members are encouraged to recognize each other for any win big or small, business or personal by simply jotting their shoutouts down.

Here's how it works according to co-founder, Bobby Augst, "Every week at an all company meeting we read aloud the past week’s ‘G Book’ entries. It’s a great way to call out employee accomplishments that otherwise may go unnoticed, and it also empowers employees to recognize each other for accomplishments, as opposed to management always being the only ones providing recognition.”

The right way to do peer-to-peer recognition

If you're a regular here on the PerformYard blog, you know that we boldly reject the idea of a magic HR formula. While it's great to put your head above the water and take a look at the real-world recognition ideas that may work for you, the best answer will always be the one that's the most natural for your unique company and culture.

As you set out to create your own peer-to-peer recognition platform (and unleash all the awesome business benefits that come with it), we'll leave you with this great advice from Laura Hughes, HR Manager at adventure company, Geocaching in her contribution to Snacknation.

“Find out what forms of recognition resonate most with staff members. Often times, we equate a streamlined process with effectiveness – with recognition, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If we’re taking only one approach to recognition and thereby missing the mark in how we recognize others, it can be equivalent to not recognizing them at all. Encourage managers to ask employees how they most like to be recognized — you might be surprised at the answers that surface!"

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The Anatomy of an Effective Goal: What all those goal setting frameworks have in common.

We've all heard the mantras: "A goal without a plan is just a wish," "Goals are dreams with deadlines," and the shamelessly cloying, "Reach for the sky!".

Those are great for social media memes and personal development book covers, but what should goal setting actually look like at work? You know, in practical terms.

We all know we should be setting big, juicy, inspiring goals for our companies and people, but because of the sheer size of this topic, we have no clue where to start. SMART goals, OKRs, Golden Circles, etc. — there are so many ways to break down a goal. But beyond the HR headlines and endless acronyms, what do these goal-setting frameworks have in common?

Let's get back to basics and take a deeper look at the core fundamentals that make a goal great.

What's the purpose of goal setting?

Most of us think we know the purpose of goal setting, but unfortunately, life, business and bureaucracy have a way of consistently muddling the water. In fact, experts estimate that only 36% of organizations have a company-wide approach to goal setting.

Those of us who have attempted to set goals in the past — whether that be departmental revenue targets or those infamously doomed New Year's weight loss resolutions — would likely agree that setting the goal is the easy part. The brutal truth is that for a goal to make it beyond lip-service status, it must be adopted and upheld at every level of the business.

Here are the basic principles behind every great goal-setting framework.

The 4 basic functions of a good goal

  1. It motivates and inspires employees
  2. It facilitates strategic planning
  3. It provides guidance and direction in daily tasks
  4. It helps evaluate and improve performance

The 3 main tenets of goal setting

  1. A goal is better than no goal
  2. A specific goal is better than a broad goal
  3. A challenging and specific goal is better than an easy goal

What are the different types of goals (and how do you choose)?

Now that you know the fundamentals of why, let's dive deeper into the how and which.

You may already have a hunch that what works for Google may or may not be what's right for your company. Still, we now have more options for goal-setting than any other generation in business history, and deciding on something as powerful as THE north star for your entire company is a critical call to make.

After all, it may look great on paper, but what if it stops making sense as soon as the rubber meets the road? Luckily, there are some shared characteristics between the majority of proven goal frameworks.

The 3 main types of goals

  1. Absolute goals - These are usually the hard numbers: things like revenue, number of users, number of hires, time to hire, etc.
  2. Relative goals - These goals measure how your company stacks up in the marketplace and are usually things like market share or rankings.
  3. Sustainment goals - These goals let you know you're still on track to other big goals. These can be things like employee turnover, customer satisfaction, churn rates, etc.

The decision to choose OKRs, OGSMs or BSQs isn't what matters most. Any good goal/ goal-setting framework will have the same fundamental characteristics built in. The important part is not to cut any corners when it comes to executing these elements in the day-to-day.

Here's what the best goal-setting frameworks all have in common

  • An action plan designed to motivate and guide an individual or group
  • Goal-setting criteria or rules
  • A time limit that's firm but appropriate
  • Metrics for measuring the goal
  • Focus on a set of 3-5 main goals vs. a million watered-down objectives
  • Feedback and flexibility to help adapt to change

When setting a good goal for your company and the individuals who make it run, make sure your goal ticks the above boxes.

But don't forget that, as with every other element of your business, goal setting is a living, breathing process. There may be times you have to step back and really think through what works for your unique culture and business.

Logic and clear thinking are timeless goal-setting tools

Tomas Tunguz, co-author of Winning with Data: Transform Your Culture, Empower Your People, and Shape the Future says it best, “Ultimately, logic and clear thinking are probably the best tools for setting goals, and motivating an organization properly.”

At times, applying those tools may require you to adjust your expectations. Or, in the words of another goal-setting pro, Bill Gates once famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” (And Bill's a guy who really gets stuff done.)

If you want to go after those BHAGs (that's Big Hairy Audacious Goals, in case that one escaped your radar), more power to you! Just create a goal-setting rule that in your organization, goals are meant to be pursued, not reached. Then align that in your metrics and feedback guidelines to support that goal across the org chart.

Because at the end of the day, the most important aspect of goal setting isn't a flashy acronym or perfectly-crafted memo, it's that you and your people all have a clear target to act on.

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How to: Competency-Based Performance Management

Richard Nelson Bolles's book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, has sold over 10 million copies in 28 countries — and for good reason.

In the book, Richard gives current and would-be employees the advice to, "Always define WHAT you want to do with your life and WHAT you have to offer to the world, in terms of your favorite talents/gifts/skills-not in terms of a job-title."

In other words, take time to really get to know your best competencies — then, find a job that lets you apply them. Today, that's a message that resonates on both sides of the employee/employer equation.

But it's one thing to say you're looking for someone who's "adaptable", "ambitious" and has excellent "attention to detail". It's another thing to measure whether an individual is bringing those traits to work every day — and a whole other thing still to prove those traits actually result in improved performance at work.

So how can you track competencies at a practical level?


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


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A brief history of competency assessments

The idea of optimizing an individual's inherent strengths may seem pretty hot these days, but the practice of assessing competencies has been around a while.

“Competence” was first creating a buzz in HR back in 1953. But the idea of competency assessments really made its mark in 1973, when Harvard psychology professor David McClelland wrote a paper called, Testing for Competence Rather than Intelligence.

In his groundbreaking paper, David posited that while traditional aptitude tests were good predictors of academic performance, they weren't all that great at predicting on-the-job performance. Instead of a rigid intelligence test, David suggested that an individual's underlying personal characteristics (or, "competencies") were the best predictors of performance.

And it's an honorable idea. But as with most good ideas, proof of worth is in the execution — not the idea itself.

The problem with competency ratings in performance reviews

Competency assessments have morphed into a bulky HR process.

HR departments force managers to navigate endless competency libraries and judge employees based on a rigid set of competencies that are more reflective of a "unicorn" employee than the actual needs of the business.

Here's a quick sum-up of the drawbacks of an over-reliance on competencies in performance reviews:

  • Reviews become overly focused on what "should" work, instead of what does
  • They don't leave enough room for the variety of skill needed in nuanced situations or roles
  • They treat competencies as quantitative measures of performance

A better way to track competencies in performance reviews

Get your managers on board

The practice of measuring an employee's knowledge, skills and attitude (KSAs) has been around for quite some time. But do your managers know that?

More importantly, do they care?

The truth is, most managers are too busy working with the actual personalities on their team to to think about whether their employees should improve their "critical thinking" abilities. And is that really a bad thing?

A manager's ability to lead a group of different people with different competencies is what matters most, not their ability to dissect that group based on a 9-box model of what's supposed to work. That's why companies like Google have kept their managers out of the hiring process altogether, and other companies like Deloitte have scrapped traditional competency-ratings in favor of open-ended metrics like, "Given what I know of this person's performance, I would always want him or her on my team."

If your managers are smart people (and we're betting they are), they'll know that using a qualitative measure to assess a business goal is a waste of time. Get them on board by coaching them on how your competencies go beyond the fluff to measure how an employee meets a quantitative goal.

(And while you're at it, make sure they're aware of the impact of rater effects and how their feedback could be prone to bias.)

Work backward

Competencies are best-used to identify the how behind a specific business goal or vision.

  • How does a customer support department boost an NPS score by 5 points?
  • How does a sales rep hit their revenue target?
  • How do we work better and faster moving forward?

We all know there are a certain mix of characteristics, that lead to a certain set of behaviors, that leads to an individual's success in their role. But there are many nuanced "black box" areas on the way to hitting a performance goal that those of us at the higher level just can't see.

Rather than taking a top-down approach that assumes that someone with a rating of 4 out of 5 on "organizational skills" is ripe for a promotion — why not start by assessing the competencies of the people already winning in their roles?

Once you know the KSAs that already work, then you can help your managers hire, coach and rate based on proven competencies.

Keep the competencies, ditch the "framework"

Coaching employees to further develop their best traits on the path to achieving your company's vision is at the core of performance management.

Competencies help us put a finger on what's really working in our business and are crucial to helping us coach our employees to reach their highest potential.

But they can quickly backfire when they're used as a performance management "cure-all", blanketing the unique individuals that make up your business into a homogenous group.

If you really want to offer more value at work by helping your people spend more time in their "zones of genius", it's time to go back to basics and look at competencies at what works on-the-job as opposed what "should" work based on a job description.

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Performance Rating Scales: When and how to use them

What could cause an 80% drop in employee engagement at one of the world's most successful pharma companies?

An over-reliance on performance ratings.

The truth is rating scales are one tool in the performance management toolbox. Like any tool, they’re useful — but not made for every situation.

Let's take a closer look at ratings to find out when they work and when they don't.

Classic Ratings and Modern Ratings

The classic example

The classic performance scoring matrix uses a 5 point scale and in most cases, probably looks something like this example from UC Berkeley:

  • Level 5: Exceptional
  • Level 4: Exceeds expectations
  • Level 3: Meets expectations
  • Level 2: Improvement needed
  • Level 1: Unsatisfactory

The problem with a scale like this one happens when it's used to assess vague competencies, like 'organizational skills.' Managers aren't good at rating broad competencies, one person's self-starter could be another person's insubordinate trouble-maker. You run the risk of broadening the gap between managers and employees with the disagreement of terms that is bound to result.

On the other hand, assessing employee performance without ratings opens you up to more subjective opinions that we know often show bias.

If you want to use ratings fairly and effectively, start by applying them to well-defined behaviors rather than personality traits.

The modern example

Deloitte addresses all the concerns raised above with their two rating 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]

It's important to note that Deloitte’s survey has open-ended questions as well, but these simple ratings-based questions help use their managers' inherent biases to understand how teams are performing, while making reviews incredibly fast and easy to execute.

It's important to note that there's no limit to the number of ratings statements you can use. In one of the HR world's most popular examples, Google uses 11 ratings statements plus 2 open-ended questions for employees rating their managers.

Why have performance ratings?

For years companies have overused ratings, applying them to every aspect of the business and the people within it. But the best employee rating system has everything to do with your own specific performance goal, and the amount of intention with which you use your ratings.

Here are some of the best ways to use performance rating scales, according to research.

1. Use ratings to support short-term improvement

While ratings probably aren’t as objective as we wish they were, research shows that a manager's subjective ratings can be good enough for short-term performance improvement.

Dick Grote, founder of Grote Consulting, took a deep look at the data, including a study of 100 companies using a GE-style rank and yank. He found that identifying the lowest 10% of performance, and replacing them, succeeded in helping the business improve. Dick writes that “organizations got their best results immediately, in the first few years after implementing a forced ranking system.”

It makes sense when you think about it. After a few years of cutting low performers, the issue won’t be talent, it’ll be talent management. Brutal as rank and yank can be, it can also be fair in circumstances where the business might be holding on to a group of underperforming employees who simply weren't a great fit to begin with.

If you're using performance ratings to boost short-term results, you could easily use the classic 5-point rating scale with any of the following statements.

Example statements

Change management

This person clearly explains how change will impact the team/department/individuals

This person achieves optimal levels of performance and accomplishment with/for ...

This person provides strong evidence of achieving results [list specific accomplishment]

Project Management

This person excels at developing projects that have delivered X results

This person improved production by X% through [the following specific tasks and strategies]

This person exceeded the original goal of X by X% through [performing/introducing the following tasks/strategies specific task]

This person keeps meetings action oriented by [using the following strategies/task]

Deadlines and Time Management

This person consistently meets all deadlines [provide numerical figure e..g completed 8 out of 10 tasks on time]

This person prepares meeting agendas that are concise and time-saving

This person keeps meetings on schedule

This person respects the time of others

This person makes effective use of discretionary time

2. Create and uphold workplace standards

Ratings can also be great for creating standards, a crucial foundation for any high-performance culture.

Companies like Asana set standards of independence and responsibility (using their famed AOR model), while Netflix sets unapologetic standards of excellence and skill. Held together by regular performance reviews, these standards coalesce to form the pillars of their workplace culture. While ratings have recently come under fire for being somewhat "counter-cultural", they can actually boost transparency and help employees know where they stand in relation to the company standards.


For example, GE also used ratings to support their company-wide standard of growth and improvement. Ron Ashkenas, consultant and author of The GE Work-Out, writes that GE, “assumes that most people have the capacity to continually grow.” The powerhouse company used rankings and ratings as just the start of a longer performance management conversation, a way to differentiate what employees need what kind of help.


That doesn't mean you put a 10-point scale on a vague metric like, "organization". The qualities you rate must be meaningful and aimed at providing a transparent framework for helping the employee develop. In GE's case, they followed up their ratings system by offering tools and programs to help employees reach their potential. After all, if you're going to tell someone they "Need Improvement", you better be able to help them improve.

Example statements


This person excels in living the organization's values

This person promotes strong support of the company's mission and vision

This person excels in contributing to the company's goals

This person promotes the company culture among peer

This person enforces company policies and values without creating negative reactions


This person is able to turn visions into actual action plans [give examples]

This person demonstrates an ability to transfer vision into execution by [implementing the following strategies/tasks]

This person collaborates with individual team members to establish a development path


This person initiates and executes creative ideas such as [provide examples]

This person provides their team with the resources needed to attain results by  [performing/introducing the following tasks/strategies specific task]


This person provides substantial support during periods of organizational change

This person is a key contributor to the successes of the department

This person makes a significant contribution to the continued operation and growth of the organization

3. Reduce the performance management workload

In Deloitte's case, the company was spending way too much time on annual reviews.

After completing the forms, holding the meetings, creating the ratings, then arguing about the results behind closed doors, Deloitte's leadership team found that their performance reviews consumed close to 2 million hours a year.

The company scrapped much of its appraisal form but kept its 5-point rating scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). To make it more effective, they simply adjusted the performance factors to lean into manager bias by asking managers to rate based off of their feeling, something research showed they could do accurately.

At the end of the day, ratings will work. But only when approached intentionally. If you suspect your performance review system is too reliant on ratings, step back and ask which employee competencies or behaviors really need a clear and scalable rating, and which performance factors would benefit from a more open and honest discussion.

A more balanced approach will almost always pay off in more balanced employees.


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How to Assess High-Potential: Look for these 6 Characteristics

Leading businesses need more than hard work and solid results right now. They also need a pipeline of talent that will drive future success.

That is why many organizations evaluate employees on not only their current performance, but also their future potential.

According to one study from Mark Huselid at Rutgers University, programs for developing high-potential employees can lower turnover by 7% and deliver a big boost to a company's bottom line.

Not only that, research from the Journal of Applied Psychology found that star performers can bump up a team’s performance by as much as 15%. And as you would imagine, the reverse is also true. A 2017 Glassdoor survey found that keeping employees confined to one job without a clear career path gradually increases their chance of leaving. Turnover is never fun, especially when it's your high-potential faction of talent heading for the door.

But how do you identify high-potential? Isn't it the same thing as high performance?

Not exactly...

Let's take a deeper look at the difference between potential and performance, and what characteristics to look for to help tease out your future top talent.

The difference between potential and performance

Future leaders, rockstars, high-pots...

Potential is that elusive — almost magical — HR intangible that separates a good employee from your next gen business visionary.

Performance, on the other hand, is simply how well (or poorly) a person is doing their job.

While potential and performance are definitely related, they aren’t perfectly correlated. For example, a member of your IT team may perform job tasks only a little above average, but they consistently rock at bringing out the best in all the teams they interact with. They could be perfect for a project management role.

On the flipside, a star performer might totally nail their job tasks with consistent speed and quality, but they bring a negative attitude and don't care about the company. Move them into a leadership role and they could easily pull the company in a bad direction.

Don't get us wrong, we're not saying you should overlook performance. Past performance is always the best indicator of future performance. But there is more to future performance.

The point we're trying to make is that, as much as we wish there were a clear-cut path to bringing out the best in our people, it's just not as simple as, "Promote X employee after 5 years of solid work". The truth is, in order to reach peak performance, everyone needs opportunities to stretch and test their skills — and they deserve them, too.

But how do you know which high-pots are truly up to the challenge? Here are the fundamental signs to look for.

Six core characteristics of high-potential employees

While many high performers may be totally satisfied in their current roles, a high-potential employee is much more likely to seek out a totally new task, or be eager to take a much bigger step forward (or upward) into management or another role where there’s plenty of room to learn and advance.

If you're wondering whether a specific employee might be ready for growth, here are some of the core traits to think about.

1. Engaged and driven

Most high-potential employees are highly engaged in their field, industry and/or company.

Whether that extra layer of passion comes from an intrinsic drive, a set goal, or just a genuine interest in their work (hopefully, all three!), high-potential employees are like hot air balloons — to reach new heights, they need a little fire inside.

These individuals want to be the best at what they do. They're often the ones thinking more deeply about the job and asking the hard questions. In fact, Douglas Ready, former head of leadership talent management company ICEDR (along with several other experts) took a good look at the characteristics of high-potential candidates across a variety of different workplaces. They found that high-potential employees can be so ambitious, they “realize they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance.”

You'll recognize your high-potential employees as the ones who are always willing to stay late or come in early. But beware. Burnout is like kryptonite for employee engagement, even among your high-potentials. Employees with a bit too much drive might need some help keeping a balance, before they burn out and head for the door.

2. Sociable

Relationships matter. If they didn’t, Gallup wouldn’t have found that having a best friend at work can bump up profit by 12%.

A high-potential employee might not be everyone’s best friend, but they probably won’t be lone wolves either. But let's pause for an important distinction here, in HR circles, when we talk about "high-potential employees", we're often talking about candidates or employees who can move up the ladder into a leadership role — and as with any leadership role, your ability to work with people is crucial.

While your typical high-pot employee would ideally be able to socialize in order to get the internal skills, tools and buy-in needed to excel in a role, this characteristic might not actually apply if you're looking for someone who can perform at a high level within a set role.

In fact, organizations like the Israeli Defense Force have high-performing teams of neurodiverse talent that are fantastic at what they do, even though they may not check the box for "sociable".

3. Capable

There's just no cure for incompetence.

Beyond being good with people, high-potential employees are undeniably capable.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology and Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, found that high-potential employees are not only able to do the job, they can also handle more complex tasks and questions, and are able to step back and think critically about those tasks. According to Tomas, “creativity and a knack for systems thinking” are hallmark signs of high-potential talent.

4. Interested in deep growth

This characteristic can be phrased many different ways, depending on who you ask.

Douglas from ICEDR calls it, “catalytic learning capability” — basically, an individual's ability to take on new ideas and turn them into action. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a Senior Adviser at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder, calls it “seek[ing] understanding”.

Whatever you call it, at the core of the idea is a person's interest for deep growth. Employees who are eager to uncover new knowledge and opportunities beyond an established capacity or business "comfort zone" are typically excellent at finding profitable areas to expand into.

5. Practical (a.k.a. “Dynamic sensors”)

Curious, able, sociable, and driven are all wonderful things to be — but for many, these characteristics can come with a hidden tendency to bite off more than you can chew.

Enter the "dynamic sensors."

According to Douglas, individuals with dynamic sensors have the uncanny ability to see the difference between the tasks that yield reward, and those that are pure risk. “Their enterprising spirit might otherwise lead them to make foolish decisions, but these sensors help them decide, for example, when to pursue something and when to pull back,” he says.

At the end of the day, achieving high performance on the right things, is what moves a company forward. Some of your most practical employees will likely have the ability to sniff out the difference between the critical and the frivolous, without being overly skeptical or risk averse. (Either way, you'll want to make sure you give your people enough room to learn — even if that means embracing the occasional failure.)

6. Strong moral compass

If you google the words “the smartest guys in the room” you’ll find a documentary about Enron right at the top.

A culture of reward and recognition is a beautiful thing, but let's not forget: The only thing worse than wasted potential, is potential that's abused or misused.

Rewarding potential based solely on results only invites trouble. A high-potential employee might be great at consistently hitting performance outcomes, but if they use immoral or illegal tactics to achieve those outcomes, is it really worth it?

In addition to having their own moral guidelines, high-potential employees will boldly embrace the values of the organization. It's important to never look the other way on this one. Employees who cut others down just to pull themselves up won't make the best leaders once they’re at the top.

Creating your own high-pot characteristics

No matter what doors you’re trying to open, context is always key.

Though the above characteristics translate well to many organizations, the factors your business looks for in its people and leadership will depend on your unique culture.

In some roles and companies, speed is a priority, so “quick thinker” may need to be on your list. In other places, thoroughness matters more. In that case, you may be looking for your “detail-oriented” individuals. Compassionate, competitive, experienced — there are so many more characteristics that may need to enter into the equation depending on your organization's unique goals.

And your definition of "high-potential" should change just as frequently as your goals do.

The same way you look for specific characteristics in the people who will take us to the next level in our business, you've got to look at the characteristics of your talent management systems as well. Are your systems for hiring, coaching and promoting reflective of the goals and actions you need to take in order to reach your peak? Or is it time for an upgrade?

Develop a high-potential talent system worthy of your highest performers and you'll be surprised how many eagerly step up to the plate.

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Open Ended Questions to Ask Employees in Performance Reviews

In HR, business, and life, people search for answers when they should be looking at questions.

There are few places this is truer than in the case of the employee performance review.

If you're a regular here on the PerformYard blog, you know that we often cover performance management language, phrasing and general philosophy. This time, we're going to take it a step further by looking at the two fundamental types of questions (namely, open-ended and closed-ended questions) to see where each one belongs in your employee appraisal form.


PerformYard simplifies the feedback process so you can spend more time with your employees.


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Why you should love open-ended questions

There's no shortage of performance coaching experts who swear by open-ended questions.

Leading executive coach David Brendel is one of those experts. David even goes as far as to say that “failure is rare when managers use open-ended questions thoughtfully.”

Why the love for open-ended questions? To boil it down, you don’t know what kind of answer you’ll get — and when it comes to performance management, that's a very good thing. With a typical closed-ended question, both you and the ratee know what’s coming. There is a range of set options (yes/no, strongly agree/strongly disagree, etc.) and everything else is left unexplored.

Open-ended questions, on the other hand, create an opportunity to discover completely new ideas and problems that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

Experts like David also point out that open-ended questions inherently exhibit more respect for an employee’s opinion. According to a survey from Right Management, showing that you value an employee's knowledge and insight can translate into increased engagement. The HR consulting firm found that 53% of employees named 'respect for their knowledge and experience' as their top expectation from leadership in defining "success at work", just above mutual trust.

What's the value of closed-ended questions?

If open-ended questions are so great, why even bother with closed-ended questions?

The answer: Data measurement.

As awesome as open-ended questions are, they can’t be as easily absorbed and "crunched" as closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions are perfect for making manageable data out of thousands of responses to different questions. As the experts at SurveyMonkey, one of the world’s leading survey platforms, say, “[closed-ended questions] are designed to create data that is easily quantifiable.”

Read more on the challenge of managers rating employee skills and the right way to use ratings in your review process.

Actionable data is the main goal of the closed-ended question. It's also why, despite the growing emphasis on performance coaching and transparency, many employee appraisal forms are heavily weighted toward closed-ended questions.

But closed-ended surveys require the asker to really know their stuff. The reviewer needs to know not only what the company’s metric for success is — but also how to track and measure that metric or datapoint.

Taking Google’s managerial survey as an example, the closed-ended questions go after the kind of smart, targeted data that can identify whether a manager is succeeding in keeping the team on task, e.g., "My manager gives me actionable feedback that helps me improve my performance." They ask the reviewer (in this case, the employee) to Disagree or Agree using a 1-5 point scale because they know this is how they will measure their feedback across the organization — an end that a simple "Yes" or "No" answer couldn't achieve.

Google can now get a statistically relevant idea of how well or poorly the manager is performing and follow up with both the manager and the team to learn more. The University of St. Olaf sums it up well, saying, “a single closed-ended question can tell a researcher how,” but “it cannot tell the researcher why”.

How to strike the right balance

No matter how much performance data you accrue, you will inevitably hit a point where you need to know more about why things are they way they are within your organization. That's where open-ended questions come in.

But the main issue with open-ended questions, is practicality.

While it's easy to read the latest article in Harvard Business Review and agree that we should all be asking our teams open-ended questions regularly as part of continuous feedback, team brainstorming, and more, actually asking (not to mention sorting through!) a slew of open-ended questions is much more challenging and time-consuming.

Example 1: Open-ended follow-up questions

One way to hit the right balance of open and closed-ended questions is to use open-ended questions on a smaller scale review, after the bigger review has identified your problem spots.

For example, let’s say Company A finds out that overall, people feel engaged and satisfied at work, but their web design department is struggling. Company A can send out a smaller, much easier to parse, set of open-ended questions tailored directly to that department in order to learn more.

Example 2: Add a respondent outlet

Another option is to mix your open-ended why-seeking questions in with the closed-ended questions on the same appraisal form. This could be what SurveyMonkey and other experts call a “respondent outlet" — an open-ended question at the end of the survey (or sections of the survey) that gives respondents an outlet to say what they feel and fill in the blanks for you.

You’ve probably seen this method yourself on at least one customer survey. And there’s a decent chance you left the open-ended question blank — especially if it felt too generic. Unfortunately, many businesses use respondent outlets for show, which risks making them useless.

Google’s upward review is a great example of how to use a thoughtful respondent outlet to your appraisal form. They end with two simple, open-ended questions that specifically ask for one strength and one weakness of the ratee.

If your business is small and high-touch, you may be able to work with mostly open-ended questions in your employee appraisal forms. If not, using a mix of open and closed-ended questions could be the way to go in order to not only get performance metrics you can track, but also shed a light on the kinds of insights you can act on.

Learn more about asking the right performance review questions.

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How To Give a Negative Performance Review - 6 Communication Principles and +21 Example Phrases

Feedback is about as powerful in business as it is in rock n’ roll.

And when managers do it right, they can help make their employees (and themselves) look like total rockstars. But beware. Hit the wrong note and you could see your employees sprinting for the exit faster than you can say, “we built this city.”

We recently put together an article explaining what a performance review should do. While some of these things should be accomplished through the actual structure of your reviews (i.e., how often you do them, how you handle the implementation and follow up, and so on), another surefire way to improve your reviews is through the simple act of communicating better.

A simple example of why words matter

If you're at all skeptical about the power of words in employee performance reviews, take a minute to consider these two examples giving the same feedback with different phrases.

Example A: “Our last product had 56% more bugs than usual. What do you think we can do to ship a less buggy product next time?”

Example B: “You were much more careless with the last product and it was much buggier than normal. Find a way to fix it next time.”

Which one sounds more effective?

Words matter, plain and simple. Let’s look at some ways to make your feedback more effective, simply by hitting the right notes in your performance appraisals.

1. Focus on the job, not the person

If there is one key rule for delivering effective feedback, it's this:

Focus on the job, not the person.

Chances are, you've heard this before. You can find this advice on other business blogs and from best-selling authors, too. So why is it that so many of today's employees are disengaged and ready to walk out the door?

Bottom line: A person is so much more than their performance on the job. Any reasonable human being will resent being treated as anything less than what they are. Make sure you and all your managers are clear about removing hard adjectives or character-related judgments from their feedback. This is doubly important when giving women feedback, hard data shows women tend to get much more personality criticism than men.

For these examples, we paired a good and bad phrase together. This shows how a personal adjective you might be using can be easily replaced by job-related specifics. Notice that while the "Good" version feels softer, it actually gets the point across more clearly.


Bad: You’re too bossy and it's hurting team morale.

Good: Some of your team members have said that they would like more autonomy on projects.

Bad: You’re not very detail-oriented.

Good: I've seen some small errors in your client's accounts. Let's take a look at them together.

Bad: You’re not a smart enough on strategic thinker.

Good: We didn't hit our targets on our last campaign. What do you think we should do differently next time?


For more examples read "Why Employees Crave Negative Feedback"

2. Be specific

Here’s a common experience: You call a friend to talk for a while and after you go over a problem or two, you get some generic advice that you politely brush off and forget about a bit later.

From a friend or family member, that’s no problem. But we want more from our managers. We want specific, real feedback and next steps we can act on. Managing partner and leadership expert Jennifer Porter writes that feedback should be “behavioral and specific” as well as “factual, not interpretive.”

For example, a manager saying, “You’re doing great!” isn't all that helpful. A manager saying, “You’re doing great work by going out of your way to overhaul old systems and point out areas where we can improve!” becomes infinitely more helpful. Now the employee knows exactly what they did that was great and can do more of it in the future.

The manager can specify further with facts, saying, “Your work overhauling old systems has made IT’s lives so much easier. They’ve seen a 60% drop in troubleshooting requests!” The employee now knows that they did great, how they did great, and what doing great meant for the business.You can also apply this to the graded scales inside your reviews. Because, let's face it. Phrases like “From 1 to 10, rate this employee’s leadership/interpersonal/customer service skills” are pretty vague. If cutting or reworking these industry-standard questionnaires seems daunting, remember that best in class companies like Deloitte have already done it (and saved themselves a ton of time in the process).


  1. Since we’ve added you to the team, everyone’s looked happier and we’ve seen an engagement bump among your teammates.
  2. During our expansion, your suggestions were very helpful. In fact, the store you suggested to add in Montreal is outperforming some of our main branches already.
  3. While your advice is spot on, nearly half of your clients have told us they felt you weren’t clear about it in the early parts of the consultation.

Learn why we love advice from some people and hate it from others.

3. Consider questions over statements

Business Insider’s Careers Editor, Jacqueline Smith highlighted 17 great phrases bosses should say during performance reviews. 10 out of 17 were questions, or had a question in them.

Giving feedback can seem like the time to come out with hard statements, but in truth, we often want our performance reviews to be more than just reviews. On top of how we did, we want to know how we can get better and how invested you are in helping us succeed.

Questions are a great way to open up a discussion on how to move forward, while letting the the employee lead the way. And honestly, many managers, especially the ones further up the hierarchy, might not know how to address an issue better than an employee. Employees can provide valuable insight on the company, alerting managers to blind spots and nipping potential problems in the bud.

Finally, questions help create a culture of feedback and honesty. Asking questions about the company, the team, and even the management can let employees know that they aren’t the only ones trying to improve.

Astrophysicist Alan Duffy points out that powerful questions don’t have to be complex to be strong. Simple questions about the things going on around us can motivate BIG change (like Einstein’s theory of relativity big!). If you’re looking for more info on how to ask the right questions, we’ve got a full article on that topic, too.


  1. How can I help you do (even) better next time?
  2. Is there anything that you or your team needs that you’re not already getting?
  3. What do you really want improve on?

4. With positives, stick to process. With negatives, stick to progress.

Research from social psychologist Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago found some fascinating connections between chasing goals and feedback. She found that when someone did something positive, focusing on the process helped keep them engaged with the goal, whereas focusing on the progress prompted them to rest on their laurels a bit.

Ayelet also found that the reverse was true. When someone did something negative, focusing on the losing process made them lose interest in the goal, while focusing on ways to move forward from the lack of progress helped keep their spark alive.

Examples for handling positives:

  1. You did great work on reworking the landing page last month. How can we start transferring that to the rest of the funnel?
  2. All of our clients were raving about your presentation. Let’s think of some ways we can keep that going for our next event in October.

Examples for handling negatives:

  1. I know you missed your sales target for this quarter, but that’s just this quarter. What are some new ideas we can focus on to get back on track?
  2. Customer surveys told us that they didn’t feel like you knew the product very well, when you master these new features, I think you’ll do really well.

5. Connect personally where you can

When an employee knows that their manager has been in their shoes before, it makes any feedback or advice more meaningful, while humanizing the manager.

Learning technologist Chris Gaudreau writes, “sharing personal experiences makes the feedback feel more authentic and meaningful.” While Chris is talking about teaching students, his advice can help anyone in a mentor or coaching role. Sharing a personal experience is a great way to show empathy, demonstrate experience and build a personal connection. Given how awkward performance reviews can get, that absolutely matters.

A couple quick caveats: Managers should avoid telling too long a story or making the feedback session about themselves. They should also double-check internally if the story is relevant and explain the link a little bit to make sure it's helpful.


  1. I ran into a problem just like this when I was starting out. Here's a great piece of advice from my then-boss that helped me a lot.
  2. This reminds me of a situation an old team member of mine got into once.
  3. This is a more common mistake than you might think. I’ve made it myself a couple times. Here’s how I stopped.

6. Get serious but don’t get mean

In hoping to help out an underperforming, high-potential employee, a manager might feel the pressure to get well, mean. That's a massive mistake.

There are plenty of examples in Hollywood of the over-the-top mentor who pushes a prodigy into excellence. But in reality, this approach is more likely going to end in a meltdown and some undesired turnover.

Research shows that we remember negative moments more strongly, though not more accurately, than positive ones. The real question is, how can a manager stay diplomatic in delivering negative feedback?

And the answer? Call on all these communication principles to help you out.

Connect personally to remind an employee that everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you recover that matters. Ask questions to get to the root cause and make the individual feel more at ease. Be specific and provide facts and examples with to help the employee understand the problem and accept that the feedback is fair.

And of course, never make it personal. You want the employee to spend their time focusing on the job, not doubting their worth as a person.


  1. Last quarter, you found great samples for our surveys, but we double-checked your math and found mistakes in several figures.
  2. Before we talk about areas where I think you can improve, what are some areas you’d like to improve on?
  3. You fell behind on some deadlines and that put some of our other employees in a crunch. How can we get your process to run a bit faster?
  4. Losing that client was unfortunate, but it happens to the best of us. Actually, it happened to me in a similar way. Here's what I learned.

If you've lost control of your emotions, you should hold your tongue. Here are three other times you should NOT give negative feedback.

Final Takeaways

These are just six principles to help guide you to a better conversation in your next performance review. Keep in mind that every review, employee and culture is different. This principles are grounded in research (as well as HR blood, sweat and tears). But how you use them to create and follow through on your own performance strategy is entirely up to you.

No matter which words you choose, stay true to the fundamentals and your employees will thank you.

Learn More About Negative Feedback

  1. The 5 Personalities on Every Team: And how to coach them
  2.  7 Questions Managers Should Ask Unhappy and Disengaged Employees
  3. Deliver Criticism Employees Appreciate
  4. Do Your Employees Want Negative Feedback?
  5. 4 Crucial Times NOT to give Feedback
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What is a performance gap? (And how can you close it.)

The performance gap is one of the simplest but most overlooked business concepts out there. Miss it, and you could be putting the very survival of your company at risk.

Simply put, a performance gap is the difference between intended and actual performance. This can happen at any level of the organization. For example there can be a performance gap with one particular salesperson who doesn't hit their target, with an entire sales team who falls short of the goal, or with the sales process itself not responding promptly to requests.

Performance gaps are a real problem and you'll need to bridge them if you want to stay profitable long after the competition has come and gone. Let’s take a look at a few common causes for performance gaps and how to avoid them altogether.

What causes performance gaps?

Let’s start with one of the most common causes of a performance gap: Lack of clarity.

Despite rampant advice to establish clear goals and expectations from day one, many employees feel completely left in the dark about what is and isn't ok at work. In a 2015 Gallup survey, only 50% of the American workers surveyed said they firmly knew what was expected of them at work.

Employees can’t meet performance standards if they don’t know about them. By simply setting and maintaining clear performance targets for your people, you can prevent many of the most common (and costly!) performance gaps.

How to set the right goals

The first step to closing a costly performance gap is to get crystal clear what the real goals and expectations are in your organization. (Hint: They are NOT the same thing.)

Not sure what goals and standards to set, change or replace? Why not ask the people who know you best? Start with your customers. Ask them why they continue to work with you and what they want to see more of. Then, it's time to check in with your employees.

By reaching out to employees (through surveys, one-on-ones and regular performance reviews), you can get an accurate assessment of what standards to set. You'll also get a clearer picture of the standards that aren’t being met, and the exact steps to take to prevent future performance gaps.

With real-world insight at your fingertips, it will be much easier to set challenging yet reachable goals. When setting goals, be sure to make them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time constrained. These five categories keep you away from the type of flimsy goals that are inherently prone to misinterpretation. (Values like, “Always try your best” are great ideals, but they're nowhere near clear enough to be bona fide goals.)

What about skill gaps?

Clear goals are a must, but sometimes the problem can be a simple lack of skills or tools.

A skill gap occurs whenever the goal can’t be reached because some part of the company, whether that be an individual employee or a whole branch, lacks the skills needed to reach it.

Skill gaps are pretty common — especially when industries shift. Coders have to learn the latest cutting-edge platforms, customer service pros need to stay up-to-date on the latest best practices, and so on. Anticipating a skill gap takes the kind of research and high-level thinking few of us have time for. Luckily, closing them is a bit simpler.

For the most part, you can either train or hire your way out of a skills gap. If your business is running well overall — meaning there are no major problems in leadership, management, staffing, etc. — feel free to train away! But if your business is understaffed, overworked, or simply pointed in the wrong direction, no amount of training can help close those gaps.

In those situations, a focus on performance makes all the difference.

Motivation cures performance gaps

Even if you're convinced your employees know exactly what targets to hit, and that they have the skills to hit it, they will miss if they don’t feel like pulling the trigger in the first place.

Business consultant and author of Good to Great, Jim Collins says it best in brief. The question isn’t, “ ‘How do we motivate unmotivated people?’. It’s, ‘How do we lead in such a way as to not demotivate people?’ ”

To avoid demotivating people, Jim recommends three strategies:

  1. Address problems - no one wants to feel left in the dark, especially on things that could result in termination.
  2. Don’t come into a meeting with a decision already made - employees want to be heard, know how to have a dialogue.
  3. Show tangible results - people want to see proof that their work matters.

Building performance expectations on a foundation of clear, data-driven goals will earn you a ton of respect from your employees and keep them motivated to steer clear of performance gaps. Instead of arbitrarily expecting them to hit targets they don't understand, you're using data-backed insights to set metrics that matter.

After that, all you have to do is follow up to let them know you care enough to keep paying attention and ensure that they have the skills and tools they need in order to get the job done.

When those boxes are ticked, you’ll be closing gaps well before you fall into them.


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How To Identify Low Performers

Did you know that managers spend about 17% of their time working with low performers? Yes, you read that right. Your managers spend almost 1 day of each week dealing with poor performance. When you take a deep look at it, these poor performers are costing your company a lot.

When your company has many departments and businesses processes, it won't be easy. But, tracking poor performance in your business isn't impossible.

It doesn't matter how big or small your company is. The best way to do this is by using the right employment performance management system.

Still, think we're barking at the wrong tree? We're going to show you how using the right system will help you identify low performance.

Read on to learn how!

Can You Fix Poor Performance at Your Company?

Yes, you can fix poor employment performance at your company. The key is how to identify it early enough that you can fix it at the right time. What makes performance analysis complex is that not all departments run the same way.

As a company, you can't measure your sales team the same way you would your human resources team. Most of the time, performance evaluations fall on the department managers.

When your management team has to spend more time on the performance of their employees than on company goals. It translates into your business running slower and less efficient.

Having a system in place that runs all your performance reviews and check-ins can fix this. It will make it easier for your managers to focus on getting more business done.

How Can the Right Performance Management System Help Your Company?

These systems can help take your company to another level. Many companies look at performance only from a performance appraisal point of view. But, this is one of the many ways you can measure an employee's performance.

Not all employees work the same way. That's why the right system will focus on these areas to help you fix performance issues:

Performance Reviews

Performance appraisals have become essential in measuring your employees' performance. We know that there's always a time of the year where these become a headache for every manager and employee. Many companies work on a one size fits all way by having one set performance review form for all employees.

Yet, at the end of the day, we know that every department doesn't work the same way. It would be ideal for every department to have their own tailored form. The right system will provide you a way to customize your performance review forms for each department.

This way you can measure your employees based on your company needs and expectations. Another way, this system can help is by giving you the option to deploy these reviews at a set time. This means that you can decide if you want some departments to run their performance reviews at a set time.

This can help human resources be more efficient when these reviews come their way. Also, the right system will provide you the option to track goal performance in your reviews.

This will give management a way to track how your employees have been doing on their work performance goals. Tracking progress is essential to identifying low performance. These options will give you updates for you to fix the problems on time before they become a headache.

Goal Management

As your company keeps evolving, so are the goals you set for your business and employees. The work performance goals that were set at the beginning of the year aren't the same mid-year. The right system will provide you a way to track the goals set for your employees.

It will give you a dynamic way to track and update these goals. This will help your employees visualize their progress. This way they'll have a clear idea of what's expected of them.

Also, a goal management system can help you motivate your employees. Since they know where they stand, your employees can work toward what they want to achieve.

This option will help you identify low performance early when it's related to established goals because of the constant monitoring. Identifying these deficiencies can help take your company to the next level faster than you'll expect.

Continuous Feedback

Did you know that almost 60% of employees would like to receive feedback on a daily or weekly basis? Yes, we may not be huge fans of negative feedback. But, if it's delivered in the right way it can do wonders for an employee's performance.

The right system will give you the option to provide continuous feedback to your employees. This way you can identify and document low performance as well. The system may also provide you with ways to give 1 on 1 feedback and keep confidential employee feedback notes.

This will make your manager's job easier and provide a friendlier system to communicate with your employees. About 62% of employees have said that they would work harder if their employer recognized their efforts.

This means that your employees will be happier if you use this system to recognize their performance as well. Happy employees translate into better performance and efficiency. Your employees are the heart of your company so if they perform better your company will be smooth sailing all the way to success.

Can Employment Performance Management System Be the Right Call?

Yes, an employment performance management system can be the right call for your company. This type of systems gives you control over the performance data of your employees. When it comes to poor performance, the more you know the easier it's to fix.

The right system will help you identify low performance in each of your departments early enough for you to make the changes. If you're able to do this, it will translate into your company running better in all areas.

Remember to look for a system that fits your needs focusing on performance reviews, continuous feedback and goal management. If you find the right system, you'll be able to take your company to the next level in no time.

Are you looking for the right employment performance management system? We can help!

Contact us to learn more about our services.

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3 Examples of Performance Management Processes (to inspire your next review cycle)

There is a large body of online content offering general tips and guidelines on performance management. And sure, they can be helpful. But they can also be a

Performance management should be unique to the needs of your organization. Rather than speaking in broad terms about what makes for a great performance management process, let’s take a deeper look at three examples (extreme examples) of performance review processes, and the management strategies that support them.

1. Jack Welch, GE, and rank and yank

The story of Jack Welch and his epic "rank and yank" system is one for the business annals. To date, it just may be the biggest examples of stack ranking in the workplace (not to mention the most extreme).

For decades, Jack Welch and the leadership team at GE ranked employees into three categories — top performers, underperformers, and normal employees. The top performers comprised the top 20% of employees, the bottom 10% were labeled underperformers, and the remaining 70% were neither here nor there.

And those poor underperformers. Under Jack's ruthless leadership, those 10% of employees were often fired on the spot — and the feedback given was very candid. Welch felt that "failing to differentiate among employees — and holding on to bottom-tier performers — is actually the cruelest form of management there is."

To be fair, Jack didn’t use rankings solely for firing. Ranking was as much about growth as it was about assessment. He called his process "differentiation" and paired it with tools and coaching approaches to build up the 90% of employees that were performing up to par.

Business writer and consultant Ron Ashkenas notes that Jack’s differentiation “assumes that most people have the capacity to continually grow if they are stretched, challenged, and developed.” To match that belief, Jack offered in-depth assessments, rotation programs for new hires, training programs for new managers, and mentoring.

Though it's not as headline-worthy, ranking and yanking could actually be secondary to coaching in the legacy of Jack Welch. After all, he even had a campus where he brought high-potential executives and employees for intensive training and lectures that he sometimes led himself.

While it's tempting to view GE's rank and yank as a cold and detached way to manage employee performance, a case could also be made that it's actually a very human and hands-on approach.

2. Asana, lots of feedback, LOTS of trust

Asana is an innovative tech company and popular team communications platform. And like the name could suggest, they have a surprisingly zen approach to performance management.

Rather than approaching feedback annually or linearly, Asana does feedback often and in very different ways (for example 100% face-to-face and with 0% paper trail).

According to a deep dive into the company from Rachel Zurer at Conscious Company Media, Asana has a self-review at the end of each year, on top of a biannual review of the company’s general direction. During the biannual review, the team takes weeks out to discuss specific goals and performance-related issues and hold regular feedback sessions with peers and managers in a closed retreat-like setting.

But a performance management process this hands-off could never exist without a strong culture to back it up.

Throughout the year, Asana maintains a strong focus on growth, transparency and trust. Instead of a traditional business hierarchy, the company is broken down into what they call AOR’s - Areas of Responsibility. An AOR might be "marketing", or "customer service", or any other area within the business. Asana’s founders offer opinions to AOR-holders, but ultimately trusts them to make the final call.

To manage their AORs, and all the feedback given, Asana actively works to keep the load lighter and the human contact tighter. New managers only have 4-6 employees (or, "reports" as they call them at Asana) and experienced managers have 8-10.

It's tempting to see Asana as being on the other side of the spectrum from GE, but their focuses are similar. Both companies want to grow their employees, but each company looks very different (startup vs. massive manufacturer) and as such, they arrived at very different solutions.

3. Valve’s performance management "Flatland"

Valve is a video game company that has made some of the world’s most popular games. The company has roughly 360 employees and well over $1 billion in annual revenue.

As you would imagine, it's a wildly creative company. To stay that way, Valve shed all hierarchy and created what they call, “Flatland”. Valve writes in their employee handbook that, “when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.”

In Flatland, employees create teams as needed. Their desks come equipped with wheels so they can rearrange their space. Hiring is also an employee initiative and they're encouraged to interview candidates and help make hiring decisions.

Given its unique culture, you might think Flatland would have a pretty "out there" performance review system. But according to author of Under New Management, David Burkus, that's not so.

Valve creates a team of employees who conduct performance interviews with everyone in the company, asking them who they worked with and what their experiences were working with that person. They anonymize the feedback and present it to employees. It’s a fairly standard 360 system.

According to their former economist-in-residence, Yanis Varoufakis, "It is important to understand that such spontaneous order-based enterprises rely to a large extent on individuals that believe in the social norms that govern their existence. So by the very nature of the beast, you don't have people there who try to hide and who try to somehow create a smokescreen around the fact that they're not very good at what they do."

When someone can’t quite fit in, they talk to the the employee to find a solution. If firing is the consensus, they make an attractive severance offer and part on amicable terms.

Flatland, rank and yank, or AORs might not fit for many businesses, but they're a great reminder to try new things and commit to the unique "extreme" that works for us.

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What Is Continuous Feedback? (And do you really need it?)

If you’ve gone anywhere near the HR echo chamber, you’ve probably (perhaps even unconsciously) internalized the fact that feedback should be continuous.

The case for continuous feedback is grounded in solid data. For example, a 2015 Robert Half survey shows that just over half of employees want at least quarterly discussions about their career path and growth prospects.

In another survey, Deloitte found that 90% of companies that revamped their performance management model — usually to one featuring more regular feedback — saw improved employee engagement.

Clearly continuous feedback is the real deal. Yet, amid all the buzz, it’s easy to lose track of what continuous feedback actually is and whether or not it makes sense for your organization.

What is continuous feedback?

The term "continuous feedback" can mean different things to different companies. In a nutshell, continuous feedback is any feedback that is delivered on a regular basis.

For many companies, continuous feedback includes structured reviews. For others, it could mean an entirely informal system with no scheduled reviews whatsoever. At the end of the day, "continuous" is as subjective an adjective as "beautiful". Its value is held within the eye of the HR beholder.

Let’s take a quick look at how continuous feedback became the HR trend du jour and dive into some real-world examples that can help you decide if it's the right option for you.

A brief history of continuous feedback

Pinpointing the true start of any movement is always tough.

That said, Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis put a pretty solid effort into finding out how continuous feedback became king.

The HR experts split performance review systems into three types:

  1. Accountability focused - Matches reward and punishment to performance. Tends to flourish when the labor market is flush.
  2. Development focused - Builds up employee skill sets and maximizes potential. Tends to flourish when the labor market is thinner and more competitive.
  3. Hybrid - Any combo of the above.

Data suggests consistent feedback is always good, but whether you focus on accountability, development or a hybrid depends on the situation you're in.

Over the last decade, labor markets fluctuated wildly. The financial crash meant layoffs and layoffs meant a thinner workforce. Then, as things picked up, the labor market got tighter. But "hiring" in the traditional sense has decreased as millennials entering the labor market rotated jobs more frequently and as the gig economy developed.

In comes continuous feedback, a hybrid tool focused on developing (and keeping) employees in a growing, but mobile labor market.

According to Peter and Anna, the earliest notable case of switching from annual to instant feedback was Colorcon, a big pharmaceutical company, back in 2002. The watershed moment however, came in a one-two punch when Kelly Services changed their review system in 2011 and then the big fish, Adobe switched to continuous feedback in 2012. Which leads us to our first example...

How Adobe uses continuous feedback

Adobe may have one of the most famous continuous feedback systems out there.

They even have a public Check-in Toolkit that can help you DIY your own strategy from their model. The Toolkit’s core recommendations can be boiled down to three stages of feedback:

  1. Establishing expectation
  2. Providing feedback
  3. Developing the business and employees based on the feedback

At minimum, Adobe encourages quarterly formal check-ins of 60 to 90 minutes each. They also encourage giving informal feedback more often.

But the Rome of continuous feedback wasn't built in a day. Being such a large company, it took Adobe months of testing, planning and extensive manager-training to make everything come together.

The essence of Adobe's continuous feedback model focuses on strengths and setting SMART goals. They regularly update goals and progress and make practical plans based on those performance metrics. Documentation and ranking play a much smaller role than they did in the pre-2012 days.

Continuous Feedback at Typeform

Unlike Adobe, survey platform startup Typeform didn't have a huge ship to turn around.

In fact, when the company had just started, it was so small that regular check-ins and reviews happened organically, without any system at all. But when their workforce nearly tripled, they knew they needed to get a structure in place.

Today, they've literally "baked" employee feedback into their culture. “Feedback is not a dirty word. When experienced properly, it fosters growth and reinforces trust.” says Typeform Head of People Operations, Georgina de Solà.

Typeform's continuous feedback strategy includes:

  • Regular feedback for employees and managers
  • Employee engagement surveys
  • 360-degree performance reviews

It's worth noting that the young company also uses some more traditional feedback methods, like a suggestion box and opportunities to ask the founders questions.

They also improved the quality of feedback by hiring a communications specialist, taking on an HR platform to distribute bonuses, and doing feedback workshops called “The F-Word”.

Typeform is as "all-in" on feedback as Adobe, even if they're a bit less formal.

It's important to think about giving feedback not only continuously, but also critically. What aspects of these continuous feedback approaches would fit the natural rhythm of your industry? How drastic of a cultural change would you have to make? What system or approach will make the change as easy as possible?

Continuous feedback is great for good reason, but at the end of the day, no system is effective unless it meets the needs of your unique company and people.


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How To Choose Performance Management Software

One of the foundational ideas behind modern performance management is digital systems. The frequency and complexity becomes too big of a distraction unless it can be automated away with software.

All the recent performance management transformations, like Adobe, Deloitte and GE have been enabled by technology running in the background.

If you are designing a modern performance management system for your organization, you should also be considering performance management software.

Here is what you should be looking for.

What Is Performance Management Software?

This software enhances organizations' performance by driving employee productivity. It ensures that teams and individual employees are aligned with the organization's goals.

A performance management system essentially eliminates the annual employee review process. Instead, it promotes high-quality real-time feedback, performance tracking, and goal setting.

In other words, the system does what tedious annual reviews cannot do. It enables businesses to adjust employees' goals as business conditions change.

Put another way, annual reviews focus too much on the past, while performance management systems focus on future needs.

Just as human resource departments handle annual reviews, they oversee performance management systems. This includes teaching employees and managers how to use them.

Software Goals and Features

Well-designed performance management systems are aimed at keeping your employees engaged and motivated. The more energetic they are, the higher your organization's daily output will be.

Ultimately, this helps to reduce staff turnover. It also boosts productivity and enhances operational efficiency. In other words, these systems tie performance into a business's bottom line.

What to Look for in Software

Want a performance management system to work for you? Your organization must promote constant communication between managers and employees.

After all, a major feature of today's performance software is 360-degree feedback. This feedback includes input from not only employees' supervisors but also subordinates and peers.

Effective software also interacts with workforce analytics. In this way, you can easily analyze data. Then, you can compare this information with the data you receive from sales performance and financial management systems.

The Present and the Future

Performance management systems use live dashboards for collaborative and quick reviews.

In addition, they can report individual-, team- and project-level performance. Today's systems can also provide helpful employee rankings.

The future of these systems appears to be bright, too, given the improvements that have been made in artificial intelligence.

For instance, many studies have reported that gender bias is a major problem for female workers during performance reviews. However, artificial intelligence-enabled tools that can detect bias in language patterns are already being used in recruiting software.

Work Standard Consistency Benefit

Performance management systems offer multiple benefits. One of them is that they can help employees' work standards to remain consistent.

A performance management system maintains a collection of human resource data. It then follows an established protocol for feedback, reviews, transfers, and promotions.

As a result, you don't have to worry about discrepancies in your company's work practices.

This makes your organization appear more credible, thus leading to a more ethical and better company culture.

Personal Development Benefit

With a performance management system, your organization can promote personal growth and career development more effectively.

The software provides a forum for your company's senior management to create, monitor and update workers' personal development plans.

Of course, the goal here is to give workers strong autonomy and control when it comes to their career paths.

A personal development plan assesses a worker's current skills and charts out his or her development route.

The development plan also allows for training sessions. This is because training helps to uplift the whole workforce's competency levels. This enables the organization to keep moving on a trajectory focused on high growth.

Flexibility Benefit

Employees generally appreciate independence, not micromanaging.

This is why performance management software is so invaluable. It automates routine human resource jobs to give your entire workforce more flexibility and freedom.

The freer your workers feel, the more motivated they will be to do their best and to be innovative. Also, the more confident they will be in their individual job roles.

Goal Setting Benefit

Employees can't be engaged unless they understand how they contribute to meeting their organization's goals.

This is why your workers need to have definite goals they can stay focused on achieving.

Fortunately, performance management systems enhance the company's goal-setting process. How? By taking advantage of the increased communication taking place among all management levels.

As soon as a worker has clear objectives, he or she can plan his or her target path. The employee can then use relevant business resources to achieve his or her goals.

How We Can Help

Want your company to be successful? Your workers must understand their objectives. They must also receive helpful guidance and stay invested in the organization's goals.

A performance management system can keep your organization's diverse group of workers as engaged as possible.

That is why we have created PerformYard, a flexible performance management software solution.

We take your requirements seriously. We'll help you to manage your staff's performance in a single place, including handling feedback, reviews, and goals.

In fact, you can see your review process results through various exports and visuals. These tools make it easy for your human resource team to complete the necessary analysis to identify and reward top performers.

We also stand out for offering an automated and streamlined experience.

Most initiatives involving performance management fail because they are inconsistent and clunky. But we remove the unnecessary steps and headaches from your company's process.

In this way, employee and manager participation is painless -- the way it should be.

Get in touch with us to find out more about why hundreds of our unique customers have turned to PerformYard.

Just as we have helped them, we can help you to improve your company's performance and bottom line long term.


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Heuristics in Performance Management

Ever since the HR world woke up to the idea that the workplace is dependent on humans and not red tape, the idea of using behavioral insights to guide business decision-making has been gaining traction.

Behavioral economics is one of those HR "trends" that we know is important, we just don't know how...exactly. We're going to take a closer look at one of the main principles of behavioral economics to get a firm handle on how it might be helping or hurting.


Here's a straightforward definition from Wikipedia:

"In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others."

In psychology circles, heuristics are also known as rules of thumb — mental decision-making hacks that help us make a call faster.

In her article for Psychology Today, cognitive behavioral therapist Alice Boyes gives some practical examples of heuristics in daily life.

"Rule of thumb: If it's the third time I've thought about a small decision, it's time to make the decision then and there. Specific example: A piece of mail came in about something in my neighborhood where the public could make submissions. I had it sitting around, and needed to make a decision about whether to read it properly or not. After glancing at it twice, on the third time, I ended up putting it in the recycling without reading it."

How much easier would life be if you always knew exactly when to scrap the junk mail? Or when to address (or NOT address) a situation with a top-performing employee?

The pros and cons of heuristics in the workplace

Heuristics are a crucial behavioral tool because they give us the ability to practice the kind of snap decision-making that's often necessary in the fast-moving world of business.

But shortcuts can be dangerous.

Heuristics are naturally prone to bias and, due to their quick nature, they can sometimes tempt us into making a rush decision at times when a slower, more rational approach would lead to a better outcome.

Here's a closer look at the pros and cons of heuristics in the workplace and in the world of performance management, specifically.


  • Research shows that heuristics are excellent “tools for uncertainty."
  • In chaotic environments where there is a lot of noise (i.e. meaningless data and analysis) and fast decisions are needed, heuristics can help pave a clear path through the chaos.
  • Heuristics can a help a business move more quickly to seize opportunities.
  • They offer an alternative to data, in scenarios where data is more inconclusive than conclusive.


  • Research has also found that positive framing, arrogance from decision makers and contextual factors like emotion and culture can make measurements of candidates or employee performance less accurate.
  • Availability bias, the tendency to put increased importance on things that are larger in one’s memory, is often found in heuristics.

There are plenty of healthy heuristics your organization might already use, like “trust your team” and rank and prioritize problems according to their impact on customers, etc.

But as mentioned, heuristics do create problems. In fact, that’s part of why they came under the spotlight in the first place. In their groundbreaking research, behavioral economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman found that heuristics often make us prone to making poorer decisions, without even knowing it.

(Funny enough, this is part of what makes people fear sharks more than mosquitoes, when in actuality, mosquitoes kill many more people than sharks. Anyone who's ever watched Jaws will agree that shark attacks are much more vivid than an unseen virus carried by a mosquito.)

Whether it’s jumping on a flash-in-the-pan HR trend or letting recent strong performance get in the way of a holistic assessment, heuristics can creep into parts of the workplace that are better left to rational thought.

And the racial, gender, and demographic biases holding businesses back? Yes. Those are heuristics, too.

Get real about your "rules of thumb"

The best way to use heuristics is the best way to use any tool: intentionally.

Don’t let your rules of thumb lurk under the surface. Take an honest look at your heuristics and ask yourself a few objective questions to see how well they work.

  • Do they have a good basis in reality?
  • Have they helped your business in tangible ways you can measure?
  • Is there data to reinforce or replace your heuristics?
  • What heuristics are necessary to match the pace of your organization?
  • When is it better to slow down your decision-making process?

In the words of cognitive behavioral therapist Alice Boyes, "Use rules of thumb to make your decision-making better, not perfect."

Rules of thumb can help you stay flexible, but not when you’re all thumbs and no thought. Acknowledge your own heuristics and those of your managers, and you may end up with a more just, rational and productive workforce.


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