You’ve been tasked with creating a series of questions for the upcoming performance checkins. If this is the case, you might be asking yourself where on earth to start. Gathering some information about the review and the goal of those questions can help you narrow down your options. Before you begin, determine what type of questions you will ask by answering this one first:
What’s the purpose? Are you seeking information, making plans, or trying to change behavior?
Acquiring Information and Insight
Whether you realize it or not, the questions we ask serve a purpose. Most likely, if you are conducting a review, you are looking to gather information or gain your employee’s perspective on performance. But the right questions can also mitigate business risks by discovering unforeseen drawbacks.
To understand your employee's point of view, and learn what impacted them to perform above or below expectations, ask questions that put them in the driver’s seat. Take note of these examples:
These questions reveal the problem-solving abilities of the employee being reviewed. They also give the manager an idea of what their employee considers a priority, which can then be compared or contrasted to management’s ideas.
It is more likely that the person working a job can provide you with the extra, in-depth ideas about the positives or negatives of their function and support. Again, giving them the driver’s seat is a great way to initiate conversations with your employees that they would otherwise not have. Here is where you’ll want to learn the most about shortcomings and areas of improvement.
Planning for the Future
After sharing their successes, how they were achieved, and what challenges they recently overcame, ask questions that point to the future. After all, a healthy performance management program will embrace professional growth and career paths. The following set of questions can help your and your employee structure important future plans:
These questions reveal an employee’s awareness about their surroundings and how well they are being supported. Having proper encouragement will drive your employees to create personal goals and think about the future.
By all means, planning is essential to managing performance in your company and reviews need to produce a clear sense of direction for both management and staff. Get to know how your employees will make the most of next year and what they truly value the most.
Change an Employee’s Behavior
Lastly, when used as a tool for unlocking value in your department, the right review questions can be quite effective motivators. Using questions to incite learning and exchange ideas, is a sure fire way to fuel performance because employees generally wish to succeed. These questions create a unique opportunity to forge potential and build rapport among your team:
For some, difficult questions are hard to ask, but rest assured, this experience improves interpersonal bonding. Employees perform best, when they know that their managers care. Ultimately, these questions that cause behavioral reactions get to the bottom line: is this the right person for the job?
Self Reviews or Self appraisals; to some, they feel like an oxymoron, and to others, they create an opportunity to reflect on past achievements. But for many, they are a necessary tool used during employee performance review time.
As tedious as the entire appraisal process can turn into sometimes, the self evaluation portion actually serves a useful and important purpose.
Self-appraisals are meant to engage an organization’s workers in the evaluation procedure. Instead of just being the recipient of feedback, employees are given a voice in the process. They’re also believed to help employees plan for future development goals, as well as open communication channels for performance related issues. Let’s face it, in self evaluations, accountability starts with you, and that’s exactly the effort behind them.
We’ve established the importance of the self-appraisal, but there are several key elements of writing a good one that’d be wise to consider. Writing a self-appraisal can easily become a struggle if you don’t know what to say. There are questions you must first ask yourself, and then there are topics you’ll really want to cover with your manager.
Before you start, ask yourself some questions. What has been the biggest challenge in your position thus far? How can you do any of it differently? Do you have real strengths worth highlighting? How might the work environment affect this? Lastly, what do you want to achieve from this job and how are you motivated to do so? This is meant to dive into key components of what a self-appraisal should cover.
This is not the time to be shy or humble. Be proud of what you’ve done and support it with facts. Holding back your value just makes your achievements less visible to your employer. You might be asked to rate yourself with certain performance measures, or you might have to specifically describe accomplishments and their effect. Either way, compare the experience to writing your resume - make it attractive but honest.
Gather the data.
It is important to discuss your accomplishments while supporting them with facts. “I saved the company money by reducing costs” is vastly different from “I saved the company 13% by renegotiating contracts with our current suppliers.” Quantitative data speaks for itself!
Align yourself with the company.
Remember to talk about yourself through the perspective of your team and boss. Unless it affects them, it’s not as relevant to the overall picture. Were there any goals your manager or team were striving to reach over the past year and how did your efforts contribute?
Everyone makes mistakes. It happens to the best. Learning from mistakes is probably how they became the best. Don’t tear yourself down, but be honest and take ownership. Sometimes there aren’t easy answers to the problems we face at work. The goal should not be to call attention to the failures, but to display your willingness to grow from them and reach solutions.
Impress with solutions.
Rather than disguise your weaknesses with a cliche such as “I’m too ambitious”, truthfully address any areas that need improvement. Not only is self-awareness is a desirable character trait, your managers pick up more than you assume! Each weakness should have an action point attached to it and be sure to let your organization know how they can help.
Ask for anything you need to improve.
In order to get what you’ll need, you must be willing to ask for it. After discussing your mistakes and possible solutions, make a pitch. Are there educational opportunities available? Does the potential to cross-train exist? Conferences, certifications, or taking on projects outside of your comfort zone show your employer that you’re eager to learn.
Once you’ve essentially outlined the pros and cons of the past year, set new goals on your self-appraisal. This will be the most meaningful part of the process. Professional goals can be categorized into two groups; what you want to achieve in your current position, and goals you have for professional advancement.
Getting a second opinion doesn’t seem conventional for an appraisal, but since self-appraisals are only one-sided, it is common to bounce your ideas off of coworkers, family, and trusted colleagues. They can help you check for errors and make sure your tone is appropriate.
Advice from your coworkers might also remind you of things you’ve overlooked. Maybe you worked on a project where you thought you messed up, but a team member has objective opinions that differ. Overall, it can’t hurt to run your self-appraisal by someone who’s known you for a long time.
Maybe your company doesn’t currently administer self-appraisals as part of their annual evaluation. But, here’s an idea, it’s extremely helpful to have one anyway. By practicing some of the methods mentioned above, you could create excellent talking points for your regular appraisal. It can be quite advantageous to have the added input from coworkers, as well as mindful knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses.
Self-appraisals, done ever so often, are also a good way of avoiding pressure from annual meetings on the matter. Sharing your ups and downs throughout the year keeps your manager cognizant and available. In this way, self-appraisals have become very popular, as they promote employees to monitor themselves and self-correct. However, as you can see, they’re an extremely useful tool for employees themselves.
The 360 peer review is a professional feedback process that invites a group of coworkers to provide feedback about a fellow employee's job performance. It can be described as a type of appraisal that offers a unique perspective on the person’s skills, competencies, and even their personal temperament.
Similar to other types of review systems, the objective of a 360 peer review stays the same; to measure an employee’s work performance. However, this type of feedback also results in giving employees a better understanding of how their work is viewed in the total organization.
360 degree feedback is not limited to a standard rater setup, such as your direct report. Instead, it allows you to use multiple raters such as peers, supervisors, subordinates and external raters like clients or vendors, to leave feedback on an employee.
You may ask yourself “but why bother gathering all the extra data?” Put into practice by many well-known companies, 360 peer reviews can be quite useful if implemented correctly. Here’s a breakdown of how they can help:
After bringing together the group ratings, an employee or management can identify a starting point for development of new skills. The 360 feedback is often used as a benchmark within the employee's development plan.
It can be used in addition to an annual performance review or upon request when looking to cross-train, transfer, promote, etc. Ultimately, the employee being rated discovers their potential to perform at a higher level as well as opportunities to grow professionally for future assignments.
While professional growth is most important to the employees themselves, employers are responsible for providing an environment in which employees are encouraged and supported in their growth needs. Multi-rater feedback can provide excellent information to an individual about what they can do to enhance their career.
Depending on how you coordinate 360 peer reviews, the results can often help identify personal blind spots of an employee’s behavior and the impact they might have but never notice. While the results are designed to assess broader strengths and weaknesses, they also let the employee know how his/her coworkers view the significance of their performance.
The combined reviews create a balance among all the different perspectives (instead of getting only the manager’s point of view) which gives an employee a better idea about their behavior and talent.
This new, improved perspective is valuable enough on its own, but a great 360 review will also combine the feedback with the employee’s goals in order to create a road map for self-development.
A 360 peer review is an approach that can help team members work more effectively together. Understanding how others view your strengths and weaknesses not only creates an awareness of how to best work with others, but it also improves communication among team members.
Furthermore, because teams know more about how their own members are performing, a 360 peer review makes the employees more accountable to each other. They will eventually have to share the input provided on each members’ performance which is central to team development.
Probably one of the most important uses for a 360 peer review, is to improve your customer service. Here, an employee receives valuable feedback about the quality of their product or service, usually in a process that involves an internal or external customer. This type of feedback is used to enhance the quality of the employee’s output and reliability of his or her service or product.
Lastly, 360 peer reviews come in handy during annual evaluations. This purpose is mostly administrative as the results of the feedback are used for performance management. The reviews are generally shorter and focus mostly on competence and skills for an employee's current job.
Several studies have shown that the use of 360 degree feedback has helped improve performance because the employee being reviewed gains a different perspective of their work. This makes sense because, unlike technical skills, business skills lack immediate, built-in feedback. It is difficult to know if you’re succeeding without input from other sources.
The two most popular arguments in favor of 360 peer reviews are increased self-awareness and freedom from the views of your boss.
Taking a look at the several purposes of 360, it is easy to see that one of the greatest benefits overall is an increased self-awareness. It is a perfect design for a company with a growth mindset and strong teams. With the added benefit of being valued across a larger organization, employees can really begin to take ownership of their performance, career paths, and goals.
The two most argued disadvantages are the potential for unreliable data and the focus on employee weaknesses versus strengths.
Especially in large companies, 360 survey participants responsible for providing feedback can be on completely different pages when it comes to evaluating the performance or behavior. While one rater thinks a great job is a 5, another rater could consider a great job a 4, but they both agree that the job done was “great”. This presents a challenge to the employer trying to develop performance standards.
Secondly, are the raters rating someone they’ve worked with for many years, or their brand new boss? Are they trained, knowledgeable, or experienced at rating performance? Are the reviewers venting frustration or providing inappropriate commentary? Even if such cracks are not present in the system, there might be highly specialized skills that raters do not understand. It is difficult in this scenario to gain a full picture of performance.
When it comes to highlighting an employee’s weaknesses more so than their strengths, one can easily create a negative culture. Due to the nature of 360 feedback, managers and executives are often forced to examine an employee’s weaknesses more closely than their strengths. This quickly creates a great deal of resentment on the job and it’s a downward spiral from there.
It is clear that individual employees reap the greatest reward from a peer review undertaking. Not only does it help them to grow in different ways, it helps them to work better across the organization and with others. However, the added time and documentation required to support a survey-like assessment can require extra planning and resources.
We recommend that somewhere between 12 to 24 month intervals are most appropriate for repeating a 360-degree feedback process. This allows people to work through their development and action plans to create change.
Keep in mind that 360-degree feedback is not equally useful in all types of organizations with all types of jobs. Using this as a tool for appraisals is not always job based, and will eventually require education and training. Seeing as 360’s are extremely effective when used as a development tool, consider using it at the end of a project or if you want to provide coaching or succession planning.
When performance reviews are faulty, it is easy to recognize that change is necessary. Yet finding the solution may not prove to be so simple. You might find yourself caught in a routine of trying every new strategy, but this can make things worse. Safeguard yourself from this common mistake by improving your forms in 3 easy steps:
If you’re in HR you’re already dealing with a great deal of paperwork. Don’t over do it with ineffectual and tedious review forms. The key here is to balance the depth and frequency of the review process.
Deloitte has found that a large part of the review process is actually useless. When redesigning their performance management system, it was noticed that managers were being asked to answer an awful lot of questions about their employee’s abilities in different skill categories. Yet research has shown that people are horrible at rating skills, which means these sections of the review were probably generating meaningless data.
For example, these types of questions are almost always guaranteed on a review form: “How well does this employee live up to the company value of ‘Be Genuine’?” That is a well intentioned question but unfortunately it creates data that never gets used. In fact, that data should probably never be used because it is likely meaningless as well.
All of the questions that weren't serving the needs of their quantitative review were removed from Deloitte's form.
A Raise or Promotion?
During this overhaul, Deloitte wanted to develop a way to categorize employees when deciding upon their compensation or promotion.
The team looked at their current review process which involved extensive ranking discussions and a long review form. The form also involved many skill-focused questions, which again caused their current process to be overly inefficient when trying to recognize these two needs.
The original goal of the lengthy forms was to create a way of scoring and identifying employees. Once classified, the data would be used across the organization to make decisions about promotions and compensation. For Deloitte, the quantitative feedback gathered about their teams is particularly important because they do not use their structured reviews as a way to force team leaders into managing. Instead, managing the team is left up to the manager.
So how did they minimize their forms while maintaining the original intent? It brings us to our second tip. Ask easy questions.
Keep it simple and ask what you really want to know.
Don’t beat around the bush, try to be too clever, or do complex analysis of multiple questions. Chances are just asking one solid question will do. For example, I could ask you about the smokiness of the pepperonis on your pizza, the gooeyness of the cheese, and the crunch of the crust. Or I could just ask “did you like your pizza?”
One of Deloitte’s famous “simplifications” turned out to be their decision to ask managers if they want to have an employee on their team again. It seems quite feeble but their prior strategy was for managers to first rate employees on several characteristics, then analyze those answers and assign the employee a rating. Their old system was just a more complex method of reaching the same basic result.
Ask questions that can be answered.
Sounds too easy right? Indeed, but reviews are infamous for asking managers to score employees on things like impactfulness. How will your managers know what a “3” versus a “4” is in impactfulness? It is necessary to either give them an especially thorough training on how to answer your questions, or ask questions they already know how to answer.
You can ask the reviewer the following two questions in order to receive the same input/feedback: “Do you think the reviewee should be promoted to management?” or “Score the employee 1-9 on the following six qualities of a manager.” One is much easier to answer.
If you have a once-a-year process that emphasizes financial rewards and punishments, whether you mean to or not, you’re focus is holding people accountable for past behavior rather than improving current and future performance. Asking the right performance review questions at the right time is crucial.
Touching base with your employees on a regular basis makes reviews more of an ongoing process that shifts the focus forward. They can motivate and modify performance, adjust goals or recognize employees in actual time instead of reflectively.
Ask questions that look ahead.
Secondly, ask questions that invite the employee to look ahead. Rather than asking what their biggest strength is, you can ask which one of their personal strengths will be most important in the coming year. Another example is asking “what serves you the most while working on this project” instead of “are your strengths being maximized here?” As you can see, specific, engaging words leave no room for ambiguity.
Lastly, make sure you are present. Don’t just review mechanically. In order to affect future behavior, you must work with your employees in real time. Uncommon, but truly effective questions such as these make a big impact; “Have you been given enough feedback to adequately work on this?” or “What feedback or training do you think would have better prepared you for this challenge?” Employees need to know that when all is said and done, their performance reviews are making a difference.
Ratings are often maligned because no one wants to be boiled down to a score, but ratings do offer a quantifiable view of performance.
When companies need to make decisions regarding their talent base, they rely on data and use trends to plan for improvements. Some questions they might be asking are which managers are most efficient? Which employees demonstrate the best leadership qualities? Are there skills gaps that need to be addressed?
For someone in the process of building out a performance management strategy, rating scales can be an essential tool used to measure the performance. So if the information gathered from a rating scale system is valuable to an organization, why are some ditching the entire approach, and is there a better way to implement its use?
First, let's clarify; ratings are not rankings. Rankings make up a system where employees are compared and categorized into some type of ordering or buckets.
Ratings instead are the quantitative answers to performance appraisal questions. Ratings could be used to rank, but they certainly don’t need to be used that way. According to SHRM, rating scales are used in performance management systems to indicate an employee’s level of performance or achievement. The types of methods used to measure the performance are graphical rating scales, numerical scales, and letter scales. Some are only 2 or 3 point scales, but most companies opt for a 4 or 5 point scale, which might look something like this:
Outstanding - 5pts: Performance consistently far exceeds job standards/expectations on a sustained basis.
Exceeds Expectations - 4pts: Performance consistently meets and exceeds normal job requirements.
Meets Expectations - 3pts: Performance meets position requirements.
Needs Improvement - 2pts: Performance meets some position requirements, objectives and expectations.
Unsatisfactory - 1pt: Performance does not meet position requirements. Immediate attention to improvement is required.
The advantage of this model is that it is structured. It allows ratings to be quickly compared and contrasted, and because each employee receives the same rating criteria with the same range of responses, it is a standardized process as well. Consequently, this encourages fairness in treatment for all employees and creates standard measures of performance across any business area.
The disadvantage one might run into with rating scales is the loss of trait relevance. Are the selected rating-scale traits relevant to the performance of all employees? Since the questions need to be constrained, there is a higher likelihood they won’t apply to an employee’s work. Not every job within an organization will require the same use of specific traits.
Another challenge is the accuracy of ratings. Numbers can feel authoritative, but they are only as good as the process that creates them. Just because it’s cleaner to make decisions with data doesn’t mean that you’ll be making the right decisions.
One way to improve performance rating data is through calibration sessions. The way this works is managers prepare preliminary performance appraisals, then meet with other managers who supervise similar groups of employee's. The participants review and discuss their proposed appraisal ratings for every employee. In the end, participants adjust ratings to assure accuracy and final performance appraisals are then prepared. This also weeds out the “hard” and “soft” grader effect.
Another way ratings are being modified is by combining them with qualitative comments and feedback that give the employee a clear understanding of why they got their rating and how their performance aligns with goals. In this case, we see that ratings can serve as a base for more productive conversation, engaging meetings, and employee input.
Lastly, many companies are changing the scales to reflect behaviors and ditching the “expectations” terminology. A lot is said in a word and employees don’t necessarily feel great when given a number 3 for fulfilling their job description accordingly. Re-defining rating scales to make them specific to the criteria being rated could mark goals “achieved” or “deferred”. Competencies and soft skills could be marked as being observed “consistently” or “sometimes”.
Organizations that are able to develop standard competency based ratings across all functions would be most likely to benefit from its implementation. Likewise, companies that can rate various job objectives across all functions as well, could benefit from using rating scales in their performance reviews. Companies that work on diverse projects, or contain diverse positions, might not be able to customize the use of ratings to their advantage.
New-hire reviews are one of the most frequently overlooked and grossly underrated parts of a functioning performance management strategy. Whether it’s well-intentioned managers that allow new hires to fall through the cracks, or companies choosing to skip reviews altogether, the idea behind new-hire reviews can get lost in the onboarding process. New-hire reviews, specifically 90-day reviews, can actually be one of the most important facets of your performance management strategy.
The purpose of 90-day reviews is to make the onboarding experience as seamless and effective as possible for new hires and management alike. An investment in your company’s new hires via 90-day review can make the biggest difference in productivity and average tenure for employees, manager-employee relationships, and saving time and resources at your organization.
90-day reviews function as an important checkpoint for an employee’s progress. In order to fully understand the importance of 90-day reviews, it helps to analyze the patterns of new hires in today’s organizations.
Employee loyalty statistics have determined that average job tenure is about 4.5 years. Employee retention numbers are critically low--especially in tech companies--and according to a study from an HR technology company, approximately 17% of new hires leave within the first three months at a new job, while 30% leave within the first six months.
If anything, these statistics prove that a new employee’s first 90 days are critical. Companies that choose not to implement 90-day reviews into their performance management strategy are forced to then rely on annual reviews to evaluate employees, which--if the above statistics are true--either occur after one-quarter of an employees entire tenure, or after an employee has already left the organization.
90-day reviews serve as an excellent benchmark during onboarding to measure a new employee’s performance in a realistic timeframe. After a solid 90 days, new employees should feel independent enough to be held accountable for their performance at the company thus far.
A successful 90-day review gives employees the opportunity to assess themselves while also giving and receiving feedback. The review provides an open forum of communication which allows each new hire the chance to speak, ask questions, and get the help they need to continue improve their performance.
An employee has the opportunity during this review to discuss with management any questions, requests, or concerns that may have surfaced during their first 90 days at their new job. They can receive feedback on their initial performance that includes reinforcement of things that are working, as well as feedback about the things that should change. The 90-day timeframe gives them a chance to make changes early, ultimately setting them up for success in the annual performance review.
While the 90-day review could technically be considered a formal discussion for managers to communicate and clarify their performance expectations for new hires, this review can also be an important opportunity for managers to build a solid relationship with their employees. Overall, a well-planned 90-day review can help to solidify and guarantee long-term employee engagement at your organization.
Connecting socially can also help your new hire to better understand the culture and politics of your company. While a hefty percentage of starting a new job has to do with projects and tasks, there is also a large social component to a new hire’s first 90 days in a new work culture. Meeting in a 90-day review can help your new hire to understand the lingo, meeting dynamics, and general culture of your organization.
Ultimately, 90-day reviews benefit managers greatly, as they provide structure to the task of assessing a new hire’s potential success going forward. After 90 days, managers have had ample opportunity to observe the progress made by new employees, and a formal discussion can help managers more quickly evaluate whether a new hire is not a great fit for the organization. This can be an instrumental step in helping to save time and resources at your company, and is one of the reasons that 90-day reviews can be an incredibly effective tool in performance management strategies.
The first 90 days of a new hire’s employment are often dubbed a “probationary period”--a phrase that has lead to many common misconceptions about 90-day reviews. Employees can misinterpret their first 90 days in a new job to be a correctional period that they are immediately placed in on their first day of work. This can potentially harm their view of the company, leading employees to believe that they must “hit the ground running” instead of taking the time that they need to get up to speed.
90-day reviews should instead be adopted into performance management strategies with the intention to structure the review as a reflection of the position. The reviews should be designed to get new hires up to speed in a thoughtful and deliberate way, ensuring that your new hire is able to add value to the company as soon as possible, while also feeling valued as a contributor.
If your approach to 90-day reviews consists of nothing more than a checklist of questions for your new hires, chances are you won’t get much out of using them in your performance management strategy. It’s important that managers treat 90-day reviews as a performance review for both employees and management. When the review consists of nothing but feedback from management, a new employee can feel as though their opinions are not valued, and that the effort they put into their first 90 days of work went unheeded. New employees are often already stressed by the multitude of new tasks and responsibilities on their plate, and overloading them with feedback can cause them to feel overwhelmed.
Allowing new hires to provide feedback, both positive and constructive, helps companies to streamline their onboarding process and help new hires realize their full potential more quickly. Feedback for both parties is a critical component to ensuring that both managers and employees get the most out of your 90-day review. New employees can provide valuable information about what is and isn’t working, which can lead to improvements for the overall organization.
You may think this is an obvious one--but unfortunately, this is one of the most common mistakes that companies make regarding 90-day reviews. Managers that promise to conduct a 90-day review and fail to follow through can cause unnecessary stress to new employees that are already overwhelmed with the start of a new job.
It’s important that management puts forth the effort to create an organized agenda when it comes to 90-day performance reviews. Studies show that organizations that follow through with 90-day reviews see direct benefits in increased employee engagement and tenure. According to a recent study, new employees that went through an organized, structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to remain with the organization after three years.
The key to achieving a well-structured onboarding program that sets your new hires up for success may be as simple as sticking to your 90-day review plan.
Overall, 90-day reviews can be a great, highly effective tool to implement into your onboarding and performance management strategy in order to increase productivity, extend employee tenure, and ultimately access the full potential of new hires at a quicker pace. When new employees are given the opportunity to weigh-in and be evaluated at around the 3-month mark, it’s possible to unlock their full potential and see their contribution to the organization much sooner.
If done right, 90-day reviews will help to transition your new hire from the “new guy” into a key performer at your company within the first 90 days on the job.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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:
The open-ended section of your upward appraisal could also take the form of statements as opposed to questions, for example:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you've lost control of your emotions, you should hold your tongue. Here are three other times you should NOT give negative feedback.
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.
360 feedback (or multi-rater feedback) is one of the fastest-growing and most controversial performance management instruments used today.
When done right, 360s can promote increased self-awareness for individual employees, transparency in team communication, and increased performance within a company.
However, there also exists a host of variables and questionable components to the 360-degree feedback process that have made many organizations question the validity and reliability of the performance tool.
We’ve compiled some opinions that should help to inform your decision if you're considering the addition of 360 feedback to your process.
Many businesses have found that one of the greatest variables and risks to using 360-feedback in performance review systems is the reoccurring issue of inexperienced or subjective raters.
In 2015, Major Gregory G. Lee of the U.S. Army published an article criticizing the reliability and validity of 360-degree feedback programs within the Army due to the blatant subjectivity and unchecked toxic leadership within the multi-rater feedback system. When the leaders, managers, executives, and employees involved in a 360 review are untrained or inexperienced in the practice of giving constructive feedback, not only does the purpose of the system becomes lost, but the feedback itself can cause damage to the organization.
Often, especially in large companies, 360 survey participants that are responsible for providing feedback can be on completely different pages when it comes to evaluating the performance, behavior, and competency of the individual being reviewed. 360 surveys were denounced in a 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review for having universally bad data, mostly due to the drastically different standards and expectations of those involved.
In a 360 review system that involves manager, coworker, customer, and even self-assessment feedback, it’s easy to see how data can potentially become skewed. Even well-intended coaching and insightful feedback still comes from individual sets of competency standards, questions, and performance criteria that often differs from evaluator to evaluator. Because complete objectivity in reviews is nearly impossible to achieve, the data gathered in a multirater review is often made unreliable as a result.
Not only is unreliable data a potential mishap in performance reviews, but many companies often set themselves up for weak feedback systems by creating vague, non-specific questionnaires that make it hard to assess an employee’s actual behavior and performance.
Questionnaires that consist of nothing more than personality profiles make it nearly impossible to translate a review into specific and measurable actions, while overly complex questions can fail to connect the ratee’s performance with the overall values, goals, and strategic aims of the organization.
Due to the nature of 360 evaluations, managers and executives are often forced to examine an employee’s weaknesses more closely than their strengths. Many participants in 360 feedback systems have found the process to be more negative and punishing than rewarding due to management’s tendency to seek out and pinpoint an employee’s skill gaps.
Not only that, but many of these questionnaires involve written feedback that is sent out to participants after the review takes place. Written comments can serve to reinforce the emphasis on weaknesses in 360 feedback survey results -- participants are left to briefly skim the list of strengths, and potentially hyper-fixate on their shortcomings and improvement suggestions.
Even with these issues, however, multi-rater assessments are still used by over 90% of Fortune 500 companies. So, what is it about 360 reviews that works?
Many Fortune 500 companies have discovered, often by a trial-and-error basis, that 360 reviews are the most effective performance review tool for a large organization. Writer and Northwestern University student Nicole Thompson conducted research and found that 360-feedback systems were responsible for increased communication, and as a result, increased productivity and efficiency among teams.
As feedback results are delivered and discussed among team members, communication channels remain open and honest, leading to relationships of trust and transparency. This open communication in a 360 system encourages coworkers and team members to actively seek out constructive feedback from peers, management, and executives, resulting in performance increase and goal achievement.
Not only are there benefits to utilizing 360 reviews within a team environment, but the assessment tool can also promote increased self-awareness and a clearer understanding of goals and expectations for individual employees.
With the more open and communicative environment that 360 feedback brings, employees feel as though their opinions are actively sought and heard, and their performances are being directly observed, recognized, and rewarded. Individual employees are able to get a clearer understanding of how their actions and opinions directly affect the company.
Similarly, the ability for an employee to offer constructive feedback to those in management can encourage morale among lower-level employees, allowing them to believe that their words matter and giving them a sense of empowerment.
360 feedback processes that involve the customer are known to be especially valuable in improving the quality, reliability, and promptness of a business’s overall products and services.
In a 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman explain that organizations that do 360 reviews well -- in other words, relying on empirical research to determine leadership competencies, properly and constructively explaining the results of feedback, and tailoring the process to each individual’s job type and position -- see an increase in employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and higher sales.
High-quality 360 feedback ultimately correlates with an organization’s success, revealing and eliminating blind spots while driving accelerated growth for both teams and the overall company.
The question is: are 360 reviews beneficial to every organization? Here are some things to consider before taking steps toward implementing 360 feedback at your company.
Not all leadership development and 360 solutions are created equal. It’s fairly obvious that there are certain conditions that must be met in order to ensure an effective and functioning multi-rater performance assessment system. As you make your decision, it is important to keep in mind that the use of 360-degree feedback tools is not always effective for certain organizations and specific job types.
The companies that make use of 360 reviews have discovered that the multi-rater system enables more accurate, fairer, and less biased feedback, in contrast with traditional or top-down assessments. However, it’s worth noting that many of these companies combine 360 feedback with traditional performance appraisals in order to ensure that all review participants receive the clear direction and developmental feedback that they need to flourish.
No matter what, your biggest concern should be to ensure that 360 reviews are going to work for your company. Customize your 360-degree feedback system according to the needs of your organization, and it just might be the successful tool you need to bolster performance in your business.
At least half the pain of the performance review are all the questions that come with it. Most performance appraisals look like a dull, thick stack of paper reminiscent of a standardized test. There are so many questions packed in that any good ones get lost in an avalanche of bad or pointless ones.
Why do so many performance review questions miss the mark? In short, because the mark is hard to hit. Asking a question might seem simple but when you’re searching for a deeply insightful answer you need to use an even more insightful question.
There is both an art and science to nailing your perfect set of performance review questions, and while a quick Google search will yield tons of generic sample questions, it’s unlikely any of them will truly fit your unique business or team. But asking the right questions in your performance review means a lot to your employees and your bottom line. Good questions can improve work relationships and spur your people into actively solving problem for your customers.
To start learning about how to ask the right performance review questions, let’s break things down bit by bit. First, we’ll look at how to ask good questions in general. Then we’ll look at how to craft great performance review questions.
We don’t always think of how to ask questions simply because asking a question feels like such a normal thing to do.
But when it comes to work situations (especially stressful work situations) questions can feel like they're carrying a lot of hidden meaning. For example, a question like, “Why didn’t you meet your department goals this quarter?” could be read as more of an accusation than a question.
The Global Digital Citizen Foundation is an educational nonprofit that works with educators all around the globe to help develop critical and creative thinking skills in learning environments (and yes, your office should be a learning environment). As such, the GDCF has a very intentional way of looking at a question.
They basically turn it into a five-step process built to find information. Here's how they break it down.
How do you know what to ask if you don’t know what you’re looking for?
Start with the focus of your question, or what you want to know. You're also going to think about the purpose of the question — why you want to know it or ask about it. "This is what we've always asked" or "These questions were on the free template I downloaded" are not good a good place to start from.
Intent is a great checkpoint to ask yourself where your question really comes from (and if it’s really a question at all).
There are times we ask questions more to express our opinions, like saying, “Did you really think that would work?” What's the intent behind the question? Genuine curiosity or something else? The intent of each question should align with the intent of your performance management strategy.
Once you're clear on your intent, you have to frame the question and take a careful look to make sure it’s clear and does not bias the responder. If you really want to know if something’s working or not, you must be both direct and objective.
Last but not least, you must use follow-up questions to figure out if you need new or different questions.
Often businesses neglect the follow up even though this can actually be the most valuable stage of the performance review process. The follow up is where you are at your most informed and your employees are already focused on the topic. There will never be a better time to dig deep and discover the smarter questions that lead to better answers.
And of course, sharing feedback should be a regular event and following up is a great way to regularize performance feedback.
Open-ended questions can be tricky for HR departments.
These questions take time and if they’re not done right they could lead to a long conversation on a less than useful topic. Not to mention, they don’t produce the same, easy-to-examine flow of quantitative data like the tidy multiple choice or yes/no questions do. Still, open-ended questions bring out big insights that other questions just can't reach.
Using open-ended questions can help employees develop a greater sense of self-reflection and encourage them to find their own ways to improve their work performance. Many employees want to improve and helping them do that will win their loyalty. In fact, research indicates that a lack of personal development opportunities may be a key reason why millennials switch jobs so often.
One way to show interest in your employee's future development is to focus on questions that can help the employee grow. Open-ended questions like, “What is an area you’re looking to improve?” can demonstrate an interest in an employee's future career path, open up growth opportunities, and even improve performance all at once.
If it takes an extra 10 minutes for your employee to answer an insightful forward-looking open question rather than a simple yes or no, consider it time well-spent.
Just as there are great guidelines for how to ask better questions, there some very helpful rules to help you avoid asking bad questions.
First, avoid asking questions about why someone failed to perform at a specific project or task. Even though you might not have a negative intention when putting this question together, integrity is a core survival function and when it's called into question, it can trigger a person's limbic system. Instead of listening objectively, the employee's natural reaction is to fight, flight, freeze, or in the most likely scenario for your performance review, defend.
If you know a particular employee isn’t performing as well as they could, address it but don't belabor it. Rather than put them on the defensive, a better approach would be to look to the future with open-ended questions like, “What can we take from this quarter that will help us in the next one?”
Of course, you should also avoid any leading questions as these can also indicate bias and prejudgment, even if you don't mean them that way.
If you're ever in any doubt about the role or validity of a certain question, go back to your process. Look at its focus, purpose, intent, and framing. Can you follow this up to see how helpful it was? Is there a way to make this more specific without blaming? Would this work better as an open-ended question? Are your own personal values baked into the question?
Be real and relentless about the role of each question on your appraisal form. If it doesn't fit the goal or culture you're striving for, remove or replace it.
One thing that will always apply to every aspect of the employee performance review or survey is what you want to get out of it.
Obviously, no one wants it to be a morale-killer but you may want your review to target specific things such as, mid-term goals, long-term goals, manager issues, employee development and so on. It's better to determine the focus and the purpose first then build out from there rather than try to adapt a 24-page review form to address a specific area.
Regular feedback and reviews can have an advantage over annual surveys because they allow you to narrow your focus and give everyone — employees, managers, and HR — a smaller number of questions to contend with. Generally speaking, good types of questions to ask would be upward review questions (that ask for an assessment of management), peer review, and self-review. This can make the review process seem more fair and inclusive to more opinions than just management's.
Remember, avoiding bias can be hard because biased wording usually happens on an unconscious level. For instance, the question “Would you say your manager is communicative?” has a positive bias in its wording because it uses “communicative” instead of “unresponsive” or something similar. Try mixing in other versions of the question with different wording.
Be careful not to overload questions with multiple points or needless complexity. Use plain English and avoid jargon or confusing wording in general. Go ahead and explain things if you need to. For example, don’t ask if an employee's coworkers are efficient and hard-working in one question, ask it as separate points in two questions. (And if you need help, check out our post on How To: Create a Radically Simple Review Form.)
Try grouping your questions according to context, going from general to gradually more specific. Once you have your questions down, there’s no need to stow them away until review day. Giving your employees the question well beforehand could help everyone out. Author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, Dick Grote says that sharing your questions helps to “set expectations early” and “make it clear how you’ll evaluate your employees.” Giving everyone a chance to get on the same page can help make it a win for everyone.
A review is NOT a standardized test and you definitely don’t want it to feel like the SAT. When an employee sees what they’re being reviewed on, they also see what matters to the business.
It becomes easier to align their focus to yours and it’s easier for everyone to hold each other to that alignment. Prepare and adapt your questions regularly to help the whole office stay aligned to the big picture goal of the business.
It's no secret that performance reviews get a bad rap.
Come November, they can hang like a black cloud over the office with both managers and employees dreading the year-end sit down.
But performance reviews aren't something your people should have to "survive" each year. Done right, your performance review process can be a crucial ally for your business.
If you're rethinking your review process, here are nine simple but powerful things it should accomplish. (Hint: None of them are, “destroy office morale once a year.”)
A performance review should start an ongoing dialogue between employee and manager. HR expert Susan Heathfield calls conversation the "key word” for a performance review. When employees get "talked at" by a manager they can feel like they’re being punished, even if they aren’t. Turning the review into a conversation by using open-ended questions about the employee’s expectations and goals can help put everyone at ease.
Making the review a conversation is a critical first step, but a truly effective performance review process can bring in multiple viewpoints for a more complete picture of what's happening on the ground. Managers can be as biased as anybody else and while manager reviews are still the best we have, it can be helpful to bring more of the office together and collect peer, self-reviews and employee-to-employer feedback in order to get a better feel for opinions and ideas that often go unvoiced.
According to Deloitte, 58% of HR executives considered reviews an ineffective use of supervisors' time — and don't get us started on how your employees see it.
Too many organizations make the mistake of funneling all feedback into one massive annual review, when a lighter, more regular model would be both easier to implement and better received by all. An effective performance management process should build on the feedback of each meeting, check-in, or review to deliver a steady stream of empowerment and accountability (not to mention, profits!) throughout the year.
Today's business climate requires a greater level of adaptability than ever before. Most managers and employers take it for granted that their employees know exactly what's required of them, but more often than not, performance reviews are plagued with vague and arcane language that leaves employees confused and uninspired.
A truly effective performance review will make it easy to give specific feedback that helps employees understand how their role is evolving and lays out clear steps for how to progress and develop within the company.
If you can go the extra mile by offering a specific solution, even better. For example, say your HR department is rolling out a new learning and development program, managers could try suggesting a relevant training that might help the employee strengthen their skills in a specific area.
This might be the most obvious of reason for why everyone everywhere should do performance reviews — yet this fundamental message can easily get lost among the latest business or HR trend du jour.
At its core, a performance review absolutely can and should improve employee performance, but only if it addresses an employee's performance in a way that’s clear, specific and firmly focused on moving forward. In other words, if it doesn't feel easy, it probably isn't helping.
Performance reviews can help managers and HR just as much as it helps employees.
Employee feedback and 360 reviews are just some of the ways you can use reviews to get past biases and see the reality of what’s going on in the office. Even the simple act of encouraging your managers to use more relevant, compassionate questions in employee meetings and reviews will help reveal insights that can have a major impact on their ability to lead.
One reason employees dislike performance reviews is because they seem unfair by way of being inaccurate. Performance reviews can be a good time to put an employee up for a promotion or pay raise, but your process needs to be fair and objective if you don't want it to backfire. Develop a simple, objective performance management system, then work with HR to train your managers to give fairer reviews within that supportive framework.
Employees shouldn’t see feedback as a passive affair. A great performance review process makes your people feel actively involved in managing their own performance, without ever feeling daunted or intimidated by the process itself.
Letting employees evaluate themselves is a great way to spark that sense of ownership, while also getting a deeper reading on performance. Author, speaker, and HR pro Jessica Miller-Merrell says, "Most employees tend to be harder on themself then their boss would be when reviewing their performance. This will give the employer more details on how the employee has performed, because they are more likely to remember everything, as opposed to a supervisor who’s keeping track of 7-10 employees."
Review time is done. Work is back on. If everyone feels exhausted, anxious, and frustrated then there’s a problem with the review process.
Take the time to reframe your process in a way that will build and maintain momentum for your people and your business. Because at the end of the day, performance reviews shouldn’t be a dreaded blight on the office, but an ongoing opportunity for growth.
I once attended a high-level conference of executives managing high growth enterprises and many were in industries facing extreme disruption.
In a panel discussion on talent management, these fast-moving c-levels bemoaned increasing turnover rates and agreed that "adaptability" was prerequisite for future talent.
And they were right. Generic job descriptions have a tough time keeping pace with modern business.
But apart from revamping your entire organizational hierarchy (which is neither easy, nor a sure bet for solving your succession planning problems), what can you do to align the right talent to the right role? Here are some practical steps to take.
As it turns out, HR consultant Professor David Clutterbuck had a similar experience to my own.
David was moderating a panel of HR practitioners on the topic of succession planning and was completely blown away by one panelist's (a top HR dog at a leading multinational) comment that, "We are running 21st Century organizations with 19th Century ideas about succession planning."
The comment sent David on an in-depth expedition into succession planning practices in which he interviewed dozens of HR professionals across the globe to find out what works and what doesn't when it comes to succession planning.
Here's one of the biggest problems David uncovered:
"They [HR leaders and managers] expect the individual to adapt to the job description. Yet talented employees rapidly shape the job to their own strengths and interests. The more detailed the job description, the more candidates it is likely to deter and the more likely that the new incumbent will be like the previous one. Yet the transition between one incumbent and the next is an important opportunity for new perspectives. A critical question for candidates is: 'What can you bring to this role, that’s different?'"
Instead of attempting to judge the strength of a candidate on a set of outdated competences, David recommends using three simple criteria to identify future talent:
David also sheds light on some of the most common misconceptions among managers and HR leaders that keep them from finding innovative solutions to succession planning. For example, factors such as ethnicity, gender and demand for work-life balance can make a big difference in how a high-potential candidate will view, negotiate and consider a promotion or offer.
And regardless of their background and professional goals, any employee who believes they're responsible for one particular set of tasks will feel justifiably blindsided when they suddenly find out they're expected to change, adapt to, or even innovate a totally new way of doing business, without any official acknowledgement that their role has changed.
By encouraging employees to initiate their own growth and development, you not only foster greater drive and accountability, you leave the door open to getting the kind of game-changing insights that can keep your organization on the leading edge, without having to force it.
But this means managers, execs and HR leaders must be willing to adapt roles and hierarchies to the changing needs of both the business and the people driving it. And that's not going to happen if your performance review process is as rigid and outdated as a jargon-packed job description.
Performance reviews are a great way to track the things that really matter.
The key is to consistently collect feedback about an employee's job satisfaction and goal-getting capabilities, and balance those insights with their individual long-term vision for professional growth.
We've all met the account rep who was once an excellent producer on the sales floor and is now a miserable mid-level manager. That's why the success or failure of your performance review and succession planning system depends in no small part, on the questions you ask.
Start by taking the temperature of your talent pool. If you're one of many organizations focused on reducing turnover, you probably already have some form of the 'Are you happy?' meeting in place.
Here are some of the key questions you may want to mix into your performance review process to help guide your succession planning. Keep in mind, these can be distributed and recorded via your performance management tool, or added to the system later if it's something that needs to take place in a more personal or informal setting.
When thinking about succession planning, it's important to remember that everyone develops in different ways and at different speeds. Aligning the 'Are you happy' questions with key project milestones, 360 reviews, or coaching programs is a great way to see what tasks and responsibilities are the most and least motivating for your people.
Knowing what adds to, or detracts from, the energetic reserves of your employees is key to helping you assess how they can excel in the future, whether that's in an established role, a newly created position or a lateral change in the scope of an employee's core responsibilities.
Succession planning at its best is about getting the most out of everyone in your talent pool.
And no one knows how to get the most out of your employees better than your employees themselves. (That's right, they know better than your managers do.)
Instead of assuming you know what positions your individual contributors want to grow into, why not simply ask them what motivates them and where they're looking to go in life?
A great performance management tool will make it easy to align their personal goals with the company’s goals, resulting in smarter succession planning and better productivity from top to bottom (or in this case, bottom to top).
This last point is not going to win me any extra points, but here goes. One of the most helpful succession planning tools also happens to be the most tried and tested: the 9-box.
Love them or hate them, these classic performance plots are a great way to understand who your ideal successors will be. But as leadership development experts like Dan McCarthy have pointed out, a 9-box can also be used to help assess individual contributors and guide development planning.
For example, an organization may create development guidelines based on where an employee places on the grid and then use those guidelines as a sort of performance roadmap, helping to map feeder roles and offer a more personalized internal learning experience with every performance milestone.
According to Dan, "Most organizations use the 9-box as a tool to assess managers for potential to move up in the organization for succession planning. However, I’ve seen some leadership teams use it as way to discuss whether individual contributors have the potential “to grow, learn, and take on new responsibilities”, etc… They’re just defining for themselves what “potential” means, but it’s important to have clear and valid criteria, just as you would when assessing for “leadership” potential."
Your performance management tool can help you customize your 9-box scales in the way that makes the most sense for your organization. Because just like people, every business has different needs on the path to growth and development.
Stay tuned in to what's happening with yours, and you'll have no problem getting the talent you need to stay ahead of the game.
Between staying on top of day-to-day tasks and good old-fashioned fear of confrontation, there are hundreds of ways your performance reviews can go off track. But with 69% of employees saying they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized, it pays to have a steady appraisal system in place.
Here are four simple ways to get your performance review process back on track.
Your current business goal is surely not the same goal you set five years ago—it might not even be the same as the goal you had six months ago. But when was the last time your performance review process was updated to reflect those changes?
The very thought of combing through your appraisal forms to align each and every question with your latest top-level strategy would make any sane person want to run for the hills. But agillity is critical in today's business climate and you need a performance review process that can support big-picture decisions, no matter how quickly they happen.
Knowing where you're headed is the first crucial step to keeping performance reviews on track. Get clear on what the goal is at the organizational, team and individual level, then use a clear goal-tracking system to keep everyone empowered and accountable.
Before Adobe famously changed its performance review process in 2015, managers were spending an average of 80,000 hours conducting annual reviews. At Deloitte, the number was a staggering 2 million hours company-wide.
Truth is, people don't like the annual performance review for the same reason they don't like the DMV. If your appraisal process feels arcane, time-consuming and bureaucratic, they'll do everything they can to avoid it.
If reviews aren't happening on time (or at all), take a close look at your process. What questions, systems or steps can be eliminated? It can be hard to let go of parts of the process that have been there since the beginning, but it's more important to have a system that works.
If there's a question that doesn't directly tie into a clear performance goal or KPI, don't be afraid to strike it out. Rest assured, when your performance review process is fast and effective, it will keep your teams on track.
Business moves fast, which can sometimes leave a big gap between leadership and employees. If your review process doesn't reflect the real, on-the-ground goals and challenges your people are facing, it will feel totally irrelevant to your teams.
Sure, employees need to be tuned into the bigger picture. But they also need feedback as and when work is completed. In fact, 72% of employees believe their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.
But if managers are operating under the belief that there's a one-time process in place for giving that feedback, they'll be all too happy to skip the kinds of uncomfortable, in-the-moment conversations that lead to better productivity now.
Encourage managers to adjust reviews to match goal changes at the ground level and give them free reign to deliver result-oriented feedback whenever the need arises. Make it easy for them to document that feedback in a central place where anyone who needs to can reference those insights for more relevant reviews in the future.
Speaking of managers, one of the biggest pitfalls of any performance review process is a manager's reluctance (or inability) to have tough conversations.
But linking performance reviews to specific goals and results not only makes it easier to give employees the feedback they need, when they need it—it also helps managers deliver negative feedback more effectively. Because it's all well and good to make blanket statements about "why managers need to be better coaches", but giving them the tools they need to do that is another game altogether.
A great performance management system will make it easy for managers to visualize what is working and what isn't, so they can focus their feedback on the hard data, and eliminate the hard feelings.
The HR world is changing fast. Tech is changing, talent is changing, and the future of work will look starkly different than in decades past.
Understandably, many business leaders are rethinking their performance management systems in an attempt to modernize their approach—and there's no shortage of tools out there to help them do it. But 'new' doesn't always mean 'effective'.
Before you embark on a complete overhaul of your performance management process, make sure you have a system that is extremely easy for your people to use. Because a performance management solution your employees actually enjoy using is the only surefire way to make sure reviews are happening when they're supposed to.
We all know it's important to rally your people around your goals, but too many business leaders launch a new initiative, then go straight back to the same old habits.
Even if you did a stellar job communicating the vision behind your performance management upgrade, your people need to see strong, consistent action to back that up. And that kind of follow through can't happen if your appraisal tools aren't adapted to the day-to-day rhythm and workflows of your office.
Choosing a performance management system that enhances your current best practices is crucial to ensuring reviews get done on a regular basis. A great performance management tool should be dead easy for your people to use and keep using. And as a big cherry on top, a user-friendly system that's a total breeze to use is a much easier sell internally.
Because as awesome as your vision is, most business users are caught up in the daily pressures of goals, deadlines, etc.—they won't always stop to think about why performance reviews are important. What they really want is a fast, easy way to give feedback and a tool that’s fun to use.
Most performance management systems are built around the "hottest new idea in talent management", without deeper consideration for how an organization will actually use the tool day-to-day.
But limiting your performance management process to the latest HR dogma can definitely impede your success in the future when the CEO wants to try something else. On the flip side, many software vendors (especially expensive enterprise products) have adapted to the needs of IT buyers, while overlooking the needs of the business end user. Instead of building for optimal usability at the ground level, they accommodate requests for complex features and requirements, even if those requests are only useful for a handful of users.
Product teams end up having to pile on extra features in order to please a select few clients. The result is a clunky, complex, and difficult to navigate tool—one that most business users conveniently "forget" to use it.
Great performance management software will be lean, dynamic and flexible enough to adapt to the real-world workflows within your organization—all without ever losing sight of the most important goal: Making performance reviews easy and effective for all business users.
According to McKinsey, only 52% of executives said the way they spent their time matched their organizations’ strategic priorities. Managers typically spend 30-60% of their time on administrative tasks and meetings, when they could be using that time to coach their teams or make progress on big picture projects that drive value to the company's bottom line.
Employee performance is at the core of any winning business strategy, and if you want to make sure it's playing out how it's supposed to, it's got to feel like a joy, not another admin headache. That means it must be fun and simple to use.
After all, why even have a performance management system if no one's using it?
As an HR professional, you have a hand in a million different parts of the business.
On any given day you might be recruiting the right people, updating core policies or putting out interpersonal fires.
But when it comes to sitting down and evaluating the performance of your employees, just how involved should you be?
It's impossible to overemphasize the importance of fairness in creating an engaging and productive work environment. In fact, it's one of the top criteria for determining which organizations rank among the best places to work. And as an HR leader, you are your employees' chief advocate for fairness in the workplace.
But autonomy is of equal importance. Employees need feedback in order to have a strong sense of direction and satisfaction at work, but it's all for naught if your appraisal process makes them feel micromanaged or micro-analyzed.
Here are a few ways HR leaders can ensure fairness in the employee appraisal process, without breathing over your managers' shoulders, or having to sit in on every single meeting.
Any performance appraisal process that relies too heavily on either HR or managers, probably isn't as fair as you think it is. Design your system to ask the right people the right questions, so you can step back and let the team leaders do their jobs.
If your system is plagued with bottlenecks, meet with managers to get an idea for how they would structure the appraisal process if they were given complete free reign. In many cases, their ideas for a simpler process can inform some small but powerful changes to help win back time for your employees, executive team and HR. But of course, make sure you always view their suggestions through the lens of fairness, as only HR truly can.
We've said before that great managers are great coaches. But who coaches the coaches? You guessed it: HR.
If you do a stellar job training your reviewers on how to structure, view and deliver the performance review, you won't need to do much else. Coaching your managers on performance appraisals is one of those one-time investments in your people that keeps paying off. If you use a rating system, it's also a good idea to make sure the ratings are calibrated so that a rating of 5 for one manager has the same guidelines, behaviors and expectations as the other.
Many HR leaders like to review appraisals before they're delivered to the employee. Whether or not you do that is completely up to you and your own hard-earned hunch about your teams and people. But if you've done a great job coaching your managers on delivering feedback, this may be another part of the process you can comfortably take yourself out of.
In a perfect world, managers would know how to diplomatically and effectively deliver feedback, and employees would know not to take any part of the process personally.
But for better or worse, we live in a world where stuff happens. Performance appraisals can sometimes have a way of bringing issues to the surface and in the event of a strained or tense employee-manager relationship, HR will need to step in and be that advocate for fairness once again. In general, it's never a bad idea to check in with managers and employees after a performance review to see if they have any suggestions or concerns.
Performance reviews are so much more than a compliance activity, but they definitely check that box as well. It's a natural part of the HR process to record and store evaluation records in order to remain compliant, but this information can also be used to assess past trends and drive future efficiencies in the process.
This may also include collecting and following up on employee feedback as well. A great way for HR to be involved in the process is to once again take on the role of the fair and objective mediator when looking at the evolution of your performance process over time. Where is there room for improvement? What do managers and employees need to know so that they can do it better themselves?
Adopt the role of a true performance review process strategist and you'll not only have happier people, but fewer tasks to bear.
Most bosses think they know their employees better than anyone else.
After all, we spend 90,000 hours of our lives at work. And it's the team leaders who are in the trenches every day, training employees on important processes and coaching them on their way to achieving business goals.
But knowing someone well, and rating them well are two different things.
That's according to a study conducted by Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Mount and his team researched 4,492 managers who were rated on performance by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates. They found that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ perception (a.k.a. “idiosyncratic rater effects”). Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance.
As researchers put it, "Ideally, the rating variance associated with the performance of the ratee would be large relative to the variance associated with biases of the rater. In other words, what is being rated should account for more variance than who does the rating. Our results show that this is not generally true."
As it turns out, the way you rate your employees is more a reflection of your own thoughts and beliefs about work performance, and less about the actual performance of the person you're rating.
But so what does this mean for performance ratings?
Deloitte came up with a simple solution. After reviewing the research and conducting their own internal survey, the Big Four firm found that although its previous review system was considered fair and effective by most employees, it just wasn't moving the needle on business objectives. Not only that, they found that over 2 million hours a year were spent on the review process.
In an effort to reduce the time burden and outsmart "rater effects", Deloitte now asks team leaders what they would do with their employees, rather than asking them to rate employees on specific skills. For example, the first of their four review questions is, "Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus." Managers are then asked to agree or disagree using a 5-point scale. This question has the reviewer reflect on their own feelings rather than try to give a score to another person’s skills. We are much better equipped to do the former, rather than the latter.
Deloitte's radically simple approach helps uncover the manager's core insights, without asking them to ponder abstract terms like 'critical reasoning' and 'strategic thinking skills'. Unfortunately, the study didn't investigate the cause of individual "rater effects", but it's safe to assume that using vague terminology to describe employee skills could leave the door open to a little too much interpretation.
And that's a problem, because as researchers pointed out, "Regardless of whether perspective-related effects are classified as actual performance or bias, our results indicate that boss ratings capture more of the ratee's actual job performance than do ratings from any other perspective."
In other words, managers and team leaders may not be able to rate employee skills effectively, but they still hold the key to getting the most accurate reading possible. Just how accurate that is may have more to do with how you ask, and less to do with what you think.
We're experiencing a major shake-up in the world of performance appraisals.
Business behemoths like GE, IBM and Adobe are completely revamping their performance review procedures, even going as far as to eliminate the annual review in favor of a continuous feedback model, consisting of weekly, monthly, or even real-time performance reviews.
But is that a little extreme? Maybe.
The answer will always depend on the unique cadence and culture of your business. So before jumping on the bandwagon with an extreme makeover of your employee review process, take a minute to consider whether the traditional quarterly or annual performance review still deserves a place in your organization.
The great thing about quarterly reviews is that they fit the natural rhythm of business, and are therefore fairly easy to sync up with the company's overarching business objectives.
Rather than asking the employee to keep a scorecard of everything they did over the course of a year, you give them feedback they can act on. Quarterly reviews can also make the final Q4 review easier because managers can simply pull together the previous three reviews to get the annual big picture.
On the downside, some companies only offer quarterly reviews to newer employees who need extra help getting acclimated to their roles. Though this is a great way to reduce the time and paperwork burden of the performance review process, it doesn't do much for veteran staff who may be craving feedback. Quarterly reviews work best when they're quick, easy, and used across the organization to help course-correct on the path to achieving annual milestones.
The biggest beef both employees and managers have with the "dreaded annual review" is that it's based on past actions—and that's an argument that holds water. After all, wouldn't we all rather be judged on who we are TODAY, rather than the things we achieved (or failed to achieve) in the past?
But on the other hand, there's no denying the inherent momentum of starting a new year. Love it or hate it, for many, the annual review is still the best time to connect the dots between real-time feedback and big picture results.
1. How quickly can you act on the feedback you receive?
In other words, will your review process fuel employee engagement or add an unnecessary layer of micro-management? No matter how frequently it's conducted, any review that feels futile will lead to resentment.
If managers and business leaders are unlikely to act on the feedback received in quarterly reviews, you may be better off sticking with the traditional annual review.
2. How transparent is your company culture?
Does everyone in your office have a pretty good idea of what it means to be a strong performer? Do your managers have an open door policy for voicing concerns? If so, you may already have an unofficial continuous feedback process in place.
If not, or if you're only hearing feedback from a select few members of the team, you could probably benefit from a more frequent review process to help create an environment of transparency, open communication and engagement.
3. Is your process the problem?
For many managers, the paperwork alone is enough to keep them from doing anything more than an annual review. And it's a big reason why many HR academics are calling for an end of the annual review—or even an end to performance reviews altogether.
But do you really need a mind-numbing 8-page review form, or will 5 powerful questions do the trick? With the right questions, there's no reason you can't implement incredibly quick, effective reviews.
Deloitte, an organization with over 263,000 employees, has one of the simplest performance review forms I’ve ever seen.
It is just four questions -
Despite it’s simplicity there is tremendous sophistication built into these questions.
Deloitte asks questions that managers already know the answers to. This is one of those simple changes that seems so obvious in retrospect that you know it is brilliant.
Imagine a scenario, a new pizza place has opened in town and you are trying to determine if you should go. You could ask your friend, who has been, about the cheese stretch (1-5), dough crunch (1-5) and sauce tang (1-5), or you could ask your friend whether they liked the pizza and whether they plan to go back. If you ask about pizza characteristics your friend is annoyed and has to micro-analyze the pizza experience in a way they are not prepared for. If you ask whether they liked the pizza you don’t take up much of their time and they're prepared to give you an answer.
When we ask managers about employee skills and attributes they have to answer questions they don’t already know the answers to. And it is even worse that that, Deloitte found that scores for skills have more to do with the reviewer than they do with the employee. For example a manager's’ feelings about critical reasoning skills greatly impacts the scores they give for critical reasoning. Managers don’t like rating employees on skills, and it turns out they are horrible at it too.
That is why all four of Deloitte's questions are about things the manager should already have an answer for.
Deloitte has team leaders fill out their short review after every project or quarter, whichever is more frequent. These more frequent reviews give the company more data points about their employees' performance over time, and they spread out feedback over the whole year for a more accurate annual score.
The important thing to remember is that doing these frequent reviews is made possible by dramatically simplifying each review cycle. A manager can fill out Deloitte’s four questions in well under 5 minutes, which has made regular employee scoring feasible.
The reason Deloitte has team leaders fill out quantitative feedback about their team is because the organization needs a way to score and differentiate employees across the organization. This data can then be used for promotion and compensation decisions.
Deloitte does not use their structured reviews as a way to force team leaders to manage their team. Effectively managing the team is left up to the manager.
Netflix is not the only organization going its own way. These days most great organizations are thinking critically about performance management and coming up with innovative new solutions. Here are a few more examples to help inspire your own strategy.
And if you're ready to take the next step, check out our guide to creating your own modern performance management process.
You set up meetings with all your direct reports and head to a small conference room for the day. One-by-one they come in, you hand over an official review document, and then deliver feedback sandwiches. This is why you’re good, this is why you're bad, but wait (insert big smile) here is another reason why you’re good. Ok, talk to you later.
You hate it, your employees hate it and the feedback is so jumbled up into sandwich form that the message is often missed.
Performance reviews are a fundamentally difficult task because they require one person to stand in judgement of another. That said if you set yourself up in advance and don’t try to squeeze too much out of this half-an-hour once-a-year they can be a great opportunity to have conversations that set your team up to succeed.
Here are five things you can do to make your performance reviews feel more natural and productive.
The review process should start at the beginning of the year, not the end. It is important that you earn the right to hold your employees accountable and you do that by letting them know the expectations ahead of time and explaining how the review process will work.
Reviews are not about telling an employee every thing they did wrong this year, they are about discussing progress on the issues that have been previously identified and discussed. These expectations should be updated and expanded on all year. If you see something that needs improvement it is on you to let the employee know about it immediately and throughout the year. Then at the review you can give feedback on their improvement.
It is also important during expectation setting that your employees have a chance to voice their own expectations. What is it they want out of their career. Where do they want to grow. What skills do they want to develop. If you are designing the reviews around advancing the employee’s self-interest they will be far more interested than if you are only talking about things that advance your career or help the company. Remember not everyone is trying to become CEO.
When the topic of an upcoming performance review is a big mystery it creates a lot of tension for both sides, and it creates a power dynamic that is unproductive.
About a week before the review ask your employee to jot down some of their biggest accomplishments from the last year. This will include them in the preparation and will ensure that you don’t forget to talk about the things that are most important to your employee. Solicit feedback from several colleagues as well so that your review can be the result of more than just your own opinion.
Finish your final review with enough time to present it to the employee at least one hour before the meeting. This serves two purposes. One it respects the fact that feedback often creates an emotional response. It is important to give people time to express those emotions before having a rational discussion. Two it allows the employee to go into the meeting prepared. It is just like circulating an agenda, good meetings happen when everyone has had time to gather their thoughts and prepare for the discussion.
An end-of-year review is not the time to give lots of tactical feedback, whether it comes in the form of a laundry list or a feedback sandwich. If you are trying to make 20 different points or are sandwiching one important negative point between two unimportant positive points you are just being confusing. Decide on just one story and then stick to it.
This is easier than it sounds. For almost all your employees the story will be some variation on, "you are generally solid and doing good work for us," otherwise they wouldn’t still be working for you. Tell them the story of their successes and encourage them to continue to work hard.
For a few people near the margin the story will be that they are underperforming and at risk. For them it is important that you don’t sugarcoat anything, if they are really at risk you are doing them a disservice. Deliver an uncomplicated story of their situation and a clear explanation of how they need to improve.
Do not stand in judgement of your employee as a person. You can’t know enough about them, you haven’t earned the right, and it is guaranteed to generate conflict. What you do understand and have a right to judge are their actions at work. So rather than saying “You aren’t proactive enough,” you could say “I’m impressed that you’ve starting to reach out to sales leads without being prompted, I know that wasn’t easy at first.”
It is also important to give your report a chance to share their own opinions of their strengths and weaknesses. If you haven’t made them feel like they are under attack you might be surprised how candid two mature adults can be with each other. Listen carefully and focus in and expand on their ideas that fit into your plan. Let them own their growth as much as possible.
Finally if there are other areas you would like to see your employee improve going forward frame them as the new goals/expectations for the coming year. You are not judging them for being lacking in the year before, you are presenting the most valuable areas to grow in the coming year.
If possible, separate the discussion of money from the discussion of performance. The amount of money an employee will be bringing home over the next year has a very big impact on their life. They have probably already started thinking about how they will spend it and what that might mean for their happiness or for their kids happiness. There is so much tied up in the discussion of salary that trying to have a productive discussion of anything else while that hangs in the air is impossible.
If you can, separate money into a different meeting, or if you must include it with your performance discussion lead the meeting with the talk about money, give your employee a chance to digest what the news means for them, then move on to a discussion of their performance.
Anonymous performance feedback is a popular component of many an organization's performance review process. However, while it is widely used, it can also be problematic for your review process.
The primary reason anonymous feedback is included in a review process is because of a worry that peers and even managers won't provide fully honest or critical comments about a coworker if they know their name will be tied to the criticism.
While that is one way to ensure that feedback isn't excessively rosy, it may lead to less than useful feedback by omitting specific details related to a project or account. Even though these details help mask the reviewer, they are valuable to the employee being reviewed because they help trigger specific memories needed for reflection.
Without being able to really talk through the narrative behind the a negative assessment, you may end up with review conversations that sound a little like this:
Reviewer: In general, your peers felt that there were times when you could have performed at a higher level over the past year.
You: That's weird. I don't really remember coming up short. Do you have any specific examples?
Reviewer: Well, I can't really do that because the feedback is anonymous, and those details might make it clear who gave you that negative feedback.
As a result, employees can have difficulty fully digesting the criticism and working on improving. In the worst cases, comments without those specific details can result in a performance review that negatively focuses on "why you didn't get promoted" as opposed to a positive conversation centering on "how you can improve." Effective feedback always looks forward, not backward.
While it's understandable that given a choice between overly positive feedback and imperfect balanced feedback, you might opt for cultivating the quality feedback and looking for other ways to synthesize that information into useful direction for your employees. Fortunately, the two options aren't mutually exclusive.
The main issue lies in how comfortable your employees are with giving and receiving negative performance feedback, which admittedly is something that takes getting used to. By settling on anonymous feedback, you avoid the issue entirely and end up with subpar reviews and employees unwilling to publicly own their comments. On the other hand, with some training and encouragement you can face the issue head on.
Often, employees avoid providing constructive criticism because they aren't used to doing so. It can be an awkward situation where the other person's reaction is unpredictable and potentially emotional. This can be made worse with an annual review process where feedback is only collected and provided once a year, a situation where it can be challenging to remember everything that happened over the previous year.
The solution should be fairly evident - more frequent performance conversations. Even if formal reviews still happen on an annual cycle, encouraging managers and project leaders to discuss performance - both good and bad - with their direct reports on at least a monthly basis will go a long way towards evolving into a culture with open feedback. Not only will it increase the comfort level with giving and receiving criticism, but it will also ensure that it is timely and therefore more meaningful.
Additionally, it pays to provide your employees with review training. Bringing everyone together to discuss expectations and outline how to best provide criticism will help acclimate your organization towards this change in process and limit any surprises. Some key messages to convey:
With the help of training and practice, feedback quality should increase beyond what you could expect from anonymous reviews.
Do you use anonymous feedback? What holds you back from keeping your your process transparent?
You may have noticed a trend in companies where, because of skews in performance ratings, most employees are labeled as above average. You may have even heard a quote like this:
“I’m happy to report that almost everyone at our company is above average. They’re mostly high-fliers and we’re lucky to have them.”
In this case, who’s average, you ask? That’s simple:
“Some other company must have them because nearly everyone we have is top notch. We don’t hire mediocrity here.”
You don’t need to do much number crunching to understand why this is a problem. By thinking so highly of your employees (and therefore, of yourself as the hiring manager), you might actually be doing them a disservice.
Telling truly average performers that they are doing above average work signals that on average you actually expect below average work. Needless to say, this practice is not a part of building a high performance culture.
By the same token, mischaracterizing employee performance like this may also stifle professional growth. In this environment, truly average workers don't get feedback telling them that need to improve and develop their skills, likely despite signs to the contrary. Research has shown employees want that critical feedback.
Fortunately, you can get your performance ratings back on track with these three tips:
Create a Well-Defined Ratings System: Having a system in place that clearly defines what separates exceptional from above average and average from below average sets the stage for accurately measuring performance. The ratings do not need to be tied to the concept of average performance, though. Others use easier to define terms such as “meeting” or “exceeding expectations.”
Regardless of the terms you use, make sure that they are defined in a way that is easy to understand and are clearly tied to each employee’s goals. Finally, once the system and definitions are set, be sure to communicate them to your employees at all levels.
Stick to It: Sticking to your system can be the trickiest part. Line managers that only oversee a few employees may find it difficult at first to determine how their team members are performing relative to the rest of the company. At this stage, HR or more senior managers can help make necessary adjustments during performance reviews.
Additionally, as you near the end of your review cycle, assess the distribution of the performance ratings. While we don’t advocate for a stack rankings system, the performance ratings in your company should still naturally follow somewhat closely to a normal bell-curve distribution with the majority of your employees falling in and around average.
Recalibrate As Needed: If you are actually finding that most of your employees are in the above average range based on your system, part of the problem may also be that you need to bump up your definition of average. Since one of the goals of a talent management process is to steadily improve the quality of your workforce, adjusting your definition of “average work” in the positive direction is a great thing.
Of course, the opposite may be true, and your expectations may be too high. In either case, recalibrating your ratings system is an important part of making sure that it is accurate. When you do recalibrate, make sure that you adjust your thresholds for each performance level based on data that you receive from your review process.
Have you seen this issue in your own company? What were some adjustments that you made to your performance ratings?