There is nothing more fundamental to the success of an organization than employee performance. Maybe that’s why there is a seemingly endless number of performance appraisal processes for evaluating, measuring, driving, and developing employee performance.
In this article we review 14 of the most common performance evaluation methods, everything from traditional methods of appraisals like competency assessments to more extreme appraisal techniques like human resource accounting.
For every approach we’ll also share when it is most effective and appropriate to use. Choosing the right performance appraisal approach isn’t about picking favorites, it’s about serving the unique needs of your employees and your organization.
When building out a complete performance management system organizations will often choose to combine a few of the following appraisals.
Performance check-ins are often confused with other types of performance reviews, but they’re not the same. Performance check-ins happen more often, they are more informal and they give managers the opportunity to build rapport and find out what employees are working on between cycles.
Check-ins can have set agendas or be completely open-ended. Most often employees and managers will discuss progress towards company goals, overall performance since the last check-in and the employee’s aspirations.
The primary role of check-ins is to create a consistent time and space for discussions of long-term performance. In the bustle of the day-to-day it can be hard for managers and employees to ever sit down and take a long-term view of performance.
When to use check-ins
Check-ins can be used effectively at most companies. They are most often deployed between more intensive appraisal processes to spread out performance discussions throughout the year without overburdening employees and the organization. Check-ins are also important if your employees are setting long term goals, for example career goals. More frequent check-ins help to ground long-term goals to shorter term actions.
As its name suggests, the narrative performance appraisal is created when a manager writes a freeform essay about the employee’s performance over the review period. Essay appraisals allow reviewers to discuss anything they feel is pertinent to the employee without being locked in to certain questions.
In a perfect world this approach allows managers to focus on exactly what an employee needs to hear and provide the most relevant feedback. However in the real world managers don’t alway express themselves clearly and essay appraisals can leave employees feeling confused on where they stand.
The narrative appraisal is customized to each employee which makes it very hard, to impossible, to make comparisons across employees.
When to use essay/narrative appraisals
Essay appraisals are best for employees with loosely defined jobs or who are doing very individualized creative work. When it is hard to quantify the inputs of and outputs of employees’ work or you feel like every employee would need their own custom appraisal questions in order to get relevant feedback, then the narrative appraisal could be right for you.
Narrative appraisals are also a way for great managers to shine. If your managers are willing to write clear thoughtful feedback to each of their reports, it is worth formalizing that process.
360 feedback involves getting broad feedback from an employee’s coworkers. This can mean peer reviews, self-reviews, manager-reviews, secondary manager reviews, or upward reviews. The idea is to increase the sources of feedback in order to get a more accurate and holistic view of employee performance. Often 360 feedback will be open-ended or thematic with the employee’s manager reviewing and aggregating the feedback into a single more cohesive picture of performance.
When to use 360 feedback
360 feedback is a great option for when employees regularly work collaboratively on different teams. When an employee’s primary role is working with others outside of the view of their manager 360 reviews can bring to light feedback that might not otherwise be raised. Peers are often hesitant to give negative feedback outside of a formal context, 360 reviews provide that context.
One key to successful 360 reviews is to train everyone in the organization on delivering effective feedback. Sometimes non-managers are less experienced giving feedback and what they share can be more destructive than constructive.
Competency assessments measure an employee’s capabilities against their critical job skills. These assessments show the gaps between where an employee needs to be and where they are now.
Competency assessments often flow naturally into a concrete learning plan focused on the competencies with gaps. This type of appraisal can be conducted in a variety of ways including through observation, interview, or form. The key is to choose the right competencies for every role at your organization.
When to use competency assessments
Competency assessments are great for jobs where success is dependent on well understood skills. It usually helps to have many employees in a similar role, so that you can begin to understand the competencies that matter through experience.
Focusing on a specific set of competencies can lead you down the road of only recognizing employees who succeed in one specific type of way. Employees who drive great outcomes, but do so in unexpected ways may find it difficult to progress when they are evaluated on competencies rather than outcomes.
In a grading/rating performance appraisal, managers use a numerical (1-5) or descriptive scale to record an employee’s performance in specific areas of their job. Companies such as Amazon and Deloitte use forms of rating scales. Because they are easy to fill out and create quantitative data rating appraisals are very popular.
But anything worth doing is hard, right? One of the keys to rating appraisals is making sure managers aren’t just mailing them in, doing the minimum and getting them done without having the difficult and important conversations that need to accompany these types of appraisals. Ratings send a very clear message of where an employee stands, but they do a very poor job of telling an employee where they need to go.
When to use grading/rating appraisals
Rating scales work well at organizations that need to create more accountability. It’s impossible to spin a low rating. Just remember that if you want employees to up their game, you’ll need to do more than just tell them they are underperforming.
Stack rankings and forced distributions are a controversial method of performance appraisals that rely on ranking employees against each other. Sometimes this is a top to bottom list and sometimes it’s into buckets of high-performing, low-performing and the middle with quotas for each. Rankings force managers to differentiate between employees to find out which ones actually have the highest performance. It also makes it very clear where employees stand in relation to their peers.
When to use ranking appraisals
Ranking appraisals can work great for competitive environments like up-or-out consulting firms. In these situations everyone knows they need to be a top performer to stay with the firm, so it’s healthier to make this process transparent and open.
Forced distributions can also be a useful approach in the short-term for organizations that have become stagnant and are being dragged down by low performers. Sometimes letting employees who have checked-out move on to a new job and brining in fresh talent is the best decision for everyone.
Rankings are not great for companies that are focused on innovation or creativity. Moments of creativity can be uneven and unpredictable. Pushing employees out after one underperforming year probably doesn’t make sense in that context. Ratings also aren’t great for organizations that need to be extremely collaborative, as it creates a tension and competitiveness between employees.
Project-based reviews are unique in that they focus on the most recent work an employee has completed. Project-based reviews have questions that are directly related to an employee’s contribution to a project. Feedback cycles can also be quicker for this appraisal type as projects often cycle more frequently than traditional review cycles.
When to use project-based reviews
Project-based reviews are best for companies that work on distinct projects one at a time (or almost one at a time). It’s best when these projects last from a few weeks to a few months. Typical examples are accounting audit teams, consulting teams, and some types of law firms. Project-based reviews are especially useful when organizations are bringing together new groups of employees for each project.
External and client appraisals involve bringing in third parties from outside the company to help with performance reviews. For employees that primarily engage with customers or clients this can be the most important source of feedback. Gig-economy companies like Uber rely exclusively on client appraisals to manage their contract workforce.
When to use external/client appraisals
Client appraisals are great for service roles where an employees primary job is to interact with customers. External appraisals are also a good option for employees that work as closely with a client as they do with their coworker, like a consultant on site with a client for an extended period.
In checklist appraisals, managers are asked to answer “yes” or “no” to a series of questions or statements about an employee. These appraisals tend to be easy to complete and can help an employee know where they stand across a broad set of domains. Google famously uses this approach to review their managers. Employees answer yes or no for a long list of actions Google believes good managers should be taking with their reports. Read more about Google’s upward reviews in our article here.
When to use checklist appraisals
Checklist appraisals are binary and therefore best for traits where levels of gray don’t matter. Checklist are also great when you want to provide a lot of feedback in a lot of areas, and you need to keep the the appraisal easy to complete. Upward feedback is a good example of this.
Management by objectives measures employee performance by how they achieve specific objectives. These objectives are decided on with equal input from both employees and managers. The objectives should align with organizational goals, and there should be effective communication on both the employee’s and manager’s part to ensure the objectives are met.
When to use MBO
MBO can be applicable to many organizations. The most difficult part is the communication needed between employees and managers. If your staff is already communicating well, it should not add much of a workload or cost. Some criticize MBO for being too focused on goals at any cost and missing more human elements of work, but effective communication through the process will make sure that employees’ more personal needs are met alongside the organizational goals.
Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, also known as BARS, is a type of performance management scale that uses behavior “statements” as a reference point for rankings. BARS measures employee performance against specific examples of behavior that are given a number ranking.
For example, a pizza place could use a Level 1 ranking to describe an employee who “is often late, receives regular customer complaints, and takes >10 minutes to make a pizza” while a Level 5 ranking would describe an employee who “is never late, receives multiple stellar customer reviews, and makes a pizza in under 5 minutes.”
BARS is helpful because it combines qualitative and quantitative assessments. The behavioral definitions can also aid in eliminating ranking bias.
When to use BARS
Because of the time-consuming nature of coming up with behavioral statements for every position, BARS is best for larger companies with the resources to create an excellent scale. It’s also best if a company has groups of employees with very similar jobs that can use the same rating scale.
For critical incident appraisals, managers keep a log of specific examples of both negative and positive behavior exhibited by employees. The standard for behavior can be based on company values or an employee’s job description. A continuous log makes sure that performance reviews focus equally on performance across the year and focus on concrete moments rather and general sentiments. It’s important that the descriptions of these incidents are made as they occur.
When to use critical incident appraisals
Critical incident appraisals are simply descriptions of events and that can make it hard to compare employees or make decisions based on them. They can also be overwhelming and hard to interpret as a whole if they aren’t paired with some analysis.
Also called cost accounting, human resource accounting analyzes an employee’s performance through the monetary gains they bring to the organization vs their costs. Assuming you could have perfect measurement this could be the ideal appraisal approach. Unfortunately it can be very hard to perfectly understand all the costs and benefits an employee has on an organization.
When to use Human Resource Accounting
Human resource accounting is most useful when employee contributions and costs are measurable. This can happen in situations where executives are judged on their P&L or for positions like sales where the ultimate measure of success is revenue generated.
Psychological appraisals are unique in that they look forward to an employee’s future performance rather than focusing on their past. In this appraisal, psychologists look at the employee’s internal traits and qualities that could affect their performance in the future. The psychologists can look at specific scenarios when performing their tests to discover how an employee is likely to perform in similar scenarios in the future.
When to use psychological appraisals
While useful, psychological appraisals can be time-consuming and costly, especially for small organizations. They can be used in specific scenarios such as determining which employees should be pushed toward leadership roles or managing reorganizations of the org chart.
The best performance appraisal is the one that serves your organization’s needs. If you’re just getting started, consider a narrative appraisal with a few simple ratings questions that focus on overall performance.
Checklist appraisals can provide a broad array of feedback quickly, however for the best overall feedback it is hard to beat a well-written narrative review. Unfortunately not all managers will take the time to write comprehensive and thoughtful narrative reviews.
If you’re looking to generate useful quantitative data on employee performance, consider using ratings appraisals that ask simple questions managers likely already have conviction around. Good questions include, “Is this employee ready for promotion?” and “How hard would you fight to keep this employee at our organization?”
One thing to include in every performance evaluation is space for context and ways for the employee to improve their performance going forward. It’s important that employees have enough information to understand their feedback and know what to do with it.
Formal check-ins, narrative appraisals and competency assessments are the three most common appraisal methods used today.
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.
Performance review meetings can be stressful. It can feel like you're gearing up for a confrontation -- but maybe it’s not as hard as you’d think.
We brought together an approach that can help anyone have more effective performance meetings. If you’re looking to feel more confident and comfortable while having better, more productive conversations with employees in your upcoming performance review meetings, here is where to start.
The goal of the performance review--and what you should make clear from the beginning--is to talk through what is working and what isn’t, with the purpose of helping the employee, the manager, and the company achieve their goals.
The employee should understand that the purpose of the meeting is to establish what they can and should do to succeed going forward.
Share upfront how you intend to structure the meeting. As you'll see we believe in starting with goals, moving to strengths and ending with a conversation on improvements.
Yes, you read that right. While it might seem more natural to finish with setting goals for the future -- we submit that discussing goals first will help to better frame the rest of the performance review conversation.
Establishing the employee’s goals should help set up and inform the entire discussion of strengths, accomplishments, and ways to improve.
If you understand an employee's motivations it will make the later discussions about improvements more fruitful. Rather than saying, "I'd like you to be better at X," you will be able to say, "I think if you get better at X it could go a long way at helping you achieve your goals of Y."
Also, if you uncover greatly misaligned goals at this point, it is important to address those first. If you want an employee to be a future leader, but they're just here to count time until their art career takes off, then that will change the rest of the conversation.
Give employees a chance to advocate for themselves first. This will also help you better understand what the employee believes is high performance. Again maybe there is misalignment there.
Frame any accomplishments with the "why" it matters to help place them with their impact on the team and organization. This will help focus the discussion when it's easier so that when the topic turns to weaknesses the tone has already been set.
For example, an employee could tell great jokes around the water cooler, and everyone could agree it is a great strength, but when we focus on the why, it puts the jokes in their rightful place.
Address strengths as they are brought up, reinforce the ones that you feel matter for the organization. Push back if the employee fixates on accomplishments that you don't believe are as impactful.
Stick with perceptions and hard facts, don't label. The truth is you can't know who the employee is as a person, all you know is your own perceptions and facts. Even if your label is correct, you can't prove it. Conversations about labels quickly degrade into unwinnable arguments.
Always push for concrete examples. Don't let your employees list off a bunch of perceived strengths without backing them up. Strengths are only as valuable as the accomplishments they generate.
When discussing improvements, it’s important to give the employee a chance to be self-aware and bring up their own ideas for improving. Employee will be much more likely to receive constructive feedback, and walk away from a review fully bought-in to making necessary improvements if they raise the idea initially.
Like accomplishments, always frame improvements with the “why” -- how the employee’s increased, optimized performance ties in to their impact on their team or company. Giving concrete examples is also a helpful tool in this portion of the review, in order to avoid misinterpretation.
Big, abstract concepts such as “leadership” leave plenty of room for confusion and uncertainty. In our post on delivering criticism that employees appreciate, we suggest that identifying specific issues and focusing on specific solutions helps to engage employees around finding a solution as well.
Finally, close out the meeting by negotiating a plan and a timeline to revisit improvements. It doesn’t hurt to also reaffirm the employee’s strengths and achievements, especially your good performers. Make it clear that your intentions behind criticism and feedback are to clarify expectations, to provide direction for the coming year, and to help the employee move from good to great.
If you’re heard the word “check-ins” talked about in performance management circles, you’ve likely had one of two reactions: what’s the big deal? It’s just another method of performance reviews, right?
Or, maybe, the Adobe innovation piqued your interest and you’re wondering whether to ditch your annual performance reviews like other companies have. Whatever you do, don’t allow the semi-sensationalized nature of employee check-ins to influence your perception of them. You may find that they’re not such a dramatic innovation after all--maybe they’re simply another method of measuring employee performance.
This article will help to better define the buzzword that is “check-ins” and maybe help you to analyze whether they are right--or wrong--for your employee performance conversations.
In many ways, employee check-ins are not so different from traditional performance reviews. The main priority in both remains the same--to conduct effective one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss progress, goals, and share feedback.
The most significant difference is the frequency in which the meetings occur. The idea behind check-ins is to foster a more informal, ongoing dialogue between employees and their managers. Some companies schedule mandated check-ins every month, while others schedule them as needed, or after completing major projects. Regardless of their specific schedule, the main purpose is to keep the lines of communication between employees and managers open so as to engage and manage employee performance more readily.
Adobe introduced the concept of employee check-ins in 2012 as a means of doing away with traditional performance reviews. As Adobe realized, and as many other companies have discovered, the annual performance review format tends to get bogged down by paperwork, bureaucracy, and unnecessary complexity. It can also lead to employees feeling limited by ranking and undervalued for performance.
Check-ins were brought into play as a means of catalyzing change in the standard performance review format, and to help employees feel more engaged and empowered.
The purpose of check-ins is to ensure that employees are given the opportunity to understand their expectations, share feedback, and discuss the development that is needed to enhance their performance.
Much of the appeal for companies that have switched to check-ins is the informal nature of them. Instead of being scripted, check-ins can remain relatively casual for both employees and management. The idea is that more frequent, less formal communication will allow employees and managers to work better together in accomplishing goals, sharing feedback, and developing skills.
While check-ins can be held with a more casual approach, it’s important that managers are still able to keep a loose structure intact in order to make the most of employee conversations. Employees should walk away from each check-in feeling inspired and driven to action, having established clear goals and discussed pointed areas of development.
The benefit of holding more frequent check-ins is that managers have a better idea of what an employee is working on in that moment. Instead of providing vague references to the employee’s overall performance from an extended length of time, managers can point to specific projects, goals, or coaching points to hone in on during each meeting.
It’s also important to note that feedback shouldn’t be restricted to just check-ins or formal reviews--feedback should be given throughout the year, so that these discussions can focus on goal-setting under the assumption that the employee already has ideas of ways to improve.
To the manager, more frequent, informal check-ins can certainly seem like a solution to the problems presented by annual or traditional performance reviews. But check-ins aren’t without their pitfalls.
In the case of traditional performance reviews, employees often reported feeling left in the dark regarding their performance rating until the annual or quarterly meeting, which would often leave them even more confused and unmotivated. Holding less frequent reviews runs the risk of employees losing vision of their goals, and then being overwhelmed with feedback to the point that they walk away discouraged and criticized.
However, the opposite can become true of check-ins--instead of being left in the dark, check-ins create many opportunities for an employee to feel micromanaged. A Harvard Business Review article distinguishes the importance of “checking in” with an employee rather than “checking up” on them--in other words, establishing clear, meaningful goals while also giving them the autonomy to meet those goals.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Doing what’s right for your organization and your employees is key.
It’s not a bad thing to hold less frequent check-ins, especially if you believe in the success and capability of your employees. In many organizations, typically ones that are smaller, managers have found that checking in with employees is less needed when they are able to give employees clear strategic goals. This develops a sense of ownership in the work, and in turn, creates a nearly autonomous workforce that fosters healthy collaboration in management and employees.
In larger companies, however, frequent check-ins play a valuable role in making an employee feel heard, seen, and set up for success in achieving company goals. The increased communication fosters employee engagement, and, in the long run, can help your organization retain employees. Employee check-ins can also be used as a valuable way to measure a new hire’s experience.
Most importantly, managers should seek to establish a regular cadence of check-ins or performance reviews (no matter how frequent) that fits the needs of their organizational needs.
Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, also known as BARS, are a type of performance management scale that use behavior “statements” as a reference point instead of generic descriptors commonly found on traditional rating scales. Designed to add the benefits of both qualitative and quantitative information to the appraisal process, BARS measures an employee’s performance against specific examples of behavior that are given a number rating for the purpose of collecting data.
Establishing specific behaviors for grading, are meant to give the rating a higher degree of accuracy relative to performance. This is because you’re relying on unique, individual behaviors required for each individual position within an organization, instead of behaviors that can be evaluated in any position across the board. It is presumed that using a rating scale with specific behaviors for selected jobs, minimizes the subjectivity in using basic ratings scales. We’ll take a closer look at this later to see if it’s true.
For now, let us consider some examples of what BARS might look like.
The job being appraised belongs to a customer service representative:
A traditional rating scale would ask if the employee “answers phone promptly/courteously” and list the number ratings as “1-never, 2-not often, 3-sometimes, 4-usually, 5-always”. It is clear to see there will be a difference in the outcome of the appraisal with the more definitive BARS method.
The job being appraised belongs to a nurse:
The job being appraised belongs to a waiter.
While these examples are great at offering an insight to the effectiveness of the BARS method, not everything about Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales is perfect. There are several benefits to making the switch but also some downsides one should examine first.
After taking a closer look at the pros and cons of using Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, one can expect that the method is best used by larger companies financially capable of pursuing the project. However, realizing that major manager input is mandatory, the company also needs to have understandable time and commitment expectations.
It would be ideal if the company did not have a large number of different positions but rather, groups of positions or departments made up of similar types of jobs. Being that this approach is still a measuring system used for rating employees, another suitable use for BARS is when you encounter bias challenges in the current performance management process.
It’s emphasis on behavior produces objective ratings difficult to distort.
If you want to include BARS in your performance management plan, it is highly recommended that you start by diligently researching the approach. Be prepared with a full understanding so that you can execute the method properly for your own organization. Also be sure to have a team onboard. As previously mentioned, managers will need to be greatly involved. The following steps will assist in developing the final product:
While some would label it as the “grandfather” of performance appraisal methods, the essay method is still a commonly used appraisal method in a variety of business models. The essay method, sometimes known as the “free-form method,” is a performance review system where a superior creates a written review of the employee’s performance.
These essays are meant to describe and record an employee’s strengths and weaknesses in job performance, identifying problem areas and creating a plan of action to remedy them. Whether the essay is written by the appraiser alone, or in collaboration with the appraisee, essays provide supervisors the opportunity to assess behaviors and performance with greater complexity and attention to detail.
There are many reasons that the essay method--which was one of the first methods used to evaluate performance--is still effective today.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of essay appraisals is their free-form approach to performance reviews. Whereas some employers can feel limited by rigid performance appraisal criteria, the essay method takes a far less structured stance than typical rating scale methods. In so doing, the appraiser is able to examine any relevant issue or attribute of performance that is pertinent to an employee’s job description or overall company growth.
The essay method assumes that not all employee traits and behaviors can be neatly analyzed, dissected, and rated--instead, it allows appraisers to place varied degrees of emphasis on certain qualities, issues, or attributes that are appropriate. Rather than being locked into a fixed system, this open-ended method gives supervisors the freedom of expression and critical thought.
When preparing an essay, a supervisor may consider any of the following factors of an employee as they relate to the company and employee relationship: potential and job knowledge, understanding of the company’s policies, relationships with peers and supervisors, planning and organization, and general attitudes and perceptions. This thorough, non-quantitative assessment provides a good deal more information about an employee than most other performance appraisal techniques.
However, as with all performance appraisal methods, there are a few limitations that the essay method suffers from that are worth examining.
One of the major drawbacks of the essay method is its highly subjective nature--they are often subject to bias, and it can be difficult to separate the assessment of the employee from the bias of the evaluator. While the essay can provide a good deal of information about the employee, it tends to tell more about the evaluator than the one being evaluated.
Another element that essays leave out (that other appraisal methods rely heavily on) is comparative results. Instead of utilizing standardized, numeric questions, these appraisals rely only on open-ended questions. While the essay method gives managers the ability to provide detailed and circumstantial information on a specific employee’s performance, it removes the component of comparing performance with other employees. This often makes it difficult for HR to distinguish top performers.
Overall, the appraisal method’s greatest advantage--the freedom of expression for the evaluator--can also serve as its greatest handicap. Even the actual writing of the reviews can upset or distort the process of employee appraisals, as the introduction of inconsistent, unorganized, or poor writing styles can distort and upset the review process. An employee may be unfairly helped or harmed by an evaluator’s writing ability. An evaluator can also find themselves lacking sufficient time to prepare the essay, and can write an essay hurriedly without accurately assessing an employee’s performance.
Appraisal by essay is generally most effective in performance reviews for employees with atypical job descriptions or non-numerical goals. While other appraisals work well in analyzing performance for jobs that are subject to goals based on numbers, essays offer a more subjective analysis of performance for employees with managerial or customer service positions.
When analyzing production, the essay method is most effective in combination with another appraisal method. Using a graphic rating scale along with essay appraisals allows one method to focus solely on numbers, while the essay portion can be used to analyze other performance goals.
Here are 3 things to strive for in order to set your company up for success in essay performance appraisals:
Keeping a standard for style and length of essay appraisals can make the biggest difference in ensuring that your reviews are effective. Essays that are unstructured and unnecessarily complex can be detrimental to an employee’s rating, as well as using unspecific, flowery language that is not relevant to the employee’s performance. In order to remain efficient and effective, today’s evaluators should focus on making appraisal essays short and specific, ensuring that the entire review reflects the performance of the employee.
The appraiser should also ensure that they are making sufficient time in their schedule to prepare the essay. A busy evaluator may compromise an employee’s performance rating by writing a hurried essay, or running out of time to thoroughly assess employee performance. It’s important for all participants of essay appraisals to take enough time to write a consistent, accurate, and succinct review in order to set employees up for success.
If you’ve chosen to use essay appraisals in your organization, it’s important to ensure that your appraisers possess the ability to write well. Even if an essay contains detailed, circumstantial information, it becomes difficult to extract valuable data from a poorly written essay. To ensure that nothing stands between an HR professional’s ability to assess an employee’s performance, evaluators should be trained as well-equipped writers.
Giving writing assistant tools or tips to supervisors can make all the difference in the accuracy and efficiency of an employee’s performance review.
Subjectivity is both a strength and a weakness in essay appraisals. Not only are essays themselves often biased, but the misinterpretation of essays can even further distance the main evaluator from an accurate portrayal of an employee’s performance. Including objective standards in a performance review results in a more balanced and productive review process, and helps to eliminate the forming of incorrect conclusions about an employee’s behavior and performance.
Organizations often implement this goal by pairing essay appraisals with another appraisal method, such as graphic scale ratings, to draw more accurate conclusions and performance data. In so doing, evaluators can utilize all of the free expression and open-ended characteristics of an essay appraisal, while still maintaining accurate, easily translated results that are effective for the overall organization.
Project based work is more popular than ever. With the rise of outsourcing there are more agencies and firms engaging with companies on discrete projects. So how does Human Resources keep track of employee performance when the conventional annual or quarterly check-ins don’t match the natural cycle of an employee’s work?
Enter the project based review. A natural mix of performance management and project management.
Project based reviews are distinct from other types of reviews because they focus on just the last project an employee completed. This allows the questions to be more directly relevant to the work, and it also allows the employee and the whole team to be judged against the objective goals set out for the project.
So in addition to more typical questions like how well the employee works with her teammates, you can also ask questions like did the employee deliver her part of the project on budget and on time.
Here are some more benefits to using project based reviews-
Some companies are unmistakably project based such as management consulting firms or branding agencies, but many companies have elements of project based work in addition to ongoing work. In those cases it could make sense to layer a light project based review process on top of a more standard quarterly, semi-annual or annual process.
Rating scales are very common in employee reviews and performance checkins. They help us quantitatively measure employee performance.
The benefits of employee rating questions are that they allow for simpler comparisons between employees and they can speed up the appraisal process. Faster appraisals can allow organizations to solicit feedback from more people in one review.
The downside of performance rating scales is that a lot of nuance is lost in a simple three, five or seven point scale. It can be hard to boil down all of a person’s strengths and weaknesses to one number.
The other common issue with rating scales is that they are poorly constructed. This post is designed to help you create the scales for your performance management process. We also provide a ton of examples to borrow from at the bottom.
There is literally a science to rating scales. Social scientists have been using questionnaires to collect real scientific data for many decades.
That means we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, we should learn from our scientific colleagues.
Stay with me, we should have a quick understanding of the types of data we’re collecting before diving deeper into rating scales. There are three types of data that are most often collected on employee appraisal forms - Nominal, Binary and Ordinal. Here is what they mean…
Nominal = Categories
Example: “Which of our six company values does this employee most live-up-to?”
When the answer options have no relationship to each other, in other words they aren’t ordered, or have any numeric relationship, you are asking a question that will generate nominal data. These are not technically rating scale questions, but are commonly found on review forms.
Binary = Yes or No (either or)
Example: “Is this employee ready for promotion?”
Binary data is always either or. The most common example being yes or no. Other examples are exists or doesn’t exist, is or is not, complete or incomplete. Deloitte collects binary data in 2 of the 4 questions on their review form. Google collects binary data on their upward reviews of managers.
Ordinal = Ordered List
Example: “Rate the employee for the following statements using a five point scale from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree”
Ordinal data is collected when we ask rating scale questions. The answers to a question will be a list of possibilities that have a clear order or ranking. As you move up the scale, options should clearly be better/more and as you move down the scale, the options are worse/less.
There are two common ways to present rating scale answers, Numeric and Descriptiv. Here is what they mean…
Numeric - Just numbers (like 1-5)
Example: “Score the employee’s leadership ability between 1 and 5.”
Numeric scales rightfully get a lot of pushback. It can be really hard for managers to understand what constitutes a 4 verse a 5 when it comes to subjective competencies like “assertiveness.”
Descriptive - Ordered descriptions
Example: Everything from Agree to Disagree all the way to Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales.
Descriptive rating scales include descriptions of what each step up on the scale looks like. This could be as simple as different levels of agreement or it could be as complex as a set of specific actions an employee should have taken to achieve each level.
Likert scales are the most common scales and one we’ve all seen before. This scale measures our response to a statement, with the most common being…
Strongly Disagree - Disagree - Neither Agree nor Disagree - Agree - Strongly Agree.
Well designed likert scales will be symmetrical, with an equal number of positive and negative responses. They will also be balanced with what feels like the same distance between each choice.
Five choices is the most common, but any number is possible. One of the most important decisions to make is whether to give an odd or even number. An odd number of choices will mean the central option is neutral, neither positive or negative. An even number of options is sometimes called a “forced choice” does not give a neutral option and so the respondent has to pick a side.
Semantic scales are similar to likert scales but present just two extremes with unnamed options in between. For example you might ask an employee to rate a recent project between success and failure with 7 options in between.
This is one of the most common choices on performance rating forms. We find that HR teams like to create their own scales to fit their needs. This is a bold move that could lead to unexpected distortions in your data. But! If you’re up for it we’ve provided many real life rating scale examples below.
The University of California, Berkeley human resources department currently conducts performance appraisals with a 5-level rating scale, ranging from Exceptional to Unsatisfactory. Supervisors that assign a Level 2 (Improvement Needed) or Level 1 (Unsatisfactory) rating to an employee must complete a Performance Improvement Plan for said employee. This plan is developed to improve or correct poor performance, containing timelines that are outlined and monitored to measure the employee’s progress. A Level 5 (Exceptional) rating is said to be achievable, but given fairly infrequently. High-performing employees often receive a Level 4 (Exceeds Expectations) or Level 3 (Meets Expectations) rating.
This company uses a rating system that is both numerical and alphabetical, focused on whether or not employees meet company goals. Their 5-point scale assigns abbreviations that coincide with each numerical ranking: 5 = FE (Far Exceeds), 4 = EX (Exceeds Expectations), 3 = ME (Meets Expectations), 2 = DR (Development Required), and 1 = IR (Improvement Required).
Harvard makes use of multiple rating scales within their organization, including overall performance ratings of employees, goals, competencies, and direct report ratings. Overall performance ratings are given on a 5-point scale, observing employees with performances that are leading (5), strong (4), solid (3), building (2), and not meeting expectations (1).
Goals are also tracked using a 3-point rating scale that measures whether a goal or project was on time, on budget, and accomplished. A 3 ranking implies that a goal was met, a 2 ranking is given to partially met goals, and a 1 ranking is assigned to an unfinished goal where most or all dimensions were not achieved.
Competencies ratings are given to employees who demonstrate thorough to lacking knowledge of the organization’s core competencies. This 4-point scale ranges from Advanced, to Proficient, to Developing, and lastly, Does Not Demonstrate.
Direct report ratings are reserved for managers only, and determine whether the ratee’s capabilities are Highly Effective (3), Effective (2), or Needs Improvement (1).
Emory University’s HR team operates an in-depth rating system that is similar to BARS. Each employee is rated against a long list of unique core competencies that the organization abides by. This checklist includes building trust, collaboration, communication, delivering results, problem solving, taking initiative, functional knowledge and skills, and service to others/customer focus.
Each of these categories deals with how well an employee displays honesty, respect, listening and sharing, productivity, decision making, and reasoning. The competencies are rated with a 3-point system ranging from Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Unacceptable. All ratings apply to supervisors and managers, as well as non-managers.
Unsatisfactory | Needs Improvement | Meets Expectations | Exceeds Expectations | Distinguished
Needs Improvement | Meets Expectations
Does Not Meet | Meets | Exceeds
Below Level | At Level | Above Level
Needs Attention | Satisfactory
Unacceptable | Needs Improvement | Acceptable | Good | Excellent
Did not meet expectations | Met some but not all expectations | Fully met expectations | Exceeded expectations | Significantly exceeded expectations
Area of Deficiency | Inconsistently Meets Standards | Meets Standards | Meets High Standards | Regularly Exceeds High Standards
Needs Improvement | Consistently Meets Expectations | Exceeds Expectations | Strongly Exceeds Expectations | Superb
Unsatisfactory | Meets Most | Fully Meets and Sometimes Exceeds | Consistently Exceeds | Far Exceeds
Never | Sometimes | Often | Always
Not Often Enough | From Time to Time | Most of the Time
Minor Contribution | Important Contribution | Critical Contribution
Low Performer | Developing Performer | Highly Valued Performer | Top Performer
Unacceptable Performance | Partially Successful | Fully Successful | Superior | Distinguished Performance
Poor | Below Average | Good | Very Good | Outstanding
Did you know that even after developing the best HR performance management system for your organization, you still have to deal with rater bias? Objectivity is the key to a good appraisal system but unfortunately, it is not always easy to attain. Performance data is created by people, and people's opinions can be biased in a number of ways.
Rater biases can come about consciously or unconsciously. They are tendencies that affect how managers rate their employees unrelated to actual performance, they are also called "Idiosyncratic Rater Effects." Here are some of the more common examples:
Ideally, accurate ratings are based 100% on an employee’s performance. Yet when a person’s unconscious bias is applied to performance appraisals, it can lead to inaccuracy, favoritism and even unfair treatment of employees.
Studies have also shown that when employees perceived performance ratings to be affected by rater bias, they expressed reduced job satisfaction further leading to greater intentions of quitting their jobs. Thankfully, there are ways to address rater bias and optimize your performance appraisal process.
The Halo Bias is the tendency to give overall favorable ratings due to strong performance in only one or two areas. Its opposite, the Horns Bias, is the tendency to give overall unfavorable ratings due to poor performance in only one or two areas. An example that would fall into this category would be an employee who always shows up early to work, even if the employee performs average overall, this one easy to see thing could greatly increase their overall rating.
What you can do: In this case, basing an employee’s performance on only one perspective allows the bias to take effect. A 360 degree perspective gathered from multiple sources, such as managers, colleagues and reports, would provide more accurate results. This idea is often referred to as crowdsourcing, and it can help to factor bias out of the equation.
Recency Bias, is likely the most common. It happens when the employee’s most recent performance level skews the opinion of the total work for the cycle being evaluated. This could happen both ways; they performed well for the entire period but made a terrible mistake before appraisal time, or they performed poorly until a recent accomplishment just before appraisal time.
Similarly, the Spillover Bias is a when a manager continues to provide positive or negative ratings for an employee based on the employee’s performance in previous cycles. The rater seems to be stuck in a mode of thinking which might be attributed to a case of forgetfulness. However, this type of bias has the potential to lead an employee to be over or under valued for their work.
What you can do: When trying to address recency and spillover bias, it is important to increase familiarity with the employees over longer periods of time. Some companies like Adobe are replacing annual reviews with quarterly performance discussions. A version of this continued conversation throughout the year gives managers the opportunity to keep up to date with employee performance and progress which brings to light what skills and strengths are being developed, as well as areas that need improvement. Work on a system that allows the attachment of files and notes so employees can be sure that their actual accomplishments are being considered when managers complete their appraisal.
Leniency and Severity Bias is when managers tend to rate higher or lower on average than their peers. This is often attributed to a manager's personality, culture or perspective on management. Since ratings are meant to be compared across the company, this bias will make your comparisons inaccurate.
Another bias is the Affinity Bias, where the rater gives higher ratings to those employees with whom they believe they have more in common. Opposite to it, the Alienation Bias is the tendency to give lower ratings to those with whom the manager believes they have less in common. This is typical in a situation where the rater and employee both grew up in the same town, have a similar heritage, or favorite sports team.
In like manner, the Identity Bias is the tendency to view and rate employee performance filtered through stereotypical assumptions about sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, educational background, age, disability, etc.
Lastly, the Comparative Bias rates an employee in comparison to another one, or groups of others, instead of evaluating them based on their ability to meet the defined performance expectations.
What you can do: When dealing with these types of behavioral bias, it is important to focus on definitive behaviors as well as measurable goals or achievements. Ratings often cover subjective metrics, but rather than asking if one answers the phone promptly/courteously, you might ask if one answers the phone within five rings or with a specific greeting. Having descriptors for the rating scale can also guide a manager to choose the proper rating and put away the bias.
Ratings are important because ratings equal data, and companies love data. You can decide to pursue good data by removing all bias, but another option is to just not collect or trust quantitative data in certain situations.
There isn’t a perfect way to eliminate every single bias, because in the end, people are the ones rating, and people are biased. So focus on helping people generate the best performance data possible, and back it up with more subjective and long form questions as well.
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.
The differences between focal point reviews and anniversary date reviews are significant, and many HR professionals struggle to decide which method is ultimately better for handling employee evaluations. The truth is that there is not necessarily an objectively better method -- each company’s needs are unique, and both approaches have merits and challenges that are likely to shape your organization in different ways.
While focal point reviews have managed to eclipse anniversary date reviews in popularity, it is best to choose the performance review cycle that works best for you -- we’ve laid out some pros and cons to help you do just that.
Focal point reviews, also referred to as common date reviews, are performance evaluations that occur all at one time for all employees within an organization. These reviews can occur once, twice, four times a year, or even more frequently. Salary adjustments and performance evaluations are conducted on a fixed date for all employees, or segmented groups such as executives and front-line employees.
Anniversary date reviews are scheduled in such a way that each employee is reviewed in cycles that are based on a date specific to that employee (like a hire date). Employees are reviewed and compensated at the same interval, but not the same date. This system usually makes it so that a company is conducting individual performance reviews year-round, rather than at one time.
The advantages to focal point reviews are numerous -- so much so that they have become the favored review approach among many of today’s companies. Organizations that have chosen to implement focal point reviews have found that they are easier for HR to coordinate, as the review process can be completed in a single one-to-two month time frame rather throughout the full year. Synchronizing performance reviews across the organization allows companies to establish corporate goals before beginning the process, ensuring that individual and organizational goals are linked as employees approach performance reviews.
Focal point reviews also give managers the opportunity to compare and contrast employee performance, making it easier to distinguish top performers and to pinpoint low-performing employees. Many companies have found that this approach helps managers to distribute fair and consistent feedback, as well as compensation adjustments that are unaffected by changing business cycles.
Some managers might consider focal point reviews to be a dream performance management strategy; but to others, one-to-two months of non-stop performance evaluations is a nightmare.
A significant amount of time and dedication is required to complete a review process that spans across the entire company, especially for managers with a large number of employees. This might require management to neglect other tasks for as long as it takes to complete the process, which has the potential to hurt organizational growth and development -- not to mention it has the potential to seriously exhaust your managers.
Another downfall of focal point reviews is the inadvertent, but significant disadvantage that it places on newer employees. Employees that are new to an organization will not have a full year of performance to be evaluated, and often, companies make no plans to address partial-year reviews.
These challenges are what have motivated some companies to continue practicing an alternative method -- namely, anniversary date reviews.
One of the appeals of anniversary date reviews is that evaluations are distributed more evenly for managers. This ensures that management does not become overloaded with reviews during a brief season. It also gives them the ability to spend more time and attention on each evaluation.
Proponents of anniversary date reviews claim that the evaluations have the potential to be of higher quality, since more time can be spent on each individual employee’s review. This approach also allows all employees to be evaluated based on one full year of work, placing new hires and seasoned employees on a level playing field when it comes to reviews.
While the spaced-out nature of anniversary date reviews can make it less stressful for managers to handle evaluations, it can also cause some difficulty in a manager’s efforts to keep organized in the review process. With so much data to keep track of, reviews can easily become delayed or postponed -- not to mention the potential recurring issue of retroactive salary increases.
The evaluation process can also become jumbled due to ever-changing data that can evolve over a year’s time. Reviews can become difficult to administer, and managers may find it challenging to gather accurate performance metrics and to make improvements to the review process.
Ultimately, the main goal of your decision making process should be to choose the review cycle that works with your organization. The choice between focal point and anniversary date reviews should depend on the size and needs of your company, and should be implemented with other customized evaluation tools to maximize your performance reviews.
Focal point reviews may be the better option if your company is focused on maintaining organizational excellence in your performance review system. They can also be helpful to managers that wish to evaluate employee performance using a comparison and contrast method.
On the other hand, some organizations wish to evaluate individual employee performance against established standards rather than against fellow employee performance. In such cases, anniversary date reviews work well to objectively analyze an employee’s performance exclusively as it relates to the goals and standards set out by the company.
Focal point reviews allow managers to schedule reviews and salary adjustments according to the timeline that fits your organization’s overall growth, from quarterly to annual reviews. However, anniversary date reviews can be better suited to fast-growing companies that are hiring at an ongoing, consistent pace because they ensure that every employee is rated equally.
If you’re still having a hard time deciding, never fear -- some companies choose to combine the two approaches, transitioning from anniversary date reviews to focal point reviews after the first few years.
Regardless of the performance review cycle your company chooses, the most important thing to remember is to implement the process in a consistent way. The best thing that you can do for your organization and your employees is to lay the groundwork for effective and constructive performance review feedback.
Some have condemned it as a cutthroat, destructive, and outdated practice, while others promote it as the most effective tactic to ensure a high-performance workforce -- stack rankings are one of the most widely discussed (and highly contested) components of performance management strategies.
When it comes to the debate of stack rankings, it’s no secret that the majority lies with people who despise them. Companies such as GE, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs abandoned them long ago due to employee backlash. But even after facing such harsh criticism, the controversial approach hasn’t been entirely dismissed -- prestigious companies like Amazon and IBM are still implementing stack rankings in their performance appraisals. So, what does this mean? Is the majority wrong about stack rankings? How do we know if (or when) we should (or shouldn’t) use them?
First things first, it’s helpful to understand the origins of stack rankings, and the context in which they were created.
The practice of stack ranking, otherwise known as rank-and-yank or forced ranking, was conceptualized by GE’s CEO Jack Welch in the 1980s as a method of differentiating high-performing employees from low-performing employees. The process ranks individual employees relatively against their coworkers in order to reward top-tier performers, while identifying and weeding out low performers.
Stack rankings came out of a desire to enact performance appraisals in an effective and efficient way, with the ultimate goal of cultivating a high-performance workforce. But this is where it gets complicated:
In a stack ranking performance rating system, managers are forced to rate their employees on a bell curve. Only about 10-20% of employees can be designated as top performers, while a fixed number of employees must be labeled as low performers and are either placed in a probationary improvement period or let go. In the meantime, about 70% of the company’s workforce, labeled the “vital” employees, are depended upon for adequate and reliable performance.
Naturally, the implementation of stack rankings has produced a variety of both negative and positive effects, both in overall organizations and among employees. Here are a few of the positives.
One of the main goals of stack ranking was to achieve meritocracy across organizations and businesses -- and, some would say, that is exactly what they do best.
CEO David Calhoun, a former vice president of GE, defends stack rankings for this very reason, claiming that the system was effective because they had a clear objective to support it. The objective at GE, and for many organizations, was to clearly articulate the specific criteria required for employees to become high-performers in the organization. Stack ranking promotes, and even forces, honest discussions between employees and managers about where they stand in meeting that criteria.
In this regard, the stack ranking system can help to avoid uncomfortable or ambiguous circumstances that employees often face -- whether it’s a high-performing employee who isn’t getting promoted and doesn’t understand why, or a low-performing employee who finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly laid off.
Stack ranking can also be a positive force in employee morale. The process of identifying high-performers makes it easier for organizations to take the necessary steps to keep them. In the stack ranking process, managers are provided with useful data that can help them to more quickly spot and champion talent.
Addressing low performance can also have a beneficial effect on productivity, especially if low-performing employees are given specific objectives to improve and develop. This also serves to motivate regular and high-performers when they see that low performance issues are being taken care of. Overall, the process can help to inspire and spur on employees of all performance levels.
Now, it’s time to discuss some of the less-than-positive outlooks and opinions about stack rankings -- and while the above-mentioned “positive effects of stack ranking” can ring true in some organizations, other companies and employees would fervently argue that stack rankings had the complete opposite effect. Here’s what they might say:
While creating a meritocratic workplace based on employee performance seems like a fair way to promote and fire employees, many companies have discovered that the use of stack rankings has resulted in more harm than good.
Ex-employees of Amazon, where stack ranking is still in use, have spoken out about the tech giant’s cutthroat, survival-of-the-fittest work environment. The company’s work culture, which has been described as “purposeful Darwinism,” evidently pits employees against one another to compete for the top-performing percentile. Naturally, this hardly boosts employee morale.
Others have criticized the flawed nature of forced ranking, claiming that the process was crippling for its employees and overall growth. When Microsoft got rid of stack rankings in 2012, an article was written describing the lack of innovation that the company experienced due to the harmful practice. When every manager was forced to rank their employees on a scale from top to poor performers, two out of 10 employees would receive a great review, seven out of 10 would receive an adequate review, and one employee would receive a terrible review. Author of the article Kurt Eichenwald determined that the practice had caused employees to compete against one another rather than with other companies, stifling the organization’s overall growth and innovation.
So, you might be wondering -- what’s the verdict? Are stack rankings a good or bad tool to use in performance management? It all depends.
Stack ranking is obviously a powerful performance management tool, but should be used with caution and close examination of your organization’s overall goals. Author Dick Grote makes a case for using the controversial evaluation system on an interim basis, saying: “The procedure is not right for all companies, nor something that should be done every year. But in the right company at the right time, forced ranking creates a more productive workforce where top talent is appreciated, rewarded, and retained."
Implementing a stack ranking procedure essentially guarantees that managers will be able to differentiate talent within your organization, which can lead to several positive business outcomes. Rewarding and retaining top talent can simultaneously inspire and stimulate middle-to-low performers toward higher performance. When used in combination with continuous, candid feedback, stack rankings can be a powerful tool to create a more productive workforce overall.
However, be cautious of the pitfalls -- namely, a competitive work environment, and an emphasis on rating rather than cultivating employee improvement.
Taking Microsoft as a prime example, a competitive work culture can be detrimental to both team dynamics and overall company success. The moment that your employees start spending more time thinking about their ranking and where they stand in relation to their coworkers, they become distracted and unable to produce their best work. This can lead to talented employees underperforming, and focusing more on their rating than on the feedback they need to improve and succeed.
Similarly, if your company is reliant on innovation and creativity, you may want to consider leaving stack rankings out of it -- especially if you desire for your performance appraisal process to focus on employee growth and development.
Stack rankings are riddled with issues and complexities, yes, but they could still have a positive impact on your organization. While they shouldn’t be the only facet of your performance management process, maybe there is still room for them as part of your process.
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.
If you want happy, thriving and committed employees, you need to give good feedback. And, when we say "good", we don’t mean unfounded praise for the sake of it.
What we mean is that you, the manager, put in time, effort and intentional thought into what and how to make employee reviews a valuable exchange.
Because according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 95% of employees are unhappy with the management of their performance reviews and 90% don't believe the process is reflective of the truth. Ouch.
The harsh reality is that far too many managers think they can just turn up for a performance review unprepared and rely on their subjective memory to carry them through. But that's an approach that time and time again has proven to result in biased, inaccurate and ineffective performance reviews.
But writing a meaningful review doesn’t have to be nearly as daunting as the business headlines make it out to be. Read on for a quick cheatsheet to help managers write better reviews in less time.
Today, most managers are about as loved as the office fax machine.
Unless they absolutely have to, employees would rather not engage. And if they're really honest, they're not even totally sure why they're there.
But like employees, managers have gotten a raw deal. They have mountains of paperwork to fill out, bureaucracies to navigate and they get very little feedback about whether their actions are helping or hurting.
So it makes sense that most managers would be tempted to rush through the first stage of writing up the employee review. After all, they've got to tick that box so they can move swiftly on to the next one. Problem is, if you don’t put in the groundwork, the result will be generic and useless.
The question for managers is this: Do you want to simply go through the motions, or do you want real progress for the individuals on your team?
Admittedly, some people just aren’t great at giving feedback — there’s definitely a skill to doing it well. But like any new skill, it’s something you can practice and develop. Instead of thinking ‘I can’t be bothered’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’ — change your viewpoint. A much more productive way to look at the process is to view it as a reflective exercise. One where you gather information with the express purpose of generating a meaningful dialogue and clear follow-up steps.
Set aside an hour (you honestly don’t need more) and write down the key points you want to cover, using your company mission, values, personal and departmental goals, and previous reviews as a rough guide.
And remember, it’s better to have something short and relevant than a 10-page review filled with pointless platitudes or irrelevant ratings. Here are some practical tips to keep in mind.
Ask yourself, ‘How can I help this employee?’ Remember, your goal is to ensure that the employee walks away knowing what they did well and how they can improve. The more genuine you are, the more honestly and objectively the employee will view their own performance.
Cover things that went well and things that didn’t go so well. And don’t shy away from sensitive topics. Instead, tackle them in a way that encourages the employee's personal and professional growth.
It's a fact: Employees who receive praise and recognition perform better. Research reported in the Harvard Business Review found high-performing teams are nearly 6X more likely to focus on positive feedback than the average team.
Take a minute to think about your employee's biggest wins and strengths and provide real examples of how they impacted the rest of the team or the business at large.
For instance, saying ‘You’re a great team player’ gives the employee zero practical insights into what behaviors they should keep demonstrating at work. But if you give them a concrete example like, ‘When the team was short-staffed, you didn't hesitate to pick up the slack to make sure we were able to ship on time,’ they can then relate to the memory of the event and tell you more about what happened.
That's how you get better insights into what drives an employee to do their best work. And as a major bonus, the employee will walk away from the review feeling awesome about what they've accomplished.
If there's one single rule for writing better reviews, it's this: Avoid vagueness like the plague.
Common statements like, 'You have poor communication skills’ are as lazy as they sound. What does that even mean? Is the employee a poor writer? Are their presentations confusing? Have other team members complained about their interpersonal skills? You need to exemplify each comment clearly.
In this instance, you could write: “In meetings when you disagree with another person, you appear emotional and it’s difficult to finish the discussion.” This gives the individual a real-life situation they can either recall or imagine and, hopefully, relate to.
Then you can identify a solution: “When you have a point to share that you think will help the team, try to point out how it will impact the work itself so that everyone can see the big picture impact of your suggestion.”
Edit your review to remove any vague, verbose or played-out language.
That means avoiding overused terms like ‘good’ and ‘excellent’. Instead, see if you can bring in a few action words like: excels, exhibits, demonstrates, grasps, generates, possesses, communicates, directs and achieves.
Choosing better, more specific words is a powerful way to say more with less.
It doesn't always make sense to approach the employee review as a solo project.
Even if you're not integrating peer or 360 reviews into your performance management process, it can help to get feedback from other people to either confirm or discredit your assumptions about an employee's performance.
Ask for examples of when the employee did something well or when they needed extra help or support. This will make sure the written review is fully focused on the individual being reviewed, not the manager reviewing them.
A successful performance management implementation enlists HR Professionals to set clear objectives, timelines, and have a thorough understanding of their workforce needs; which can be a difficult feat in itself. One variable that adds an additional layer of complexity is when the roll-out occurs across a decentralized office. A decentralized office can be any one of the following scenarios:
According to Forbes, about 43% of employees spend some of their time working outside of the office and that number is only expected to increase. Regardless of the circumstance, the challenges presented with implementing a performance management system that accommodates the modern, dynamic, office environment may bring into question its efficacy or its necessity entirely, but it shouldn’t.
According to one leading food and beverage company, the performance review is, “the glue that holds an organization together across geographic, technical, and cultural boundaries.” Performance management is an integral component of a company’s organizational strategy. Without it, executives are unable to answer the ‘how’ before the ‘why’ when identifying their workforce needs.
PerformYard clients are no exception to the shift from the traditional office environment. Our Customer Success Team has first-hand exposure to some of the challenges imposed on their HR Leaders as well as solutions our clients have adopted, using our software’s capabilities in order to mitigate these problems. Here are the top challenges and takeaways:
They don’t see their daily work impacting the ‘bigger picture,’ leading to decreased productivity and accountability.
Solution #1: Manage off-site productivity the same way you manage on-site productivity, by having clear goals and accountability,
Before implementing your software, rather than asking “how will my performance management be able to enhance connectivity between our corporate and regional offices?” Instead ask, “Does my performance management allow for goal transparency and have an intuitive way for workers to track and update progress?” Instead of asking, “Can my performance management system accommodate a remote team tasked with only special projects?” Instead ask, “Does my performance management allow for me to set top company goals that departmental or individual goals can align to?” Adopting a top-down mentality that begins with clarity and transparency before moving to individualization is good starting point.
Between having multiple HR people, various management styles, and different cultural norms, standardizing the reviews process seems nearly impossible.
Solution #2: Assign one person to oversee the software implementation from a corporate standpoint and have them train representatives from different entities so they can adopt their own methods as needed.
This person should should not only have the bandwidth to learn the software inside-out, but should also be willing to initiate frequent dialogue with local HR teams to ensure the software is used correctly adds value. In some ways, the solution here is similar to the first challenge, in that, the first step begins with high-level corporate approach. But the former does not effectively reach each worker.
Having a ‘performance management guru’ allows companies to create a standardized process as a foundation while empowering other entities to make tweaks and modifications that may be more suitable for their specific needs. Using this approach, local HR professionals can incorporate performance standards that are customary for that particular region.
The concept of ‘water cooler talk’ that once built office camaraderie and rapport is no longer prevalent.
Solution #3: Establish a method of communication that is frequent and informal where employees can interact with each other.
Even if your company uses other communication platforms like gchat, slack, or an internal system, using a feature directly from your performance software is useful for two reasons. First, studies show that remote-site workers require more frequent dialogue than those in the office to absorb new information and to help them feel aligned with the rest of the team. So in this instance, having additional channels of communication for specific work functions, is better. Second, using a feedback feature within your performance management software will establish a link between daily conversations surrounding performance and a more formal reviews process whether it be through a reporting function or otherwise.
With customization being the pinnacle of the PerformYard platform, our resounding answer to any performance management related challenge is that there is no one-size fits all solution. At a minimal, a successful implementation will involve the following: having your ultimate corporate objectives thoroughly established, a willingness to make tweaks and adjustments to accommodate varying processes, and a software management tool designed to do both.
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.
Richard Nelson Bolles's book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, has sold over 10 million copies in 28 countries — and for good reason.
In the book, Richard gives current and would-be employees the advice to, "Always define WHAT you want to do with your life and WHAT you have to offer to the world, in terms of your favorite talents/gifts/skills-not in terms of a job-title."
In other words, take time to really get to know your best competencies — then, find a job that lets you apply them. Today, that's a message that resonates on both sides of the employee/employer equation.
But it's one thing to say you're looking for someone who's "adaptable", "ambitious" and has excellent "attention to detail". It's another thing to measure whether an individual is bringing those traits to work every day — and a whole other thing still to prove those traits actually result in improved performance at work.
So how can you track competencies at a practical level?
The idea of optimizing an individual's inherent strengths may seem pretty hot these days, but the practice of assessing competencies has been around a while.
“Competence” was first creating a buzz in HR back in 1953. But the idea of competency assessments really made its mark in 1973, when Harvard psychology professor David McClelland wrote a paper called, Testing for Competence Rather than Intelligence.
In his groundbreaking paper, David posited that while traditional aptitude tests were good predictors of academic performance, they weren't all that great at predicting on-the-job performance. Instead of a rigid intelligence test, David suggested that an individual's underlying personal characteristics (or, "competencies") were the best predictors of performance.
And it's an honorable idea. But as with most good ideas, proof of worth is in the execution — not the idea itself.
Competency assessments have morphed into a bulky HR process.
HR departments force managers to navigate endless competency libraries and judge employees based on a rigid set of competencies that are more reflective of a "unicorn" employee than the actual needs of the business.
Here's a quick sum-up of the drawbacks of an over-reliance on competencies in performance reviews:
The practice of measuring an employee's knowledge, skills and attitude (KSAs) has been around for quite some time. But do your managers know that?
More importantly, do they care?
The truth is, most managers are too busy working with the actual personalities on their team to to think about whether their employees should improve their "critical thinking" abilities. And is that really a bad thing?
A manager's ability to lead a group of different people with different competencies is what matters most, not their ability to dissect that group based on a 9-box model of what's supposed to work. That's why companies like Google have kept their managers out of the hiring process altogether, and other companies like Deloitte have scrapped traditional competency-ratings in favor of open-ended metrics like, "Given what I know of this person's performance, I would always want him or her on my team."
If your managers are smart people (and we're betting they are), they'll know that using a qualitative measure to assess a business goal is a waste of time. Get them on board by coaching them on how your competencies go beyond the fluff to measure how an employee meets a quantitative goal.
(And while you're at it, make sure they're aware of the impact of rater effects and how their feedback could be prone to bias.)
Competencies are best-used to identify the how behind a specific business goal or vision.
We all know there are a certain mix of characteristics, that lead to a certain set of behaviors, that leads to an individual's success in their role. But there are many nuanced "black box" areas on the way to hitting a performance goal that those of us at the higher level just can't see.
Rather than taking a top-down approach that assumes that someone with a rating of 4 out of 5 on "organizational skills" is ripe for a promotion — why not start by assessing the competencies of the people already winning in their roles?
Once you know the KSAs that already work, then you can help your managers hire, coach and rate based on proven competencies.
Coaching employees to further develop their best traits on the path to achieving your company's vision is at the core of performance management.
Competencies help us put a finger on what's really working in our business and are crucial to helping us coach our employees to reach their highest potential.
But they can quickly backfire when they're used as a performance management "cure-all", blanketing the unique individuals that make up your business into a homogenous group.
If you really want to offer more value at work by helping your people spend more time in their "zones of genius", it's time to go back to basics and look at competencies at what works on-the-job as opposed what "should" work based on a job description.
What could cause an 80% drop in employee engagement at one of the world's most successful pharma companies?
The truth is rating scales are one tool in the performance management toolbox. Like any tool, they’re useful — but not made for every situation.
Let's take a closer look at ratings to find out when they work and when they don't.
The classic example
The classic performance scoring matrix uses a 5 point scale and in most cases, probably looks something like this example from UC Berkeley:
The problem with a scale like this one happens when it's used to assess vague competencies, like 'organizational skills.' Managers aren't good at rating broad competencies, one person's self-starter could be another person's insubordinate trouble-maker. You run the risk of broadening the gap between managers and employees with the disagreement of terms that is bound to result.
On the other hand, assessing employee performance without ratings opens you up to more subjective opinions that we know often show bias.
If you want to use ratings fairly and effectively, start by applying them to well-defined behaviors rather than personality traits.
The modern example
Deloitte addresses all the concerns raised above with their two rating questions-
It's important to note that Deloitte’s survey has open-ended questions as well, but these simple ratings-based questions help use their managers' inherent biases to understand how teams are performing, while making reviews incredibly fast and easy to execute.
It's important to note that there's no limit to the number of ratings statements you can use. In one of the HR world's most popular examples, Google uses 11 ratings statements plus 2 open-ended questions for employees rating their managers.
For years companies have overused ratings, applying them to every aspect of the business and the people within it. But the best employee rating system has everything to do with your own specific performance goal, and the amount of intention with which you use your ratings.
Here are some of the best ways to use performance rating scales, according to research.
While ratings probably aren’t as objective as we wish they were, research shows that a manager's subjective ratings can be good enough for short-term performance improvement.
Dick Grote, founder of Grote Consulting, took a deep look at the data, including a study of 100 companies using a GE-style rank and yank. He found that identifying the lowest 10% of performance, and replacing them, succeeded in helping the business improve. Dick writes that “organizations got their best results immediately, in the first few years after implementing a forced ranking system.”
It makes sense when you think about it. After a few years of cutting low performers, the issue won’t be talent, it’ll be talent management. Brutal as rank and yank can be, it can also be fair in circumstances where the business might be holding on to a group of underperforming employees who simply weren't a great fit to begin with.
If you're using performance ratings to boost short-term results, you could easily use the classic 5-point rating scale with any of the following statements.
This person clearly explains how change will impact the team/department/individuals
This person achieves optimal levels of performance and accomplishment with/for ...
This person provides strong evidence of achieving results [list specific accomplishment]
This person excels at developing projects that have delivered X results
This person improved production by X% through [the following specific tasks and strategies]
This person exceeded the original goal of X by X% through [performing/introducing the following tasks/strategies specific task]
This person keeps meetings action oriented by [using the following strategies/task]
Deadlines and Time Management
This person consistently meets all deadlines [provide numerical figure e..g completed 8 out of 10 tasks on time]
This person prepares meeting agendas that are concise and time-saving
This person keeps meetings on schedule
This person respects the time of others
This person makes effective use of discretionary time
Ratings can also be great for creating standards, a crucial foundation for any high-performance culture.
Companies like Asana set standards of independence and responsibility (using their famed AOR model), while Netflix sets unapologetic standards of excellence and skill. Held together by regular performance reviews, these standards coalesce to form the pillars of their workplace culture. While ratings have recently come under fire for being somewhat "counter-cultural", they can actually boost transparency and help employees know where they stand in relation to the company standards.
For example, GE also used ratings to support their company-wide standard of growth and improvement. Ron Ashkenas, consultant and author of The GE Work-Out, writes that GE, “assumes that most people have the capacity to continually grow.” The powerhouse company used rankings and ratings as just the start of a longer performance management conversation, a way to differentiate what employees need what kind of help.
That doesn't mean you put a 10-point scale on a vague metric like, "organization". The qualities you rate must be meaningful and aimed at providing a transparent framework for helping the employee develop. In GE's case, they followed up their ratings system by offering tools and programs to help employees reach their potential. After all, if you're going to tell someone they "Need Improvement", you better be able to help them improve.
This person excels in living the organization's values
This person promotes strong support of the company's mission and vision
This person excels in contributing to the company's goals
This person promotes the company culture among peer
This person enforces company policies and values without creating negative reactions
This person is able to turn visions into actual action plans [give examples]
This person demonstrates an ability to transfer vision into execution by [implementing the following strategies/tasks]
This person collaborates with individual team members to establish a development path
This person initiates and executes creative ideas such as [provide examples]
This person provides their team with the resources needed to attain results by [performing/introducing the following tasks/strategies specific task]
This person provides substantial support during periods of organizational change
This person is a key contributor to the successes of the department
This person makes a significant contribution to the continued operation and growth of the organization
In Deloitte's case, the company was spending way too much time on annual reviews.
After completing the forms, holding the meetings, creating the ratings, then arguing about the results behind closed doors, Deloitte's leadership team found that their performance reviews consumed close to 2 million hours a year.
The company scrapped much of its appraisal form but kept its 5-point rating scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). To make it more effective, they simply adjusted the performance factors to lean into manager bias by asking managers to rate based off of their feeling, something research showed they could do accurately.
At the end of the day, ratings will work. But only when approached intentionally. If you suspect your performance review system is too reliant on ratings, step back and ask which employee competencies or behaviors really need a clear and scalable rating, and which performance factors would benefit from a more open and honest discussion.
A more balanced approach will almost always pay off in more balanced employees.
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.
Did you know that managers spend about 17% of their time working with low performers? Yes, you read that right. Your managers spend almost 1 day of each week dealing with poor performance. When you take a deep look at it, these poor performers are costing your company a lot.
When your company has many departments and businesses processes, it won't be easy. But, tracking poor performance in your business isn't impossible.
It doesn't matter how big or small your company is. The best way to do this is by using the right employment performance management system.
Still, think we're barking at the wrong tree? We're going to show you how using the right system will help you identify low performance.
Read on to learn how!
Yes, you can fix poor employment performance at your company. The key is how to identify it early enough that you can fix it at the right time. What makes performance analysis complex is that not all departments run the same way.
As a company, you can't measure your sales team the same way you would your human resources team. Most of the time, performance evaluations fall on the department managers.
When your management team has to spend more time on the performance of their employees than on company goals. It translates into your business running slower and less efficient.
Having a system in place that runs all your performance reviews and check-ins can fix this. It will make it easier for your managers to focus on getting more business done.
These systems can help take your company to another level. Many companies look at performance only from a performance appraisal point of view. But, this is one of the many ways you can measure an employee's performance.
Not all employees work the same way. That's why the right system will focus on these areas to help you fix performance issues:
Performance appraisals have become essential in measuring your employees' performance. We know that there's always a time of the year where these become a headache for every manager and employee. Many companies work on a one size fits all way by having one set performance review form for all employees.
Yet, at the end of the day, we know that every department doesn't work the same way. It would be ideal for every department to have their own tailored form. The right system will provide you a way to customize your performance review forms for each department.
This way you can measure your employees based on your company needs and expectations. Another way, this system can help is by giving you the option to deploy these reviews at a set time. This means that you can decide if you want some departments to run their performance reviews at a set time.
This can help human resources be more efficient when these reviews come their way. Also, the right system will provide you the option to track goal performance in your reviews.
This will give management a way to track how your employees have been doing on their work performance goals. Tracking progress is essential to identifying low performance. These options will give you updates for you to fix the problems on time before they become a headache.
As your company keeps evolving, so are the goals you set for your business and employees. The work performance goals that were set at the beginning of the year aren't the same mid-year. The right system will provide you a way to track the goals set for your employees.
It will give you a dynamic way to track and update these goals. This will help your employees visualize their progress. This way they'll have a clear idea of what's expected of them.
Also, a goal management system can help you motivate your employees. Since they know where they stand, your employees can work toward what they want to achieve.
This option will help you identify low performance early when it's related to established goals because of the constant monitoring. Identifying these deficiencies can help take your company to the next level faster than you'll expect.
Did you know that almost 60% of employees would like to receive feedback on a daily or weekly basis? Yes, we may not be huge fans of negative feedback. But, if it's delivered in the right way it can do wonders for an employee's performance.
The right system will give you the option to provide continuous feedback to your employees. This way you can identify and document low performance as well. The system may also provide you with ways to give 1 on 1 feedback and keep confidential employee feedback notes.
This will make your manager's job easier and provide a friendlier system to communicate with your employees. About 62% of employees have said that they would work harder if their employer recognized their efforts.
This means that your employees will be happier if you use this system to recognize their performance as well. Happy employees translate into better performance and efficiency. Your employees are the heart of your company so if they perform better your company will be smooth sailing all the way to success.
Yes, an employment performance management system can be the right call for your company. This type of systems gives you control over the performance data of your employees. When it comes to poor performance, the more you know the easier it's to fix.
The right system will help you identify low performance in each of your departments early enough for you to make the changes. If you're able to do this, it will translate into your company running better in all areas.
Remember to look for a system that fits your needs focusing on performance reviews, continuous feedback and goal management. If you find the right system, you'll be able to take your company to the next level in no time.
Are you looking for the right employment performance management system? We can help!
Contact us to learn more about our services.
Sometimes it can feel like we’re forced to choose; between a tightly managed stack and rank annual review system, or thoughtful in-the-moment feedback from manager coaches. Popular headlines are often about “Dropping the Performance Review” in favor of feedback, or “Why X Company is Going Back to Performance Reviews.”
The reality is that most organizations choose to land somewhere in the middle. HR finds ways to provide the right amount of structure to achieve the organization’s goals, while still giving managers and employees the flexibility to engage in one-to-one feedback. For more, we created a guide all about designing the performance management process for your organization.
With this in mind we asked 4 practicing HR influencers, from 4 very different organizations, to tell us how they think about structure and flexibility when setting up a performance management program.
Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals
It depends on your culture and needs. It’s not so much the structure as it is the comfort level of the people delivering the feedback and the utilization of the tools available that makes the difference. Prior to implementing any new system or tool, talk to your managers and find out what they are currently doing, and what is a pain point for them. If your shiny new system or process can address a pain point, that’s a win for everyone. What works for one organization may not work for another. No system will solve world peace – or even organizational peace, so have realistic expectations. Any new system or tool must be accessible, easy to use, and be perceived to make the manager’s job easier – not harder. HR can’t be the sole driver of the process. Your most influential people can be your greatest adopters and champions of your system if you utilize them as your pilot testers. Then HR isn’t telling others about this great new tool we love. Of course we love it, we’re HR. This is cool to us. If other managers love it, tell their peers, and adoption spreads, you will have more guaranteed long-term utilization.
Nicole is currently holding down her dream job, combining her love of animals and passion for HR, as Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, a family of more than 30 emergency and specialty veterinary practices with locations across the country. Drawing upon more than 14 years of proven experience throughout Human Resources, specifically in the manufacturing, telecommunications, and veterinary medicine industries, Nicole has a proven record of establishing HR as a vital business partner with an earned reputation as an intuitive, wide-ranging HR Generalist. Nicole is a proud member of the SHRM A-Team, and she is on the Board of her local SHRM Chapter, GCHRA. Nicole has a blog, HR Without Ego, where her faithful sidekick, Maximus the Minimus – her 10 lb Shih Tzu serves as mascot.
Senior HR Business Partner at Otak Inc.
I recently joined a firm that is implementing a formal performance review system. It’s given me a great chance to reflect on the best way to give feedback.
As large corporations like GE, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix have ditched their annual performance reviews for a more fluid system, many HR professionals have been wondering whether unstructured feedback systems will result in decreased performance. How do we decide annual pay increases without a stack and rank system?
I prefer a performance management program that is a little of both structured and unstructured feedback. I suggest that managers have a casual goal-setting discussion once a quarter, with biweekly or monthly casual conversations. Then once a year, they can evaluate the year and progress toward goals. I’ve found that most employees still want a structured review, just not all the time.
This structure gives employees an opportunity to manage their time and create their own goals. Knowing they have an annual structured review helps motivate them to meet their goals.
This system provides the right balance of unstructured and structured feedback and has allowed our firm to grow and become more consistent while preparing for the future.
Keith works at Otak Inc., an architecture and civil engineering design firm that is headquartered in Portland, OR where he is a senior HR business partner. Keith obtained his bachelor’s degree at Portland State University and his MBA from the University of Phoenix. Keith is recognized as a leader in the HR industry and participates in the Portland Human Resources Management Society and SHRM and has SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications.
Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies
Having a structured program in place to cover all the bases doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still engage in ongoing informal feedback. It is easy to fall into a trap of either setting up too many structured meetings that it becomes unrealistic or going the other way and making it so informal that nothing gets done. Having a baseline of structured meetings that incorporate ongoing informal feedback can be a good balance and creates a realistic expectation that both sides can manage.
Getting the managers on the same page early on and communicating the expectation for the performance review program and its delivery is key.
I would recommend just maintaining a good balance and defining the expectation for both managers and employees up front so that the process and delivery is consistent between departments and across the organization.
Craig Frazier is a lucky husband, proud dad, culture leader and small business advocate and works as the Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies. @craig_frazier
VP of Human Resources for Berner Food & Beverage
It is important to understand that a formal system is used for a certain purposes and frequent coaching is useful for other purposes. Sure there is a link but when you consider the reasons for both you will see that we are talking apples and oranges. A formal process is usually used to document and justify annual merit increases, satisfy some arcane need rank everyone and/or to continue a process that the ownership feels is how things should be done “because we’ve always done it that way” (yeah….that last one is fun). Frequent coaching feedback sessions are for improving the employee’s performance, growth, goals and engagement. We easily see which of those things are more impactful to both the employee and the organization, but reality is that most of the companies in this country are stuck in doing some type of formalized review process.
One creative way to accomplish both is to design your formal system that summarizes the frequent coaching sessions. If you have quarterly coaching sessions, the “annual” review form could be used to just summarize those coaching sessions. So rather than ranking on the five or ten qualities that represent performance, you can grade employees on progress toward their goals or just categorize them into groupings as needed. Be creative. It may not look like the old standard review form, but it can satisfy the need for both performance management concepts.
Ed Wood has been active in Human Resources for over 30 years. After receiving his degree from the University of Wisconsin Ed began his career as an officer in the U.S. Army. Over the years, he has held several positions in Human Resources in a variety of industries including manufacturing, hospitality, and media. With over 30+ years of a wide variety of HR and operational experience in numerous industries, I have found that regardless of the company or industry, it still comes down to leadership and people.
The Colorado Health Foundation is bringing health within reach for all Coloradans by engaging closely with communities across the state through investing, policy advocacy, learning and capacity building. The Foundation’s mission is to improve the health of Coloradans and is grounded in the belief that health is a human right.
Today over 60 employees work together in the Uptown neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Their roles vary from technology to communications and finance to philanthropy/grantmaking.
The Human Resources (HR) team has implemented a truly thoughtful performance management program they call Staff Excellence. The program provides the structure for regular conversations between employees and their managers while also giving every department, team and person the flexibility to make it work for them. Most importantly, it is a perfect fit for the Foundation.
We sat down with Alison Jeske, Human Resources Manager, to learn more about the program.
PerformYard: How did the team decide on the current performance management program?
Alison Jeske: When I started with the Foundation, the HR Director was leading the revamp of our performance management process. It started with a group of representatives from across departments, including employees and managers. We wanted to make sure we were hearing from voices across the organization.
Our goal wasn’t to create something from the top down; it was to create something that would be effective for our organization, which meant starting with input from our staff. The HR team said to employees, “This is your process; we are here to support and facilitate.” And we asked the Foundation’s managers, “what do you need to be able to evaluate the performance of your employees?” We asked employees, “what do you need from your managers and how can the process support your development?”
HR’s role was to educate, facilitate and balance everyone’s needs. For example, it was not clear what the right frequency would be. In the beginning the design team wanted monthly check-ins, and managers were saying, “Monthly seems like a lot, but I am willing to try it.” For the first year we operated with topic specific conversations every month, and now we do them quarterly.
[PY] So the program has continued to evolve?
[AJ] Exactly. Especially in the beginning we were asking ourselves, “What is this going to look like?” and we realized that it needed to evolve as the needs of the organization evolved. Everything was driven by our experience going through the process. So we would do the initial monthly conversations and get feedback from the Staff Excellence and Leadership team. That is what drove the edits and changes along the way.
I’m glad we started with monthly because after the first year staff felt heard, but everyone also agreed that we should try a more condensed version of the process. We continued much of what we did in the first year but we just did it in fewer conversations.
That’s one thing I think anyone about to go through this journey should expect. Year one, two and three may look very different, and that is okay.
What does your performance management process look like today?
We do four “conversations” a year between each employee and their manager. The first conversation sets goals for the year. Those goals flow naturally from the last conversation of the previous year. The middle two conversations focus on varying topics based on business needs, in addition to reviewing goal progress.
At the beginning of the year the HR Director will present the annual conversation topics to the leadership team and get feedback. For example, we’ve prompted employees to talk about any barriers they’re facing and discuss possible solutions, and we’re planning to dedicate a conversation this year to reviewing job descriptions.
The topics are planned in advance, but they’re also dynamic. A manager might say, “Actually this idea came up, can we add it to the next conversation?” – and we do that.
What happens in these conversations?
We created a form with a single long-answer box. Above the box we prompt a conversation by using a variety of guiding questions to encourage discussion around a specific topic. Some use the questions verbatim and others simply use them as a guide. Both are completely acceptable. The goal is to have a rich and productive conversation and the questions are just there to help, if needed.
It is really about stepping away from the computer. Rather than focusing on a large and complicated form, today we focus on a topic and have a dynamic face-to-face conversation between the employee and manager. We like that discussions can flow off-topic based on each individual’s performance needs. As long as the employee and managers are having a conversation and documenting it, that’s what’s important.
Then the next step is to put the notes from your conversation into PerformYard. We encourage folks to record what is important and relevant. They don’t need to write a novel or answer each question, just key takeaways. Each conversation form is initiated by the employee and they put their notes into the form. The manager reviews the notes, adds additional comments and signs off on the form.
Was the flexibility of your program an important part of the design?
Yes, we were previously using software that was driven by structured annual goal setting and it did not work for us. It was a product that drove a process. We needed to design a process that fit our organization and find a product to support that.
How do you use the data you collect from these conversations?
Employees are referring back to the signed-off conversations to carry over goals, questions or follow-ups to their next conversation. They also have the ability to easily access previous year’s notes and discussions.
Managers are using the conversations as supporting documentation and references for the year-end performance review and merit increases for their employees.
We see the program continuing to grow and evolve to include new measures.
A huge thank you to Alison Jeske for taking the time to share the Colorado Health Foundation’s performance management program with us. We are so impressed with how their team has iterated on a process, and arrived at something that is a perfect fit for their organization.
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.
No matter where you look, you'll find a conversation about employee recognition.
Pepsico CEO, Indra Nooyi made headlines when she revealed that she writes 400 letters per year to the parents of her senior execs. And in his trending LinkedIn article, Global CTO at DailyMail Online and Metro.Co.Uk, Oleg Vishnepolsky makes a strong but surprisingly simple case for employee recognition.
His story is barely 300 words in length, yet it illustrates with perfect clarity just how easy it is to get employee recognition right.
So why do so many of us still miss the boat?
Don't get us wrong, we love tech, but HR is overflowing with it.
With tools for everything from sending automated birthday GIFs to doling out points on a Slack scoreboard every time someone restocks the toilet paper—let's just say, it's easy to lose sight of why these tools exist in the first place.
So what is employee recognition, really? Here's how some of our favorite HR thought leaders define it.
To Ben Eubanks, employee recognition is an essential driver of innovation.
The expert HR analyst and founder of upstartHR, explains that with the right approach to employee recognition, you can drive innovation across every department within the organization (not just the flashy R&D teams).
"It might not be your job as an HR leader to recognize employees, but it is your job to design/build the system that your employees and managers use. We know that recognition improves employee engagement, and innovation provides an opportunity to target those employees that are dreaming up new ideas and methods to improve the business."
By showing all your people that you value their input and ideas, you're opening up every system, process and product to new efficiencies that can take your organization to a whole other level. Here's Ben again:
"The outcomes for submitting ideas can be as simple as peer/social recognition or it could include financial incentives and rewards. Whatever the case, be sure to create a system and culture of recognition that makes employees want to find smarter ways to work. Don’t just attempt to motivate your people—inspire them."
An important piece of this is making sure you recognize employees by acting on their suggestions and ideas. Even if it's just on an experimental basis, showing your commitment to smart innovation will always take you farther than simply talking about it.
We love most things Kris Dunn has to say. The Kinetix CHRO and author of the HR Capitalist blog gave an epic shoutout to low-key recognition, using awesome examples of low-key ways to communicate your appreciation to employees who might not be comfortable with public recognition.
Kris points out that while we're used passing out awards and making big announcements in the white-collar world, this may not be the best approach for introverts or blue-collar workers.
"The broader point for any of us thinking about recognition is simple. To maximize your approach and the subsequent results, you’ll have to customize your recognition programs for different employee segments.Failure to consider when and how to recognize individual segments can and will be held against you in the court of employee sentiment. If you’re wondering why your managers don’t use the recognition tools you provide, it’s likely because you haven’t provided them with choices that work for the employee types they manage."
Employee recognition is an inherently personal thing. Set your managers up to win by taking the time to figure out what works best for each individual on the team.
One of our favorite stories of employee recognition in action, involves a manager and a millennial (obvious, right?).
Fistful of Talent author and former HR Manager Tim Sackett explains how, after conducting a performance review for a high-performing millennial, his executive sent a handwritten letter to the employee's parents thanking them for raising a rockstar.
Here's what happened next according to Tim:
"About a week later, I got a call from the front desk. It was the employee’s father, asking the front desk to talk to the executive and telling them they were the father of this employee. The front desk person called me, believing something bad must have happened, so I took the call.
I spoke with a man in his 50’s who had a hard time holding back tears of pride, thanking me (and our executive) for sharing such a wonderful story and how proud they were. The employee also came in to my office to thank me for doing this – believing I must have put the executive up to it (it’s an HR touchy-feely thing).
The employee said that they could never imagine a better place to work. A 3-minute hand written letter = powerful recognition and engagement."
How's that for appreciation?
At first glance, it's tempting to see this as just another story about performance strategies for millennials, but one of the most beautiful things about employee recognition is that a little truly goes a long way. Or as Tim says, "Employee recognition doesn’t have to be hard, or take a long time, or be a part of a process. It has to be genuine, in the moment and meaningful. Too many times we forget this on the organizational front."
By now, we know there's a reason Oleg's post has 31,454 likes (at the time of writing this article). And we know it has nothing to do with star-studded perks and rewards programs.
But surely we can't just throw employee recognition to the wind and hope that it magically happens, right? Right.
Or at least, mostly right.
The problem is work gets in the way. We get caught up in the day-to-day and forget all about the people who make work happen.
According to research from management consulting firm Cicero Group, employees found that a simple "well done" was more effective for engagement than a 5% increase in salary.
Do you need really need an employee recognition program to make sure these simple words are being exchanged?
Yes, you probably do. But it's important to note that, at the end of the day, you can have the trendiest employee recognition program this side of Silicon valley, but it will mean zilch to your employees if you don't lead with integrity.
But if the research on employee recognition is to be believed, any effort you put into making your people feel appreciated will definitely come back to you in the form of hard returns for the business. If you're ready to do it right, there is a very solid business case to be made for employee recognition.
We all love having something to look forward to and designing a program to reward and recognize your can definitely encourage the whole office to develop a deeper commitment to each other and the business.
Here's some math that makes a clear case for employee recognition:
If that's not enough to convince your CEO it's time to invest in an employee recognition program, try this:
Companies who spend a minimum of 1% of payroll on recognition are 79% more likely to have better financial results.
Despite the massive market for employee incentivization, employee recognition programs don’t have to cripple your budget.
Employee recognition programs are not what they used to be and as the experts note, real employee recognition has basically nothing to do with mass-manufactured trophies or bringing your pet to work, and everything to do with how you treat your people in the day-to-day.
Here are five simple ways to make your employees feel appreciated.
According to Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”
Francesca and Wharton professor Adam Grant measured a groups of students’ sense of self-worth after receiving feedback on performance. They found that 25% of the group that received just an acknowledgment felt higher levels of self-worth, compared with 55% of the group that received thanks.
Apparently, there's a pretty big difference between "Good job" and "Thanks for doing a good job."
The days of tenure-based recognition and employees of the month are long gone. Those methods just don't work on younger employees, especially considering how often they change roles.
As Gallup’s chief scientist Jim Harter puts it, "recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis -- weekly, maybe daily."
And nothing says you care more than taking time out of your hectic schedule for a set one-on-one. There are a number of reasons to meet privately with your employees. If you're looking for a little inspiration (or questions to get the convo started), start here with our post on 11 Types of Employee One-on-ones.
We love managers, but sometimes their faces are just too close to the mirror to see what's really happening within the team.
Peers who work shoulder to shoulder on the business's frontline will always know when someone deserves a pat on the back. Peer-to-peer recognition can also help offset some of the rater effects that can skew a manager's perspective and contribute to a broader environment of support and recognition.
The best way to encourage peer-to-peer recognition is to simply lead by example. Don't be afraid to say something nice about a high-performing employee or manager, even if they're from a separate or "competing" department. You might be surprised at how quickly others follow suit.
According to Mercer, 78% of employees would stay with their current company if they knew there was a clear career path for advancement. In another survey, 53% of employees said respect for their knowledge and experience was their biggest expectation from management.
Performance reviews are the perfect opportunity to show your employees you appreciate their potential and you're ready to take advantage of it. Remember, recognition doesn't always have to be delivered in the form of a pay raise or promotion (though those things do help!)
What matters most is that you have a system in place to help them feel great by keeping that momentum toward the bigger picture.
If your employees are disgruntled and disengaged, it's usually due to a lack of follow-through on the part of the manager or exec team.
Any exec can call an employee into their office and ask for the next big idea, but not many can fearlessly hand over the trust, resources and autonomy it takes to let the employee run that idea past the finish line.
If you're committed to showing your employees you care, you must have a system in place for delivering and collecting feedback on both sides of the table, and actively follow up to measure your progress on shared goals.
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.
From pay increases to sales targets, some of our most crucial business decisions boil right down to our performance data.
But unfortunately, manager ratings just aren't as accurate as we'd like them to be. Here are some simple ways to help your managers improve their performance review skills, so you can make better decisions for your people and your business.
If you ask them, most managers will agree that performance reviews are important. But if employee appraisals are rushed, incomplete, or not happening when they're supposed to, there are probably some very real ground-level fears holding them back.
Dealing with subjects like pay and performance takes A LOT of courage. Before you launch into your manager training program, take a minute to sit down with your team leaders and have an open and honest conversation about their concerns.
Are they worried about how the feedback will be received? Confused about how to carry out a performance review that doesn't come with a pay increase? Once you know what the gaps are in your performance review system, you can adjust your process to eliminate those concerns or focus your training on specific areas, such as how to handle difficult conversations.
We all know performance reviews serve an administrative and compliance purpose, but more often than not, a company's review process is heavily skewed toward the mind-numbing procedural elements at the expense of the performance and productivity-driving benefits managers can get excited about.
Work to remove the administrative burden of your reviews so HR can spend less time training managers on procedure and more time coaching them on improving their performance feedback. Remind managers why performance appraisals are important to them, the employee and the organization at large so they know how to frame their conversations in a way that's productive and inspiring for everyone involved.
Truth is, we're all a little biased. And that's ok—as long as we acknowledge it. But it's a lot easier to spot bias in someone else, than to find it in ourselves.
Train managers to become aware of their own biases for a fairer, more accurate review process. Here are five of the most common biases according to HR insider and founder of the HR Bartender blog, Sharlyn Lauby:
Most managers either shy away from giving negative feedback, or end up inadvertently demotivating the employee in a misguided attempt to deliver constructive criticism. But negative feedback is essential to growth and the good news is, your employees want it.
Once you've uncovered any potential biases and set a clear standard of objectivity, it's time to help managers deliver negative feedback effectively. Encourage managers to take on the role of a coach as opposed to "judge", "boss" or "critic". A great coach goes beyond the criticism to help their team strengthen their skills and work together to devise the next play—all with one eye set firmly on a winning game plan.
Craft your manager training program around your performance appraisal strategy with regular refreshers near review time. For some organizations, this may be a week-long intensive course held annually, for others it might just be a quick check-in at the end of the month.
Whatever your training program looks like, remember that by simply taking the initiative to help managers deliver performance reviews more effectively, you're leading by example to help all the coaches within your company make better calls.
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?
At PerformYard our goal is to build a flexible performance management solution that is also really easy to use.
That means we need to offer all the functionality of the big clunky enterprise tools, but maintain the ease-of-use found in overly simplified small business HR software. Our customers should be able to take any complex performance management strategy and run it effortlessly in PerformYard.
That is a never-ending challenge.
It was with this goal in mind that we recently rebuilt our recognition and notes features into the brand new (and totally amazing) Feedback feature. Feedback in PerformYard now allows you to recognize employees in front of the entire company, create private notes, or share feedback with your employees individually. All of this is accomplished through a single intuitive process, because we know managers don’t have time to learn another complicated piece of software.
Whatever feedback the employee chooses to give will then automatically be stored and shared with the appropriate people.
At review time, employee feedback from the previous year can be pulled up while filling out the review form to help inform a more complete picture of the employees performance.
Check out our customer support page to see more ways you could use Feedback at your organization.
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.
The employee one-on-one is a classic example of something easy to do, but hard to do well.
A recurring calendar event is scheduled, the first few one-on-ones are dutifully attended, but then over time the poor dialog and lack of purpose lead to meetings getting pushed, other issues cannibalizing the time, and eventually the idea is just scrapped.
This article is not about getting started, it is about getting good and maintaining an effective employee check-in practice over the long-term.
One-on-one meetings should not use the same template each week. Ben Horowitz calls one-on-ones “the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.” If you are always asking the same four questions, the meeting is bound to get stale.
That does not mean you should go in without a plan. Instead of a static template, we are going to build a practice. That means instead of trying to create the perfect single meeting, we’ll try to optimize all the one-on-ones we’ll ever have with an employee as a whole. Think of it like using many different types of meetings, but in the same time slot each week.
Below we’ve listed out 11 types of employee one-on-one meetings. Each one does not need to take up the full 30 minute or one hour timeslot you’ve allotted and you’ll find that you often combine two or three into a single sitting. We listed them roughly in the order of how frequently they should be used, and generally you should get through all of them about every 6 months.
The first step in creating effective one-on-ones is to build trust. If your employees feel that you’re distant they won’t come to meetings open and willing to share. They also won’t feel connected and ready to work through things together.
The good news is that creating trust is relatively easy, the only step is to take an honest interest in someone as a person. Find out more about their personal life and their hobbies, be there for them when they face life’s challenges. If your employees know you’re there for them and care for them, all the other types of meetings below will go much more smoothly.
If you don’t already have a strong connection with an employee, don’t be afraid to spend the first few one-on-ones just building up a stronger rapport. Then over time take a few minutes to check in on them every meeting and periodically just let a whole meeting go by talking about them. Remember, we’re not judging the impact of any one meeting, we’re judging the impact of our one-on-one practice as a whole.
One-on-ones should be the employee’s meeting, as often as possible. This means they set the agenda. That said, you can still help guide them, and let them know it is ok to bring up certain issues.
For example, if your employee is having trouble working with another person at the office, they might not want to bring that issue up unless you first prompt them and let them know it is fair-game to discuss. Prompt the meeting with open-ended questions designed to unearth specific issues if they exist.
Often check-ins are just a discussion of what the employee is working on right now. They can be an opportunity to provide feedback, course corrections, additional support, or remove barriers.
An organization is by definition a group of people working towards a particular purpose. For that reason it is important to regularly check in on how your team is working with the rest of the organization.
Once you have built up some trust, use one-on-ones as a way for employees to share any issues they have with the way you work. Getting these out in the open is incredibly healthy, it gives you a chance to explain yourself, or make changes. Requesting feedback is also a great way to build additional trust before giving difficult feedback.
The regular and recurring nature of one-on-ones makes them a perfect place for continuous feedback. That said it is also important to cater feedback to the individual, so if you the employee wants to hear from you in the moment, waiting two weeks or a month until the next check-in might not be appreciated.
One of the most common complaints from employees is that no one is listening to their ideas. One-on-ones are the perfect platform to discuss what changes your team would like to see at the company. Front line team members can often be the best source of ideas, but also don’t be afraid to push back on ideas and give the employee more context when needed.
This one can be easily overlooked. Your team will often not have the same view of the company as you do and a regular meeting can be a great time to communicate any new initiatives, company level goals, and how an employee’s work fits into the big picture.
While it doesn’t make sense to discuss long-term goals every week, it is important to understand what motivates your employees and where they are looking to go in life. If you can find ways to align their personal goals with the company’s goals the results will be dramatic.
This one almost feels too big or maybe too simple? But, happy employees are better employees, and unhappy employees are at risk of disengaging or turning over. You won't know for sure until you ask.
Finally, don't forget to follow up. If you are doing one-on-ones well, then they should form an ongoing dialog where ideas get raised and you can discuss progress over time. Take notes and set reminders together to revisit the idea at a future date.
Wow, I feel like I need even more frequent check-ins to have time to talk about all these different things. Hopefully you feel the same way and will never have to wonder, “what could we possibly talk about this week?”
Pick and choose from the different types of meetings above to create your own one-on-one practice that is a fit for each employee and your organization. Before long one-on-ones will be a key part of your management tool belt.
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.
Yes, the answer is just yes.
First, a quick clarification of terms. When we say negative feedback we’re talking about: suggestions for improvement, discussions of new and better ways to do things, and pointing out things that were done in a less than optimal way.
The types of communications we’re not including are: general expressions of dissatisfaction, negative characterizations or reprimands.
The problem with negative feedback is the divide between the number of managers who tend to avoid it and the number of employees who would like to receive it.
The leadership consulting firm Zegner/Folkman did a survey of close to one thousand individuals. They asked a few simple questions about giving and receiving feedback. As expected a large percentage of managers said they tended to avoid giving negative feedback. The surprising finding was when they asked employees about receiving negative feedback...57% of respondents said they prefered negative feedback over positive feedback. Over half of people not only wanted negative feedback, they wanted it more than positive feedback.
Even more amazing 92% agreed with the statement “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”
An employee who wants negative feedback, cares about their success and wants to grow.
Most of us want to be better, and we want advice on how to get there. Just look at the top selling non-fiction books on Amazon. The week I checked the #1 book offered “A counterintuitive approach to living a good life.” The #2 book offered “A scientifically proven approach to changing your life - for good.” In total, 9 of the top 20 books were offering some type of advice to help people improve their lives. The advice ranged from loving your spouse better, to principles for managing life and business, to winning friends and influencing people, to escaping addiction. There was even a book with advice on how to stop always wanting to be better!
The demand that sends these books to the top of the charts is the same demand that drove the results of the Zegner/Folkman study. People want to be better and they want help getting there.
Zegner/Folkman presented their data as if the answer was so simple. It was almost as if they were saying, “It’s ok managers, your employees want negative feedback, you don’t need to worry about giving it.” But is it really that easy?
I’m recently married, and my wife sometimes expresses a desire to get in even better shape than she already is (honey if you’re reading this, you’re in great shape!). She even sometimes expresses a desire for feedback and advice on how to do it. So one time I offered...
I can hear my fellow married folks yelling across the interwebs right now, “it’s a trap! Don’t do it!” I know, I know. We all need to learn these lesson on our own I guess.
“Maybe you could not eat dessert as much...”
Suffice it to say that I now have a VERY strong tendency to avoid negative feedback.
So, sure we all want negative feedback, we just don't take it very well. Managers know this too.
The other problem is that while we all generally want feedback to help us improve, we often don’t want to hear the specific feedback we end up getting. When was the last time you saw a diet book titled, “Stop Eating Too Much and Exercise More.”
So what do we know so far? There is almost universal agreement that negative feedback is a valuable tool for improving performance. Also, Employees want, at least theoretically, to receive feedback. The only thing holding us back is that moment when we give and receive the real feedback, that’s the part nobody likes.
Be a coach, not a critic - It is really easy to point out something that is wrong, it is much harder to show someone the path to what is right. Just letting someone know they’re doing something wrong is not good feedback. So position yourself to be an employee's coach, not their critic.
Don’t get emotional - If you’re uptight and stressed about giving feedback you’re going to make the person on the other side of the table uptight about receiving it.
Engage around solutions - No one is buying books from Amazon titled “What I Think Is Wrong With You.” People want solutions and they want to be part of finding those solutions.
Respect individual preferences - As we’ve already said, people want feedback. So try asking them how they’d like to receive it. Negative feedback is not about managers getting something off their chest, it is about employees learning and improving, so respect and accommodate what your employees need to be most successful.
Negative feedback is hard, but everyone is already in agreement that it is important. Invest some time in getting good at it, you're employees will thank you.
After writing about Deloitte’s radically simple reviews, the number one response we received was “my company does X, so these questions won't work for us.”
It is a great point, Deloitte’s four questions aren’t designed to be universal, they’re designed for one particular professional services firm with 263,000 employees. Just based on the odds I’m willing to bet that is not what your organization is like.
That said, at PerformYard we think the approach Deloitte took is universal. That is why we are following up our last post with this how-to guide.
If you’re reading this article, you probably already feel in your gut that a simple review process would bring positive change to your organization. But, if you’re going to drive change you’ll need a stronger case.
Deloitte started with a straightforward cost/benefit analysis of their existing process. It is remarkable how many performance management strategies we come across have never been scrutinized even in this very simple way.
What does the review process cost our organization?
What value does the review process create for our organization?
Deloitte started with a simple counting of hours to judge the cost of their ratings system. They found that the organization was spending close to 2 million hours a year to create their annual rankings. This is inline with the 8+ hours per employee estimates that we have seen at many organizations.
Then the team at Deloitte solicited internal feedback on the value of their reviews. Most employees appreciated knowing where they stood, and were happy to have a transparent process in place. For leadership the ability to differentiate between employee performance for compensation decisions was absolutely necessary.
After running through this exercise it became clear that one, the annual review and ranking process was very expensive, and two, some of the outcomes from reviews were very important to both employees and leadership. Right away this started to rule out certain options, for example a pure continuous feedback system without quantitative ratings wouldn’t satisfy the needs of leadership and might not satisfy the needs of employees.
Deloitte that their two main needs were a way to let employees know where they stood, and a way to differentiate between employees for compensation and promotion decision making.
The team at Deloitte looked at their current review process which involved extensive ranking discussions and a long review form with many skill focused questions and realized that their current process was a very inefficient way to achieve their two needs.
They also realized that a large part of every review was essentially useless. Managers were answering many questions about an employee’s ability in different skill categories. Research has shown that people are horrible at rating skills, which meant these sections of the review were generating meaningless data.
We see these types of questions in many review forms. Questions like “How well does this employee live up to the company value of ‘Be Genuine’?” That is a very well intentioned question that will create data that never get used, and that probably never should be used because the data are likely meaningless as well.
All of these questions that weren't serving the needs of their quantitative review were removed.
Most review questions are too clever by half. These are questions that try to sneak up on some piece of information without directly asking for it. For example some organizations may feel that embracing the company culture is one of the most important characteristics of a successful employee. But then in order to determine a score for "culture fit" the company's forms might ask questions about the employee’s tendencies at work or how well the employee embodies certain values.
But why not just ask “Does this employee embrace and contribute to the company culture?”
Your managers should all be able to answer that question far more accurately and you don’t have to dance around to get the answer you want. If a manager doesn’t understand the company culture that is a bigger problem which will show up in that manager’s own review.
Don’t micromanage your managers with review questions. Let them give you a straight answer to your real question.
When Deloitte had finished simplifying their performance reviews they were left with a problem. The new system helped employees know where they stand and it helped leadership easily identify top performers, but the system did nothing to drive improved performance.
Deloitte felt that driving performance was something the Performance Management team should be working on, and they felt it was important for the long term success of the organization.
What happens in a lot of organizations is that someone says, “Ok let’s add X, Y and Z to the performance reviews. That will force managers to engage with their reports."
Not at Deloitte. They recognized that driving improved performance was different from creating reviews, and so they refused to complicate and corrupt their review process with other goals. Deloitte created a completely separate weekly check in process that was much better suited to the goal of helping managers drive employee performance.
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.
The non-practical types love to talk about killing performance reviews. Professors and thought-leaders can go on for hours picking apart every last imperfection and preaching about utopian workplaces where they would be unnecessary. The national media picks it up and next thing you know everyone has an opinion. Meanwhile those of us who keep the trains running are left to deal with the backlash.
That is a special part of working in HR, our work impacts everyone. If you tell a new dinner party friend that you work in network engineering it might kill the conversation, but tell them you work in HR and there will be questions and opinions for the rest of the night. Just the other day a man named Rob asked what I do. My answer kicked off a five minute diatribe on the pointlessness of performance reviews, that illogically wound itself to a conclusion that reviews are some vestigial corporate BS. BS that survives only because management hasn’t gotten around to excising it yet.
I was left a little speechless, I’d known Rob for 5 minutes and so far our entire relationship had been spent exploring why my work is pointless. If you’ve been in HR long enough you have probably faced a similar situation. So with that in mind I set out to articulate a defense of performance reviews, so the next time I will be ready. Here is what I wish I would have said to Rob.
Ya, you’re right, performance reviews stink. I find them uncomfortable and it’s my job. Often the person giving the review makes a huge mess of the whole thing and I wish I could review them on their review. In the end no matter how well or poorly reviews are done, they will always require one person to stand in judgement of another person, and that will always stink.
But unfortunately, because I’m an HR professional and not a professor, I have to think about more than what’s wrong with performance reviews, I have to think about the alternative.
You see the dirty little secret about performance reviews is that they will never stop happening even if you stop calling them that and stop forcing people to do them. The judgement, the ranking, the decisions about pay all still happen, they need to happen, the best you’ll ever do is sweep them under the rug. Your superiors will still be judging you everyday.
Removing the sharp pain of hard conversations about your performance will leave you with the chronic uncertainty about how you’re doing and how you’re being judged. You’ll just sit, wait and wonder until you’re either promoted or fired.
Performance reviews are imperfect, but done well they accomplish two very important things, fairness and transparency.
Fairness is so important, it is deeply ingrained in all of us. Nothing drives us to irrational tantrums like the feeling we aren’t being treated fairly. You should probably watch this video of a monkey throwing a tantrum when it thinks it is being treated unfairly.
We understand fairness, but you might be surprised by the definition.
fair: fer/ adjective 1. in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate.
So creating fairness is about created standards and rules that can be followed. When everyone is treated by the same standards everything feels fair. Jill doesn’t get paid in cucumbers while Jack gets grapes (did you watch the monkey video? Seriously, watch it).
Performance reviews take the judgement and ranking that would be happening anyways and bring them into the light so biases can be removed and emotionless formulas can be applied. We might not like the outcome of being evaluated, but when it is done fairly at least we can accept it.
We are all adults, we all have hopes and dreams, and we all want to know where we stand.
One of the most popular alternatives to performance reviews is the idea of real-time feedback. I think real time feedback is great (well to a certain extent it is just what managers should have been doing all along, but still it is great). The problem is that real time feedback does not create the same transparency as the occasional big picture conversation where both sides share their long term goals.
In the forestry industry a manager could give real time feedback to change how you’re pruning the spruce trees. That same manager in a performance review would talk about how a quarter of the forest was on the verge of bursting into flames.
Maybe the spruce pruning had to do with the fire danger, but we can’t expect ourselves or our reports to bring all those little pieces of feedback together to see the big picture. Everyone knows we can’t see the forest for the trees.
On the other side, real time feedback is always about improvement, but sometimes high performers need to be told that despite all the constructive criticism they have gotten over the last year they are a rising star. When do you talk about goals and promotion paths with your best employees if not in a performance review?
Performance reviews will always be hard, at a certain point we just need to accept it. Parts of life are a competition and there are winners and losers. As much as some people might like to get rid of that the best they’ll ever do is sweep it under the rug.
Despite the stress of listening to your nervous boss talk about why you are a “3 in proactive,” it is better than being unhappy with your raise and looking over at Jill in the next cubicle chowing down on a bucket full of grapes (seriously watch the monkey video).
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.
There is an endless cycle of debate over how to do employee performance reviews. Should you set cascading goals; perform reviews yearly, quarterly or on a project basis; assign scores; collect feedback from managers, colleagues or direct-reports?
There is no shortage of opinions out there and they all have ideas for adding complexity to your review process. So when the largest professional services company in the world decides they are going to simplify their reviews, it qualifies as radical.
Today Deloitte has no cascading goals, no 360 reviews, and no scores. Instead their team leaders answer 4 questions after each project (and two are yes/no!).
Deloitte does not make decisions that impact their 200k plus employees lightly. They generate much of the leading research on HR best practices and have an enormous internal team working in performance management, so what led them to pursue a strategy of less rather than more?
Deloitte’s simple performance reviews came from asking two of the simplest questions in business.
It all started when they decided to count how many hours they spent on their existing review process. The final tally came to almost 2 million hours a year. That is about 8 hours per employee, which is in line with estimates for companies of all sizes.
Then they studied the scores their reviews were generating and realized they told them almost nothing about the quality of theirs employees.
In summary they were running an enormous internal initiative that generated almost nothing useful.
Deloitte focused on solving both the cost and the return side of their performance management problem.
On the return side they reframed the questions team leaders were answering about their direct reports. Their research showed that managers do not evaluate the skills of others very accurately, but they can evaluate their own feelings. So rather than ask a manager whether an employee solves spatial problems at a 3 level or a 4 level, they ask the manager if the they would select the employee for their team again, or if they would do anything in their power to keep the employee at the company.
On the cost side they reduced the number of questions down to just the ones they wanted to answer. Think about it this way, if you want to know whether to try to a new pizza place you could ask 100 questions about the various qualities of the pizza (crust crunch 1-5, sauce tang 1-5, cheese stretch 1-5 etc) or you could just ask people if they plan to go back. In the end you just want to know if you should go, so ask enough people if they plan to go and you’ve got a pretty good answer. Chances are you won’t even be able to get people to fill out your 100 question pizza performance review anyway.
For Deloitte the result was 4 questions they ask team leaders at the end of each project:
Ask the questions you want answers to, and nothing else. Radical.
Criticism is a fundamental and necessary part of growth. If we want to grow as an individual or as an organization we can not do that without feedback, particularly feedback on what isn’t working.
We all understand this and want to grow, and managers understand it and 98% want employees to be open and receptive to criticism. And yet it remains very difficult to both give and receive criticism.
The criticism we need can come from anywhere, including from ourselves if we have a strong sense of self-awareness, but often the most effective criticism comes from someone close to us who we trust to help us grow. We might call this person a coach, but in many ways they are just someone we let criticize us without all the uncomfortableness we feel when others do it.
Managers are in a good position to have this relationship with employees and get them the criticism they need, yet managers don’t always deliver criticism well. When it is done well criticism can strengthen relationships and drive the achievement of mutual goals, but it can also be toxic to a relationship if done poorly.
According to Deborah Bright, author of The Truth Doesn’t Have To Hurt: How To Use Criticism To Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance and Promote Change, there are ways managers can position criticism so that their employees are more likely to perceive it as well intentioned and helpful and therefore be more willing to act on it. Positioning it so that the manager is more a coach and less a critic.
Here are four tips from Deborah that you can take into your next performance review-
Good criticism should be valuable for the person receiving it. If you are simply volunteering that you don’t like how the other person does something you have simply voiced your disapproval without giving them anything to work with. They are left with the stress of being wrong and abandoned in the moment when they need to find the answer for how to improve. Try focusing on specific solutions to the issue you identified and engage your employees around finding a solution as well.
It is important to not assume everyone is driven by the same things that motivate you. Some people might be receptive to criticism framed in terms of the impact on the organization, “when you use that language with customers it drives them away.” While others might be more driven by how they are perceived by colleagues, “Some of your colleagues feel like your language with customers is driving them away.” Understand what angle will resonate most and employees will be more receptive.
Keep your tone matter-of-fact, your face relaxed, and your body language neutral. Criticism should be a part of doing business, not a reminder of childhood reprimands. Trust that your employees want to be better and either don’t know how or are trying and failing to improve. If your conversation is about why a change is important and how they can get there, there won’t be anything to even get emotional about.
Even the best delivered criticism is not easy to receive. Respect that employees have to put effort into taking criticism well and that different employees will have different preferences for where, when and how they receive criticism. Even your most open employees will probably not take criticism well on “bring your daughter to work day,” some employees might prefer feedback on a moment to moment basis, like right after a weekly presentation while others will prefer a summarized version of the feedback less often.
Remember that the goal of giving criticism is not to simply make your disapproval known, but to help drive change in the right direction. We want to drive learning cycles with feedback, change and more feedback. Remember some of these guidelines and employees will be much more likely to receive and act on your feedback well.
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?
Performance reviews can be a source of frustration for many in the business world. If you're a part of the group of people bogged down by a dysfunctional review process, take comfort. This is a great time for a fresh start.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for advice, you may be in for a shock. Every day on the Internet, for each article written with ideas for solutions, there are another five dedicated to the problem itself. You may have seen some version of the standards such as "Why Your Employees Hate Performance Evaluations," "6 Reasons to Stop Your Employee Reviews," "This Is Why Your Employee Appraisals Are Broken," and on and on.
Unless you're one of the few trailblazing companies trying to live without reviews, these articles can be a drag. By mostly focusing on the problem, they don't help you much with plotting out potential solutions.
Let's change that. To help make 2015 your year to get your review process back on track, we scoured the Internet for everything you need to run a productive, insightful review cycle. If you have any additional articles or resources that have been helpful for you when revamping your process, share them in the comments.
Smart Performance Review Processes
Performance Evaluation Tips (Drexel University): A useful foundation for creating any performance review process from soup to nuts.
The Big Benefits of Remaking Performance Reviews (Derek Irvine, TLNT): Irvine offers a case study on the successful performance review overhaul at Adobe.
Applying Psychology 101 to Performance Reviews (Jon Malpass, PerformYard): Performance reviews work best when they are tailored to how we best learn desired behaviors, and receive feedback.
A Better Approach to Performance Reviews (Souvik Choudhury, Forbes): A somewhat contrarian approach to performance reviews that focuses on building up employee's strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.
The Top 5 Pain Points in Performance Reviews and Their Solutions (Morgan Norman, TLNT): Solutions to common performance review problems that can help you avoid some major snags.
Fixing the Annual Performance Review (Paul Hebert, fistful of talent): A strong argument for combining regular, brief performance check-ins along with your longer term review cycle.
Delivering an Effective Performance Review (Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review): Detailed guidance for managers preparing to deliver performance feedback.
6 Tricks for Better Performance Reviews (Kathryn Minshew, Inc): Six strategies to add value to your regular performance review meetings told through the perspective of a new hire's first review.
Ditch Performance Reviews? How About Learn to Do Them Well? (Sytch & DeRue, HBR): These two authors suggest a number of tips for delivering feedback supported by scientific research and their own field research.
"Everyone is Above Average!" or Why Your Performance Ratings Need Work (Ben Hastings, PerformYard): Avoid the trap of rating too many of your employees as above average by calibrating your performance ratings to accurately reflect exceptional performers.
Better Performance Reviews in 140 Characters (Tim Sackett, fistful of talent): Examples of concise performance feedback for several categories of employees.
Get Comfortable With Giving Negative Feedback (John Scott, PerformYard): Performance reviews lose value when managers sugarcoat or avoid giving negative feedback. Use these tips to deliver effective constructive criticism.
5 Ways to Make Employee Recognition Mean Something (Kevin Daum, Inc): Reward your most accomplished employees, and drive others to high performance with these strategies.
Performance Review Form Template (Entrepreneur)
Writing Self Assessments (Chad Brooks, Business News Daily): This article includes great tips on writing an effective self assessment, and includes a number of templates for self assessment forms.
Job Descriptions (BLR.Com): Examples of several different job descriptions.
Long ago, I received an especially confusing piece of negative feedback:
“Remember three or four months ago at that event? You did something wrong. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I remember that it wasn’t good.”
I was baffled and didn’t gain much from the conversation.
What I did learn was that getting comfortable with giving effective negative feedback can be a challenge for managers, new and old alike.
Often, the main hurdle is a concern about discouraging or demotivating your employee. To combat this initial concern, put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to be told you were doing something wrong, or would you rather keep doing it?
Still, constructive criticism needs to be thoughtful to avoid negative consequences, but it’s important to remember that you work with adults that can take constructive criticism and use it to grow. As long as you trust that you are hiring mature professionals, you can safely brush this concern aside.
Beyond the fear of derailing an employee's progress, delivering negative feedback is much like delivering any other message. Ideally, it should be a part of a calm conversation. Your message should be timely, specific and direct. Finally, you should follow up to confirm the message was received.
The quickest way to lose credibility with criticism is to deliver it in a loud and angry way. If you’re yelling, the person getting yelling at is likely to lose the message and tune you out. On the other hand, talking with calm confidence projects that you’re being thoughtful, which is much easier to receive and understand. Practicing what you are going to say in advance can also help you deliver the message confidently.
Further, you might find that an angry reaction to a behavior is driven by speculation about what might have caused your employee to act a certain way. Did they come to a meeting unprepared because they don’t respect you? Did they miss a deadline because they don’t care about their work?
Ultimately, it’s hard to predict the causes behind a poor performance, and typically the real reason is never as bad what you imagined it to be. Unless you’ve been burned by the employee before, it’s often more beneficial to start a conversation with your employee about what went wrong, and offer advice on how to overcome the problems in the future.
First and foremost, the feedback needs to be timed as closely to the behavior as possible while the event is fresh in everyone’s mind. This ensures that your employee best understands what they did wrong.
Next, get to the point. A good rule of thumb is to get right into the issue in the first sentence of your conversation, “I want to talk to you about…” Don’t confuse your message by mixing it with initial words of encouragement. Focus on the behavior and try to get to the root of the problem.
For example, “I want to talk to you about being prepared for a client meeting. At this morning’s meeting, you didn’t come prepared and had trouble fielding questions and sorting through your notes. What do you think held you back from putting your best foot forward this time?”
This highlights the issue, adds detail with specific behaviors, and opens up the discussion with a question to gets them involved in working on a solution. Once the conversation has started, focus on providing actionable advice – what can they do differently in the future to get better?
The most important result of your conversation is to ensure that your employee understood your criticism and the next steps. To this end, you might ask them to restate the next steps at the conclusion of the meeting. You might also want to send a follow up email outlining the discussion.
Afterwards, make a note to check in a couple weeks down the road to see how things are going. Since professional growth is an ongoing process, additional guidance or kudos may be useful to further drive home the point.
With some practice, giving constructive criticism doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. In fact, it’s a vital part of being a manager of a high performing team. What are your tips for delivering effective negative feedback?
Meetings get a bad rap, and the arguments against them are well known:
For these reasons and many more, people avoid setting meetings like the plague, and regularly scheduled meetings can fall by the wayside.
One casualty of the drive against meetings is the regular performance check-in. As a result, annual reviews can be poorly informed, employees can feel distant and not cared for by their managers and overall performance can lag.
However, I say that it isn’t meetings that are the problem. It’s the execution. In the case of a regular performance discussion, a good mix of structure and focus on the right details can yield positive results.
An employee check-in is only useful if everyone involved is getting something out of it. Since, in general, you gain more from getting someone else’s input than by hearing yourself talk, the most productive check-in should feel like a conversation.
The key to generating a conversation is to ask questions that require detailed answers, such as “What was your reasoning behind…” or “Tell me what interested you the most about…” Most importantly, always try to have a follow up question ready. Going a level deeper will help you gain the less obvious insights from how your direct report is performing. Ultimately, when useful, accurate information is shared in both directions, good things happen.
A common reason meetings can be frustrating is when you leave not feeling like you’ve accomplished anything, which can lead to trying to make a standing meeting longer or bringing in more people. While these quick fixes might seem logical, they often exacerbate the problem.
Instead of trying to achieve everything you can out of a weekly check-in, focus on discussing one or two things from the previous week. If you have a weekly status report, spend time discussing that. By increasing the probability that you complete what you hope to achieve, you’re more likely to leave a meeting feeling fulfilled, and those are the kinds of meetings that stay on a weekly schedule.
Often the focus of a check-in meeting is to create at least one action item that your direct report can work on over the next week. However, knowing that the primary purpose of a meeting is to give you something to work on can be terribly discouraging, especially when your plate is already full.
When you’re working hard, one of the most encouraging things can be just one tidbit of validation that your work is helping your company. By rewarding your direct report with positive feedback in each meeting, you’re giving them a reason to look forward to and participate in your weekly status meeting. When done right, this sincere reinforcement is an important part of a high performance culture, and can even help with employee retention.
By including these elements, regular performance check-ins can be productive both for you and your direct reports. What changes have you made to your regular check-ins to make them more effective?
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?
The carrot or the stick. Teaching a behavior is often a combination of feedback that rewards desired actions and punishes undesired outcomes. While this is an easy concept to understand, not all reinforcement is effectively delivered.
This is especially true in the workplace where recognizing a job well done is an important part of a high performance culture. Not only does it boost morale, it also helps define the behaviors and outcomes that your company values. However, if it isn’t done right or with the right frequency, your positive feedback might not be making an impact.
Next time you get the opportunity to reward a high-flying employee, remember these five characteristics of good positive feedback:
Be Timely: The most important aspect of giving positive reinforcement is that is it is delivered shortly after the action. As time passes, not only will it be harder to recall the details of the success, you will have missed the opportunity to allow your employee to reflect on their hard work.
Even if you are planning a more formal recognition, it is still important to follow up within at least a day or two with an appreciative note.
Be Honest: Rewarding the right employees for work that they actually did is important for your credibility and also for team morale. Giving too much credit to an employee on false grounds can lead to unintended consequences by showing that you value dishonesty over teamwork.
This may take some investigating, so be sure that your mid-level managers are on board and understand the importance of giving honest feedback.
Be Meaningful: Make sure to set a high enough threshold that employees and teams have to stretch to earn recognition. Rewarding a mediocre employee performance devalues the high performers on your team.
Additionally, sincere delivery of a reward for great work shows how much you appreciate exceptional effort. In some cases, a thoughtful, appreciative note can be just as effective and appreciated as a small gift.
Be Detailed: Make sure that your hard worker doesn’t lose the lesson when you feed them praise. Adding in specific details on the work they did and why their behavior was outstanding will help them repeat their performance in the future.
Be Attentive: It can be easy to overlook the quiet performers on your team. However, finding the diamond performances in the rough shows that you have a finger on the pulse of your company. Additionally, demonstrating that popularity isn’t a factor in rewarding a job well done will help better convey how you define exceptional performance.
Developing a talent for providing good positive feedback is an important part of growing a high performance culture at any organization. How do you handle recognizing your top performers?
While it seems like many people are moving away from annual reviews and toward an ongoing performance management culture, there’s no disputing that the annual review is still happening. And that’s not a bad thing… unless you’re struggling to really do good reviews of your team. Here are three song titles that describe major pitfalls in the annual review – think of this as “what not to do” when giving reviews, and perhaps the tune will stick in your head when you're doing your next one.
Depending on how frequently performance reviews are done (or infrequent as the case may be), it’s tough not to fall into the trap of only highlighting or remembering what the employee did most recently. This is especially true for annual or semi-annual reviews – you put pen to paper and end up remembering just the most recent things, good or bad, and that recent impression ends up coloring the entire review.
Yes, I realize it’s hard to remember the whole year (or whatever time period you’re covering)… that’s certainly natural. You’re going to end up focusing on recent events. But you should probably also take the time (if you’re not continually doing it) to go through the whole year – making notes on good performance and coachable events, and then bringing those up.
Sometimes what’s done most recently might be more indicative of your expectations of what’s to come. Say you had an employee start off the year poorly, but through solid coaching and perhaps some changes in job responsibility, that person is really picking up steam. Yes, highlight those changes for the better, and focus on the direction they’re going as a means to encourage future performance. But don’t pretend that it’s always been rosy, and unless you’ve documented those coaching discussions and the turnaround story as it happened, you probably still need to use the annual review to capture the full essence of the year.
Sometimes performance reviews and conversations can be difficult. I get that, but they have a purpose, and an important one at that. So they require honesty. OK, perhaps not brutal, no holds barred, scream it from the top of your lungs honesty. Honesty with tactful delivery.
But have you ever found yourself trying to bookend some “constructive criticism” with compliments? You may have something negative to communicate to someone, so you sugarcoat it, make it easier to swallow. Downplay the meaning. But what sometimes happens here? Your message is lost. All the fluff you’ve decided to put around it means that the real focus – improving performance – gets covered up.
A good performance review needs to encompass both the good and the bad, with appropriate emphasis depending on what really happened. Now that doesn’t mean you need to dwell on things, but you shouldn’t try to skip past the bad stuff and focus on only the good, because you won’t end up doing yourself or the employee any favors. If there are opportunities for improvement, then discuss them with a clear understanding of what happened and what can be done.
In my mind, the cardinal sin of a performance review is actually no performance review. Why? At least the poorly executed one meant that something happened – someone took some time to write down something and have a conversation related to the employee’s performance. It might not be the best review, but it’s better than radio silence.
I don’t think you could signal something worse to an employee than to not do a review. Unless you’re having regular (and I mean really regular) performance discussions that truly supersede the need for a review, the lack of a review might tell an employee that they’re not worth your time and effort, or that you just don’t care. Not a good sign.
This also extends to late reviews… where you’ve made a promise (implicit or explicit) to do a review, only to push it off or “forget” to do it. Has an employee asked for a review or checked in on when they might get a review? If so, you’re probably already late on providing necessary feedback.
I get that sometimes timing is difficult. Something comes up once? Excusable. But to keep moving it or never reschedule? That says that the employee and their performance is less of a priority than many other things. You really can’t find or make time for a review?
Has any of this happened to you? Can you describe your last performance review with a song title?
I was reading an interesting debate in a LinkedIn group about when to do employee reviews – on the employee’s anniversary of employment or annually. OK, if you’re like me, you first realize that technically the anniversary is annually, but the original questioner was actually suggesting that annual meant at the same time every year for every employee. I’ve been at companies where both have been done, and even one that did a combo process that had an anniversary component and annual component.
The answers were pretty interesting for managing performance, especially since it wasn’t a poll, per se, where people would pick one or the other, but an open ended question. So you ended up with lots of opinions that didn’t directly answer the question. But overall the stream of comments was insightful for anyone managing employees and determining corporate review policies.
There were certainly a majority of opinions that pushed toward annually, reviewing each employee at the same time every year. There are definitely benefits for that, like the ability to coordinate reviews with the company’s overall performance. This cycle also allows for more even comparisons across employees at the same level or in the same position, since everyone is being reviewed at the same time. Consistency can be your friend here.
But having been in that process myself on both sides of the table, the main difficulty with an annual process can be the volume of reviews. Trying to do strong, individualized reviews of multiple employees at the exact same time can be difficult, especially trying to fit evaluations and performance discussions into the rhythm of a busy job with other tasks that don’t stop just because it’s review time.
A few opinions pushed for the anniversary review, with the pro-anniversary reasons matching nicely to the anti-annual camp, and vice versa. The main benefit was the ability to devote more attention to each review since there aren’t as many to be done at the same time, with the con that your reviews don’t necessarily tie well to the company’s performance cycle. How can you effectively tie individual contribution to corporate performance when they’re on different cycles? The other issue here was the potential for these reviews to be impacted by most recent events… sure, that can happen with annual reviews too, where someone who does something great in the last month before reviews seems to have atoned for failures in the rest of the year. Commenters seemed to think this problem was worse on the anniversary reviews, perhaps because you don’t have the same mindset of the annual review with multiple reviews.
But sometimes, especially in a busy environment, employees find that these anniversary reviews are late or forgotten, because they’re not tied to a clear schedule that everyone is following. It’s hard to ensure that the review really happens on time, since it likely doesn't have the same sense of urgency or deadline. I think that’s a problem easily solved with the right tools, but one that happens nonetheless, since the review becomes a backburner item.
The more interesting part of the whole thread came in the comments about reviews in general. Some of these views were pretty blunt, calling for the death of the performance review and suggesting that you’re already failing at managing employees if you’re only reviewing them once a year, no matter the cycle. There’s definitely merit in that employees need feedback more consistently than once a year. I don’t think that was the intent of the original question – many people still think there’s a place for a formal, recurring review of some sort, even when you’re doing the best job possible giving formal and informal feedback throughout the year.
My own views seem to fit into that camp to some extent, though I think there are benefits to ensuring that at least one well-documented retrospective review occurs at least annually. Managers should be able providing ongoing feedback, every day, week, month and quarter, not just year. If you’re not on top of performance regularly, your yearly review itself is not going to make much of an impact, to the detriment of the employee and the organization as a whole.
So how do you do reviews?