Change Management

Is It Time to Ditch Traditional Employee Performance Reviews?

Carrie Luxem

Performance reviews. They either send your team running for the hills or... Well, that's probably about it. Employees look forward to performance reviews just about as much as a triple root canal and managers tend to view them as yet another burdensome task HR has forced upon them.

This post is aimed at

Anyone who is having doubts about the effectiveness of traditional performance reviews.

After reading you will

You'll have a better understanding of the negative impact they can possibly have and how to veer away from them.

While that has never been the intention of these sessions, it's what the reality has become for many. And considering even Jack Welch used the term "rank and yank" in reference to performance reviews, it's no wonder these can be negatively-viewed and anxiety-ridden events.

So maybe it's time to ditch the traditional performance review and implement a more modern take. Here's where they can fall short and what you can do to break away and move forward.

The Negatives

Perform an impromptu survey of employees and managers and you'll quickly have a handful of reasons why performance reviews are viewed in such a negative light. The issues can run deep, but here are just a few that barely scratch the surface:

They can spend too much time in the past

Many employers only conduct reviews annually. So in just a one-hour meeting (or less), the manager has to cover a year's worth of employee performance plus cite specific examples, provide short- and long-term goals, offer resources, etc. It's a lot of ground to cover in a short time.

And the real clincher here is that managers can fall into the trap of looking too heavily at past behaviour — and often honing in unnecessarily on negative behaviour to boot. If a manager is on top of things though, the reality is that both negative and positive behaviours should have already been dealt with or acknowledged in the moment they occurred so a deep rehashing during the review can be superfluous.

They often aren't a two-way street

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a big, big proponent of all sides having the chance to provide input and feedback. And that goes for performance reviews too. Sometimes employers can get so stuck on completing all of the objectives for each review and checking off each task or box that they can completely shut out any input from the employee.

Employee feedback should be a crucial and necessary component. If you don't have the time or make time to solicit that feedback, then you're not going to gain much buy-in from the employee.

They may damage morale

The culmination of each performance review often ends with a "rating." When you reduce your employees to a rating, something as impersonal as "good" or "satisfactory" or a "3 out of 5," you're sending the wrong message. You're telling your team that all of their efforts — the hours of time and energy they put in — have been reduced to a single solitary number or generic phrase. And unless you're a manager who can rally and unify their crew even when delivering tough news, this setup can lead to you unintentionally, sparking even more demoralisation and hindering teamwork and creativity in the process.

A Better Alternative

Your employees crave and deserve regular feedback about their performance. What they don't want is for it to be a stressful event that doesn't garner any tangible and lasting benefits. And if the Millennial workforce has taught us anything, it's that being flexible and adapting our managerial style can net huge gains.

So if revamping your entire review process seems overwhelming, start by focusing on the following four things:

  1. Forego any type of rating system ASAP.

  2. Upon hire, sit down with each employee and establish customised and relevant short- and long-term goals.

  3. Then instead of having just one annual review, touch base with each employee on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. For these to be effective, you'll need to rely heavily on your communication skills here and keep these conversations light, but focused, positive, and action-oriented. Go over the recent wins you've witnessed and tie that in with how that behaviour has impacted the team and their personal goal progression. Discuss any other behaviours and actions that may inch them even closer to the finish line and use this time to adjust goals as needed too.

  4. Have a more in-depth performance conversation each quarter.

One Last Point

It's important to note that rigidity in this process can undo all of your efforts to transform from a performance review to a performance conversation dynamic. Because each employee may have different goals and require a range of goal timeliness— and let's not forgot the mix of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses — you may need to touch base with each one at various frequencies. One employee may benefit from weekly check-ins while another may do well with only monthly chats.

If you have only one goal to set for yourself, let it be this: Treat each employee as the unique and valued person they are and focus on creating an open and ongoing dialogue with them. Do this and you'll be way ahead of the curve.

How do you conduct your performance reviews? What steps have you taken to modernise them?