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The Dreaded Performance Review

Why, when you say it’s performance review time, do you get so much resistance? Typically managers cringe and employees groan. Increasingly, today’s HR professionals are expected to bring forth initiatives that engage employees and drive performance.   Maybe it’s time for “out with the old and in with the new.” Think of your current performance review program; what is the ROI? Is it based around capturing a year’s worth of accomplishments on a few pages? Is the feedback a good representation of the employee’s performance? Is it balanced and was the employee in agreement? How time consuming is the whole process and where is the focus? Is it on closing the performance gaps and developing new skills or it is more about completing the paperwork? Often these ratings drive the merit system and when deadlines are tight, a rating goes in and then the review is written. Now the review has to be written to the rating instead of to the employee’s accomplishments and developmental areas. I won’t even mention the impact of forced bell curves on the performance review program. That’s where we HR pros cringe!

How many times have you had to step in when an employee is upset with their review and surprise feedback that has been saved for the better part of year? As a consultant, I talk to many employees in a variety of industries and I’ve yet to hear: “I look forward to my annual performance review”.

As a manager writing reviews, I too suffered with tight deadlines, too much paperwork and diligently trying to get through the process while providing constructive feedback. Having been an integral part of performance management systems for organizations over the past 25 years, my belief is that the focus needs to shift more on the conversation and less about filling in forms. With early systems it was typically a one way discussion where managers provided feedback and informed employees what their rating was. Most organizations have since adopted a two way feedback system where the employee gives some input, the manager gives some input, and then the discussion focuses on the gaps between the two perceptions. Often these gaps generated an employee development plan, which gets dusted off as the next performance review approaches and employees check to see if they have accomplished the things they committed to doing. While this is a step in the right direction, a more ongoing approach should be developed.

What I suggest is a move to a more of regular coaching style of performance review. This would include short meetings that focus on current accomplishments and development areas. This type of approach is much more engaging and the feedback I have gathered so far is that the experience is more positive and constructive for both employees and managers. A one page form will keep the conversation on track, and is usually sufficient to provide a record of the meeting.   If there are goals or targets, capture these at the start of the document along with current accomplishments, providing a starting point for discussion.

Managers can use a balanced approach to provide coaching and constructive feedback that affords the employee the opportunity to improve or develop new skills long before the year end rating.   Focusing on a few things at a time allows for skills mastery and development activities to be completed faster with new goals set throughout the year. While employees drive the conversation during these coaching sessions and get what they need, managers can also use the time to constructively push development in the right direction. Where ratings are required, the summary of all conversations and the progress made drives the rating. Generally the first session runs around 30 minutes, but subsequent sessions can be done in 15 – 20 minutes.   To get started, managers can ask questions around what employees enjoy doing at work, what areas they would like to grow in, how they would like to contribute to the success of the organization, what’s not working and what suggestions do they have to improve it.

For some managers to adopt this interactive coaching style they may need additional support to provide ongoing constructive feedback but the investment is worth it. It is my opinion, after conducting and facilitating the annual performance review process for many organizations it’s time for a change to a process that is more frequent, focuses more on the conversation. Providing employee ongoing constructive feedback avoids performance review surprises and allows the opportunity to close development gaps throughout the year. This process is more geared towards engaging employees and driving performance.

Aileen Turnbull is a Director of HR Services with Verus Recruiting Consultants, where she works with organizations to develop and align people strategies that drive business results.

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