Performance reviews (or appraisals) have had a lot of bad press over the years – often because they’re underutilized and done poorly as an afterthought by a lot of managers. As described by a former product lead at Airbnb – ”Done well, performance reviews improve performance, align expectations and accelerate your people’s career. Done poorly, they accelerate their departure.”
The truth is, there is a lot to gain from performance appraisals if set up to align with the needs of your people and people understand how to provide constructive feedback. Most HR teams re-evaluating their review processes today, are doing so with the goal of moving towards a more continuous approach. The idea is to track progress against objectives and offer more regular moments for conversations throughout the year (with check-ins or 1:1s) – rather than saving it all up for one (often heavyweight) review each year.
While aligned goals and regular feedback is great for keeping people on track, the performance review is still a powerful tool for people to take a step back to reflect on the bigger picture and where they’re heading professionally. This is especially effective if feedback and progress is being stored in the form of goals set, 360 feedback, check-in or 1:1 topics discussed throughout the year, and other feedback from peers – as it can remove a lot of the headache of traditional reviews, and provide a more subjective basis for discussion. Even with these being captured, you should also include a self-assessment and 360 feedback into your appraisals to help form a full picture of performance.
All of the above allows your managers and their reports to focus instead on reviewing performance together, and looking forward to how they can work to improve throughout the next review cycle – rather than spending half the time (and most of their energy) painfully straining to remember what happened 9 months prior. With everything stored in one place, you are already setting them up for a much more productive conversation – no matter how often you run reviews.
A lot of teams are still using tools like Google Docs or Sheets to gather feedback, which is time consuming and frustrating for managers and your team to coordinate. More importantly for HR teams looking to level up though, you are extremely limited in the analytics available to track or review progress over time. If you want to move closer to the Stage 3 goal of becoming a strategic business partner, you need to be tracking progress over time in order to know what is working and what isn’t. This will allow you to begin identifying trends and suggest new initiatives using data, rather than just guessing or using anecdotal evidence for decision making.
Finally, how regularly you should be running reviews? Of course, traditionally reviews were held once a year, but as you move into Stage 2 and you’re beginning to support more regular conversations through check-ins and 1:1s (covered in more detail later in this article), then you should be looking to doing them more often throughout the year.
These should be used more to get a lightweight snapshot of performance and development, to assess if things are on track, or if support is needed in order to achieve their goals. This should only be considered when your teams have truly adopted a continuous feedback culture.
Dividing your year into one lightweight mid-year assessment and one at the end, means you have an opportunity to show progress – particularly if you use ratings against competencies – and to check in to realign on bigger picture performance.
Most people are familiar with this approach, which amounts to a more in-depth and formal process, which takes longer to prepare for and to complete for almost everyone involved.
We recommend teams in this stage run bi-annual reviews, as it relieves a lot of pressure from the end-of-year, and introduces more opportunity for realignment if not everyone has adopted the regular 1:1 or check-in conversations. If you’re not already using a purpose built reviews platform, then we highly recommend implementing one before increasing your cadence using manual tools like Sheets or Docs.
Finally, unless there seasonal variations for your business to consider, we often recommend running the first cycle in Q2, followed by the second cycle in Q4 for a year-end review, so they follow your goal-setting moments described above.
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