Using Google Docs for performance reviews: Pros and cons

For years now, the HR industry has bemoaned the difficulty of running annual performance reviews, and there are many reasons why: from managers taking too much time out of their day job, to breeding toxic and competitive work environments. But another lesser mentioned one, is relying on outdated methods that just aren’t adapted to the contemporary workforce.

Google Docs is one of the many online tools any Google account-holder can access, and one of the most widely used for collaborative document editing. As a result, at some point in the performance management process, many growing HR teams have considered adopting Google Docs to support their efforts, as an alternative to a purpose-built platform.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at the tools used to complete performance reviews, and the impact this has on their efficiency.

The pros of using Google Docs for performance reviews

Easy to collaborate

As a program specifically designed with collaboration in mind, Google Docs makes sharing and editing documents with multiple users super simple. With a single link, anyone in your organization can work on the same document, and you can even assign tasks within the document itself using comments to call out specific people’s attention.

With your document living in one place, you won’t run the risk of multiple versions being created or getting lost as you share it across your organization. Creating reviews in the cloud can help HR teams get the input and sign-off needed without having to manage 10 different versions through email.

Integrations

If your team uses multiple tools to manage performance, integrations are essential to help you save time during your workflow. Many popular platforms today offer some form of integration with Google Drive, which is an advantage for your HR team. For example, if your team works in Slack, you can enable the Google Drive integration and get notified of any edits or activity in your performance review.

Free to use

Anyone with a Google account has free access to the Google Drive, which includes docs, sheets, and slides. Since it’s a cloud-based program, your team won’t have to worry about complicated set-up, getting purchasing approval, or keeping up with updates!

But while Google Docs is a powerful and easily accessible tool for editing documents, organizations that use it for performance reviews start to experience its shortcomings as they start to grow.

The cons of running performance reviews in Google Docs

Difficult to scale

Once you start working with a large volume of reviews, Google docs lacks essential features that enables your team to work efficiently. Those include:

Batch document sharing

Using Google Docs becomes a very manual process at scale (as the team at DoorDash learned the hard way). Your team will need to set the sharing and accessibility settings for each document and you’ll need to keep track of these settings so your team can make changes in the event somebody new is hired, changes their role, or leaves your organization. With multiple reviews to manage and specific requirements for each one, you will be spending a lot of time researching who should be able to view each document and managing accessibility settings. On top of this, you can't automate notifications to remind people to complete their reviews by the designated date, so you may spend a lot of time chasing people to ensure completion.

Review scheduling

No ability to schedule documents to go out automatically. This means you have to send all the emails and reminders yourself, and keep track of all the timelines in your calendar.

Automatic reporting

Google Docs was not built to “crunch the numbers” on the input provided in your reviews. That means 100% of the reporting burden falls to you and your team. When the time comes, your team will need to collect the data from each review, decide what’s most relevant, and then build a report from scratch. Meanwhile, your people aren’t receiving their feedback in time.

Can’t track participation

It’s difficult to drive high participation and completion rates for your reviews when you can’t track them on a macro level. An overview of participation is essential for your team to effectively prioritize communication built to drive completion rates.

Your HR team can dive into each document and see who has viewed it and made edits, but won’t be able to tell the difference between Draft and Final without communication. That means it’s up to managers and your team to chase individuals to complete their reviews.

Tracking how and when your people complete reviews can also come in handy for the next time you need to run them, as these insights enable you to adapt your strategy with your people’s habits and behavior in mind.

Lack of control over the review experience

It’s no secret that most people can’t stand performance reviews, making the ability to control the experience more important than ever. If you’re running reviews with Google Docs, you will be limited to its functionality as a document editor. It will be effective for drawn-out, written responses, but you will be unable to ask for other types of input.

Questions that don’t take long to complete, and make it easier for you to evaluate such as drop-down questions, or ratings aren’t possible in Google Docs. The lack of mechanics (such as field validation) mean individuals may have to fill out their reviews multiple times.

The lack of formatting options also severely limits how much you can control the format and function of your review. This is especially problematic if you want to measure more than just performance and shift your strategy towards people enablement.

Is Google Docs for me?

As we’ve established, it’s a widely popular tool, and can be effective at what it does in the beginning. After analyzing the pros and cons of this tool, Google Docs can work for HR teams when used as a rudimentary tool for performance reviews — especially when used alongside other platforms that can make up for its weaknesses.

There is no doubt, however, that you will begin experiencing challenges as you show any signs of growth if you rely completely on Google Docs. After all, it’s not meant to be a performance management tool!

Putting it into practice

DoorDash found themselves in this position and decided to make the move away from Google Docs to a People Enablement Platform that supported them to build the processes they needed to scale. As one of the fastest growing companies in the world, it's safe to say they made the right decision in the end. Watch how they set the company up to scale using Impraise below, or explore the full story here.

How DoorDash scaled 4 x faster than competitors

Prior to Impraise we had 8,000 different Google Docs to go through every review cycle. None of our teams liked it and it was a huge administrative burden. With Impraise our bi-annual reviews are lighter, less scary, and more helpful.
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Lianne Hajduch
HR Business Partner
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