By: Rachel Heisterkamp
Traditional employee performance reviews need work. On a qualitative or anecdotal level, they’re often dreaded by employees, and can be the source of anxiety or negative morale. However, even when we look at the data – in a Deloitte study, 58% of managers stated that traditional performance reviews did not serve their purpose – it’s clear that something’s not working with traditional review practices. But this doesn’t mean the goal of performance management isn’t important: employees should feel as though the quality of their work matters, and that they’re making an impact on the mission of the organization. Defining a process and developing best practices around employee performance, however, are where it gets tricky and hard to navigate.
If you’re looking to update and improve the performance review process at your organization, follow these five steps to get started:
Step 1: Use modern, engaging performance communications
The best way to reach and engage employees with your organization’s performance process is to meet them where they already are with the message you need to deliver. Want to communicate a performance review timeline, share resources, or send push reminders to your workforce? A comprehensive communications platform can help – in particular, functionality that allows you to segment and deliver content by employee group, across multiple channels, so you can always use the strongest possible method to reach employees in the right place, at the right time.
And, keep in mind, employees’ expectations for messaging, content, and media has only become steeper over time in this environment of digital content overload. Traditional feedback and performance cycles are sparse and inefficient, and analog spreadsheets or worksheets won’t have the same effect as interesting, bite-sized content aimed to guide employees through a communication journey. The impact of your performance process rests on the strength of your communications.
Step 2: Align people managers with organizational messaging
Traditional performance management programs are often made even worse with misalignment and low usage, even coming from the people managers using the programs. When performance management is simply a box to check – rather than a mechanism for boosting the performance of all individuals in the organization – the engagement and impact unsurprisingly declines. When employees aren’t actively invested in their own professional development and performance, the gap widens between their role and the goals of your organization. People managers are the strongest players in the growth and performance of your workforce – consider branding or enhancing the excitement around your company-wide performance program, then make sure people managers have the resources and information they need to distribute and promote company performance goals to their teams.
Step 3: Help set employee goals… and follow up regularly
Consistent goal setting is the heart of any performance process; it’s the best way for employees to designate their own targets and reflect on what’s most important to their own professional development. It’s also the perfect opportunity to draw connections between employees’ tasks and the broader, larger objectives of the company. Using a process like the SMART framework for goal setting is also helpful to make these objectives as specific and tactical as possible, with little or no room for ambiguity.
However, setting goals is only half the challenge. Managers should follow up regularly to check in on performance goal progress – after all, setting a goal and meeting are two different things. Implementing simple steps, such as a 90-day check-in after a goal-setting meeting, or devoted time in regular one-on-ones to discuss goal progress. It’s critical that people managers are empathetic to employees’ workloads and tasks, and understand that performance goal progress isn’t always linear.
Step 4: Empower people managers to lead these conversations
Oftentimes, managers simply fail to provide useful feedback to employees; either from a lack of insight into employee performance, or a lack of understanding about how to give feedback properly. Support your people managers with guidelines around how often to check in, how best to strike the right tone with employees when talking about performance, and how to solicit peer feedback for multiple sources of performance information. Think about how to make great performance management as easy and simple as possible for your people leaders: provide them with email and conversation templates, or leverage technology to automate reminders and messaging at key moments in the employee performance process.
Step 5: Provide clear potential career paths for your top performing employee
Finally, people managers should keep an eye on the ultimate outcomes and intent of performance reviews: progress and productivity. A big source of potential anxiety and discomfort for employees around performance reviews has to do with compensation, promotions, and long-term implications. When managers stay a step ahead of these concerns, and come prepared with multiple options to discuss career paths and next steps, employees come away feeling more grounded and focused on their career goals and trajectory. Then, leverage resources and communications to demonstrate how employees are contributing to organizational success, and ensure they know what training and support are available.
Particularly in cases of star performers – employees who consistently go above and beyond – performance reviews are the perfect opportunity to expand an employee’s career and discuss the company’s growth strategy. How best can you align a top performer’s interests and strengths with the vision of the organization? Is there room to create or develop a new role? These are exciting moments, and they require the collaboration and participation of the employee directly.