Are performance reviews a necessary evil?
Or necessary at all?
None of the above, actually!
Granted, a bad performance review can cause a number of issues. Employees frequently report workplace bias, unfairness, and retaliation, in addition to the general uselessness of performance reviews. Managers who fail to put some work and thought behind their performance reviews risk creating a toxic workplace atmosphere, employee burnout, and large-scale resignations.
Luckily, all of these issues can be avoided by following a couple of simple rules, and it pays off to stick to them, big time. A well-made performance review can:
- Discover and remove blockers, making staff work more efficiently.
- Prevent potential conflicts from arising or mending existing ones.
- Align the company goals and employees’ career aspirations, making them engaged and invested.
Today, we’ll help you achieve this success and let you in on performance reviews 101: the essential tips to stick to each time, which guarantee your performance reviews will be useful and appreciated.
#1 Always Consider Context!
Collecting information and reviews is the easy part — putting everything into the right perspective is the real challenge.
Having extensive performance and productivity data is a must, but it’s not enough to come to the right conclusions. It answers the question “What was done?”, but you’re going to need different kinds of information to paint the full picture.
Cue the 5 W's (adapted into 5 W’s + How), the essential questions you need to ask to gather complete information on any subject:
The 5 W concept dates all the way back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, then known as Elements of Circumstance (or Septem Circumstantiae).
Adding ‘how’ to Aristotle’s foundational concept expands the level of detail you’ll gain access to. Simply, if asking “how” is good enough for investigative journalism and police investigations, it’s sure great for performance reviews too! This research method endured the test of time thanks to its comprehensiveness.
The answers to these questions are all you need to put all information into context. There’s a reason behind every behavior, every late task, success, or failure. Without finding out the causes, you can only treat the consequences. But by knowing the root causes, prevention is much easier.
There are several ways to collect these answers easily:
- Regular team check-ups — While the tasks are still hot and WIP, meet with your team members once a week for a briefing session. For no longer than half an hour, discuss what they’ve been doing for the past couple of days, check their progress, and resolve the issues as they appear.
- Use software to track employees’ work — Monitoring work performance works great to show employees’ work cadence, which apps and websites they use, and what can be done to enhance their overall productivity.
- Ask better questions — If you’re using 360-degree feedback as a part of your research, make it make sense. Ask for specific examples, tie your questions to specific situations, and ask open-ended questions.
#2 Dissect the Past, Focus on the Future
The past is precious learning material. To honor your and their past experiences and efforts, you need to put them to good use.
Act as your team’s coach and take an individual approach for each team member. A performance review is an ideal time to have an honest 1-on-1 conversation and go through their recent work experiences, tasks, and results. Analyzing the answers you got by going through the questions we mentioned above will create a stable foundation for future actions.
Your course of action should look like this:
- Summarize the findings and lay out the most important conclusions from the performance review.
- Compare your findings to the previous performance review and take notes of any shifts, progress, or exacerbation — look into the causes.
- Set goals for the future with tangible results in mind — don’t just increase the workload for the sake of it.
- Create a new action plan with manageable daily, weekly, and monthly tasks which align with company goals.
- Work on employee engagement and go deeper than productivity analysis: link company-oriented efforts to their desired career path and include attractive tasks for their personal benefit.
#3 Increase the Number of Performance Reviews
In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to dish out enough resources for quarterly performance reviews. That’s four annual conversations with your employee, which doesn’t remotely sound like enough.
Don’t worry; having more performance reviews doesn’t have to overtax your resources.
Frequent feedback in bite-sized sessions helps large-scale, perfectly orchestrated performance reviews work better. A 10-minute huddle on Slack is better than leaving your staff to stumble in the dark, and helps with remote employees' engagement: just one “how is your day?” can encourage people to open up and bridge the physical distance between you.
Additionally, these quick catch-ups serve as building blocks for regular performance reviews and make annual and quarterly assessments infinitely easier.
#4 Ad-Libs Are Okay: Go Unscripted if Necessary
Here are some ideas for performance review questions:
- What went well, and what went badly? Why?
- How do they think things could have been better?
- What prevented them from reaching their full potential, and how to prevent that in the future?
- Are they on board with the upcoming plans, and is there something you should change to accommodate them better?
- What their career path looks like
- Success stories to highlight and share with others
Still, no matter how much you prepare, you’ll have questions you haven’t anticipated — and you should leave some time and space for them in your performance review agenda.
For starters, employ your active listening skills and ask for more details, descriptions, and clarifications; reading between the lines reveals how things work better than official statements they might’ve practiced in advance.
Ask for their opinion, too. Since they’re spending their most productive hours with specific topics, their expertise should be trusted. Managers should know the ins and outs by default, but feedback coming from staff is often neglected and contains potentially life-saving ideas and perspectives.
Finally, feel free to include non-related questions you have a hunch about. Nurture your managerial intuition: after all, that’s what made you stand out in the sea of others. You may never know where the cause of an issue lies: it might be something personal they’re not entirely comfortable sharing or an impact another industry made!
#5 Stay Fair by Using Employee Monitoring Software — But Correctly!
The tricky thing about employee performance monitoring software?
It is as good as its users are.
User activity monitoring solutions get misused by managers and business owners all the time. Such managers check the program that tracks computer activity all day, hoping to catch someone “in the act”. They use it to instill fear, pressure employees into taking fewer breaks, and see everything through the lens of numbers — the higher, the better.
Don’t be that person.
That kind of behavior results in employee burnout, high employee turnover rates, a bad company reputation, decreased productivity, and sometimes even lawsuits for workplace mobbing.
What you should do instead is:
- Use monitoring pc activity as means to gather factually correct, indisputable information whenever you need it.
- Micromanage less. The best way to track employee performance is to check the progress and current activities on your own, instead of interrupting them to ask how things are going.
- Teach employees to use the employee monitoring system to their advantage. In case there are some opposing claims about their work, nobody can dispute them: stats will reveal the facts. For remote workers, employee monitoring is another proof of work that enables them to work on their own schedule, from anywhere.
- Use employee monitoring solutions to react quickly in case something goes wrong.