by Shayne Thomas
20 Jan 2021
Don’t Make These Performance Review Mistakes
5 tips for ensuring that annual review season goes off without a hitch
Some of you may have just freshly wrapped up your annual performance review season while other companies choose to do it at the beginning of the year when everyone is a bit more “tuned in” after the holidays. Either way, regardless of when you get knee-deep into performance reviews, there is actually a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to do them.
Obviously, every company has its own processes to follow. That’s more of the operational side of things, which we aren’t going to talk about here. However, if you haven’t yet brought your annual performance review process into the digital age, Cornerstone Performance can get these more operational bits moving in the right direction. (But I digress…)
What matters most in any annual performance review cycle is constructive feedback. Unfortunately, this qualitative side of annual reviews is where most organizations tend to fall a little short. It’s not for a lack of wanting to provide employees with useful and actionable feedback. More often than not, managers simply aren’t trained enough on performance review best practices. This is especially the case for first-time people managers who tend to let their own past experiences with performance reviews dictate their own approach. The real downside here is simple: If a manager had generally negative or lackluster experiences with their previous managers, there’s a good chance the same bad habits will carry over.
Truth be told, even the most seasoned managers can use a little refresher every now and then. But here, we’re going to approach it from the other side of the coin: the biggest no-no’s that should be avoided at all costs during the annual performance review process.
5 most common annual performance review pitfalls
There are a lot of articles swirling around the interwebs full of annual performance review best practices to follow. This isn’t one of those articles. While we could wax poetic about what managers should do during the annual review season, there’s another side of this coin that, in our opinion, is far more interesting: nipping a manager’s most common mistakes in the bud.
The goal here isn’t to scold those of you who have fallen into these pitfalls every now and then. Instead, see it as an opportunity to be more mindful throughout the annual review process. As a manager, your goal is to ensure any kind of performance review is a positive, useful, and rewarding experience for your employees. So be sure to keep these five things in check:
1. Falling into the trap of ‘recency bias’
If you visit this blog regularly, you already know that all of us at Cornerstone are firm believers in continuous performance management that happens all year round. Of course, the annual performance review makes up a big part of this process, but it shouldn’t be the end all, be all of your approach to performance management. ‘Recency bias’ is just one of the reasons why.
Unless you document all of your performance-based conversations with your employees throughout the year, there’s a good chance you’ll forget some of your team’s highs (and lows) that happened 10-12 months prior. This is what happens when recency bias rears its ugly head. Simply put, “recency bias is a cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones.”
The problem with this, if it isn’t already abundantly clear, is that only factoring in what you remember happening most recently into your employees’ performance reviews won’t ever pain a complete picture of performance. Nor will it accurately document their accomplishments and failures (aka, learning opportunities) in a holistic way. And while some of us like to believe we have the memory of an elephant, we are really just human—and as humans, who are likely being mentally pulled in many directions by our work, our ‘steel trap’ might let a few thoughts escape every now and then. The moral of the story: Document your employees’ progress throughout the year and make sure the annual performance review captures it all.
2. Overlooking 360-degree feedback from peers and colleagues
The experience you have with your employees can be quite different than the experience their peers and other colleagues have with them. So if you base their annual review off your one-on-one experience alone, you are doing both them and yourself a huge disservice.
This is where 360-degree feedback comes into the picture. As an important part of this process, be sure to ask your employees’ colleagues and peers at all levels across the organization to provide details about what went well as well as what didn’t when working on projects together. If you work with many agencies or vendors, feel free to solicit feedback from them as well.
In the best case scenario, this 360-degree feedback will confirm what you already know to be true about your employees. In some cases, however, it can open your eyes to unseen aspects of your employees’ work ethics that can be, for lack of a better word, quite revealing.
3. Dropping the ‘unexpected surprises’ bomb
Another benefit of continuous performance management is that, when it comes time for the annual performance review, it should feel more like an extension of the ongoing performance conversations you’ve already had and less like an unexpected curveball that leaves your employee stunned or speechless.
In other words, the annual review is not a time to drop a bomb on your employees. Doing so just means that you’ve dropped the ball on being a good manager. (Not trying to be harsh, but it’s the truth!) Instead, approach it as the culmination of your work together, an opportunity to talk about the future, set performance and developmental goals, and share ideas.
This is also the perfect time to reinforce your dedication to the success, well-being, and happiness of your employees. Everyone likes to know that they’ve got a cheerleader in their court—even if they have some performance issues to attend to. This will only strengthen the employee-manager relationship over time.
4. Underplaying the importance of professional development
Today’s employees, especially the millennial generation, are constantly striving to grow in their lives—and careers—in some way, shape, or form. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why “top performers leave is because they feel their career advancement isn’t going as planned” and there’s essentially no room to grow into new roles and responsibilities.
As mentioned above, the annual performance review should not only recap the highs and lows of the past year but also plant the seeds for what’s in store for the future. Mind you, while this should be a two-way street, some employees are afraid to ask about upward mobility, especially in cases where that may require moving to a different team. They fear that asking to grow in their career within a company may be perceived as a sign of dissatisfaction with their current manager. But that shouldn’t be the case. In fact, the best managers know that, at some point, they will have to let their best employees leave the nest and grow in their careers.
In this way, managers need to be seen by their employees as enablers who support and shepherd their employees’ success without bias, vanity, greed, or any other ulterior motive. A manager’s role is to develop their people to be the best they can possibly be. So it’s critical that the annual performance review becomes an opportunity to do a pulse check and stamp out a game plan for what comes next.
For employees that are “in between” roles in their career trajectory, this is the perfect time to encourage learning and development. Taking the next step sometimes requires mastering certain job-related skills or simply brushing up on soft skills. Either way, by tapping into a resource like Cornerstone Learning, you can work with your employees to build a learning roadmap that will help them work their way—quantifiably—to their goals.
5. Focusing too much on the ‘areas for improvement’
Some people misconstrue the purpose of annual performance reviews to be a time to hone in on everything that was less-than-stellar throughout the year. If you believe that to be true, please do whatever you possibly can to erase this notion from your head.
Of course, if warranted, annual reviews—in addition to ongoing feedback conversations—are a perfect time to course-correct any issues that may have happened over the course of the year. But more importantly, this is a time to celebrate your employees’ successes.
In fact, one of the reasons why annual reviews are so dreaded is because many employees think that it’s merely a form of medieval punishment. So they brace for the worst and hope that, in the end, their bonus or merit-based raise hasn’t been entirely obliterated. How horrible that feeling must be for your employees!
This is why you have to change up the experience entirely. Not only should you celebrate the wins—and truly underscore the moments when your employees knocked it out of the park—but you should work hard to reposition in your employee's minds what the purpose of the annual performance review is. It’s not a time for punishment; it’s opening a door to growth. When your employees see the value in the process—and when you show them that you are their greatest advocate—you shouldn’t be surprised when your retention numbers skyrocket.
Turn performance reviews into a positive experience
The moral of this story is simple: By avoiding the most common mistakes and pitfalls of the annual performance review process, you can transform the entire experience into something that makes you, your employees, and everyone else within your organization stronger.
But still, and I’ll say it again because it’s such an important point, the only way to make people believers in the value of annual reviews is to not let them be ‘annual’ in any way whatsoever. You need to embrace continuous performance management with open arms.
If you think your organization is ready to bring digital transformation to its performance management process, the team at Cornerstone is ready to help. Reach out to us today to schedule a demo and learn more.