by Shayne Thomas
19 Nov 2020
Hit the ‘Reset’ Button on Year-End Performance Reviews
3 proven tips to make performance reviews always worth the effort
There are few people in this world who wait, with bated breath, for the performance review season to begin. In fact, the minute that email from HR lands in everyone’s inbox, you can almost feel a collective sense of “here we go, again” reverberating through employees' minds.
This isn’t because performance reviews, in general, are not effective or respected. We know all too well that, when done right, they can add a tremendous amount of value to the employee experience and also build stronger manager-employee relationships.
Unfortunately, the traditional performance review process requires a lot of time and effort from everyone involved. Sometimes it can almost feel as though a good half of the year is dedicated to performance review because the process gets so drawn out. This just isn’t effective, nor does it motivate employees to be invested in the process. If anything, it turns something that should ultimately be a critical point in the year for all employees into something that merely needs to be checked off the to-do list.
Don’t just take our anecdotal word for it; the team at Gartner found the same to be true. In their latest Performance Management Benchmarking Survey, it was clear that the current state of performance reviews hovers somewhere in between “effort is too high” and “usefulness is too low.” This is a huge problem. How do you expect anyone in your company to take this process seriously if most people feel like it’s a massive undertaking with little value?
But don’t lose all hope just yet. As much as these findings may seem dismal, at best, they also uncover a huge opportunity for HR teams to reposition the entire process for the better.
While the low-hanging fruit here may appear to be reducing the amount of effort that goes into performance reviews, that actually doesn’t solve the problem. Gartner went on to find that employees don’t really mind the effort if performance reviews end up being useful. In other words, if performance reviews provide real and actionable value, then it’s time well spent.
As you may have guessed, however, making this process “useful” is a lot harder than making it simple. Even so, you can turn this corner effectively by making performance reviews:
- Business-Driven: Tie performance reviews into broader business objectives. As a company, you have established goals—and if you’ve approached goal-setting correctly, you will have communicated them to your entire workforce. Performance across the board, down to the individual employee level, must ladder up to these goals in some way to be relevant. After all, it’s much more useful for employees to understand not only how their work is helping to achieve specific goals, but also how their performance is measured as a factor of how well they are actually achieving those goals. Unifying the review process in this way sets clearer expectations to guide how employees approach their day-to-day work. This can be truly transformative when put into action.
- Employee-Owned: Invite employees to take ownership of this process—and not simply feel as though they are being subjected to it in a top-down fashion. If they understand that they can get more value out of this experience by being in the driver’s seat from the very beginning, they will be much less likely to treat the end-to-end process as merely something to check off their to-do lists. You need to show them that this is not just must-do administrative work but rather a necessary and important step that can feasibly propel an employee’s career forward.
- Work-Centered: Help employees see how their individual contributions can tie into broader group or team objectives. A company’s goals often trickle from the top-down. How different organizations or teams execute on those goals—as well as how the employees within those teams play specific roles in that process—can vary significantly. But this is the key to collaboration: helping employees understand the specific role they (can) play, as it feeds into the bigger, collective team picture. This can help the process feel a lot more grounded in many ways.
3 ways to drive greater impact with performance reviews
At Cornerstone, we know that there’s a stigma around performance reviews—and we’re constantly coming up with new ways to make the process as effective and impactful as it can possibly be. Our belief is that by approaching the overall employee experience in a holistic way, seemingly arduous tasks that once may have caused employees to shrug and roll their eyes can actually turn into something worth taking pride in.
Here are a few more ways to make this process more personal and relevant to employees:
1. Provide a sense of purpose
In a similar vein to Gartner’s advice around making performance reviews more business-driven, we believe that making them purpose-driven can add even more relevancy to the process. Whatever our role may be within a company—from senior management down to entry-level hires—it’s very easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and lose sight of “why” we’re doing the work we’re doing. It’s important to remind ourselves, and for managers to remind their teams, of the purpose, the strategy, and the goals that we’re all working towards. Sure, different employees will likely be delivering on that purpose in different ways, but at the end of the day, it’s important to communicate that “North Star” frequently to ensure that no employee ever loses sight of the big picture. After all, simply knowing they’re playing an important role in driving a bigger goal can give them a greater sense of ownership over the work they do.
2. Empower managers to lead the way
Performance reviews can sometimes feel like an adversarial power struggle between employees and their managers. While that is undoubtedly an overdramatization of the process, the point here is that the process, in and of itself, solidifies hierarchies. Depending on the nature of an employee-manager relationship, this can backfire spectacularly. That’s why we believe that managers need to establish their role as coaches and mentors. They’re not simply there to tell employees what they did well and what they could do better, but rather to fuel their employees’ success at all times. Whether this comes in the form of clear goal setting, continuous feedback, or guiding new skills development in a hands-on, collaborative way, managers have a critical role to play in shaping the employee experience. And knowing that most employees quit their jobs as a result of a “bad” manager, taking the time to teach managers how to drive real and meaningful impact can go a long way.
3. Tie performance to learning
Being successful at work doesn’t just mean powering through a to-do list. It also means mastering the tasks that must be done flawlessly while, at the same time, learning new skills to prepare for the next career step. Quite frankly, a career is not a series of promotions; it’s a path of growth and development that can zigzag in many (sometimes unexpected) ways. That’s why we believe so deeply in the value of learning—in general and as part of the performance review process. As managers and leaders, it’s your role to help teams and employees grow. Learning new skills is the best way to do that, especially knowing that it can also be used in an actionable way to help employees measure their progress against personal goals. Again, a performance review shouldn’t just be a recap of the “good and bad” from the past year; instead, it should be approached as an opportunity for managers to listen to what their employees want to achieve and then use that information to devise a growth plan to help them get there. This alone can make all the time spent on performance reviews worth its weight in gold.
It’s time to evolve your year-end performance review strategy
We get it, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and run the same performance review process over and over again because, well, it’s the easy thing to do—and employees already know what to expect. But that doesn’t make this often tedious process effective or valuable to anyone involved. After all, why force employees to put in all that time and effort if they aren’t going to get anything valuable from it in return? (Hint: You shouldn’t!)
Obviously, we’ve given you a few ideas here to chew on to make your performance review process as effective and efficient as it can possibly be. But if you’re still stuck or unsure as to what you can do in the here and now, the good news is that our team of HR and performance management experts can help guide the way. Don’t wait—with performance review season already underway (or just around the corner), there’s never been a better time to learn about Cornerstone’s talent management and learning solutions. Contact us today to get started!