How to make performance reviews worthwhile

Outdated, once-a-year approach 'can be traumatizing to employee,' says expert

How to make performance reviews worthwhile

When an employee heads into a meeting with their manager to talk about how well — or not so great — they are doing, the meeting should not be upsetting.

If it is, the entire process can be damaging to an employee’s wellbeing, says a senior leader.

“The whole idea of performance reviews being a once-a-year or twice-a-year episodic thing between their manager and an employee, it’s outdated, and it actually can be really traumatizing to the employee,” says Laith Dahiyat, CEO of Pingboard, an employee onboarding software company in Austin, Texas.

“It’s not an effective way to drive alignment with the department and company goals, but more importantly, traditional performance reviews completely leave out the whole concept of coaching.”

About half of employees wanted more feedback from their managers, according to a recent survey.

Take standardized approach

When an employee is unsure of their individual performance and how it is perceived by a manager, the sense of unease is harmful, says Dahiyat.

“There should never be any surprises in any performance review; if there are performance issues, or coaching opportunities, that should be a daily or maybe a weekly thing.”

Most organizations don’t approach performance reviews the right way, he says.

“How do you turn your managers into coaches that are continuously working with the employee, giving feedback and proactively coaching them in their career? In reality, recurring, continuous feedback loops have tremendous positive impacts to businesses and individuals.”

To make check-ins work most effectively, the focus should be on improving performance instead of deadlines and deliverables.

“They’re typically: ‘What are your tasks for the week? Are you having any problems with your tasks? OK, great, thank you, goodbye.’ That’s not coaching. One-on-one meetings should be 10 to 20 per cent following up on tasks but 80 to 90 per cent around coaching [and] letting the employee do most of the talking; asking open-ended questions,” says Dahiyat.

“Typically, in organizations that use this traditional performance review, coaching is an afterthought.”

Most employees feel that performance reviews are a motivating factor, according to recent research from Gallup.

To make the manager’s job in coaching and performance reviews easier, HR should be standardizing the approach, he says.

“[For example:] ‘As a company, this is how we view coaching, this is how we view the role as a manager and this is how we believe that one-on-one meetings should be run.’ So HR teams need to create some sort of structure and framework around how managers need to be coaches using these one-on-one meetings.”

Own up to errors

For the teaching aspect to be genuine, a manager can use a personal example as a learning opportunity.

“Talking to an employee about your past mistakes is sometimes the best way to teach them: ‘Hey, I was in the situation in the past and, man, I really screwed it up but here’s what I learned about it. I think you can apply some of these learnings to what’s going on with you.’”

Not only does this help the worker find a solution, “it builds trust, it builds a level of humanity and relatability when you hear someone that’s supposedly more senior than you and more of an expert at your role because when you hear about how they had to go through tough learnings and made mistakes, it makes them more relatable, and builds confidence that it’s OK to screw up — as long as you learn from it,” says Dahiyat.

When conducting employee reviews, document everything, warns an employment lawyer.

For the manager, it’s also important to be aware of what motivates the employee, in order to help them succeed.

“If there’s not a personal connection between a manager and an employee, then there’s never going to be an element of trust and trust is one of the key factors in an employee’s happiness: ‘I feel like I’m heard and I trust my manager.’ The second or third most important person in a lot of people’s lives is their manager — they define their happiness at work, they define their career, they define whether or not they get promoted, or whether they get fired,” he says.

“If you don’t ask questions to actually get to know the motivation and the interest and what’s going on in an employee’s personal life, you’re never going to have that element of trust and connection.”

To show the importance of the employee, meeting times should be considered “sacred” and not rescheduled repeatedly, says Dahiyat.

“If a manager is constantly cancelling or moving a meeting or showing up 15 minutes late, what that’s telling the employee is there’s something more important than you: ‘There’s something more important to me [than] talking about your career and your job and your happiness — and that is incredibly demotivating.”

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