Are annual reviews holding your staff back?

This successful company “reinvented” performance management, and watched employee engagement soar

Are annual reviews holding your staff back?
Five years ago, Colliers Canada set itself a simple goal: increase employee engagement.

The global leader in real estate asked its staff how connected they felt to their workplace. Those findings proved essential to what the company did next: It threw out the annual performance review in favour of a flexible “check-in” system – and employees love it.

Colliers has seen its engagement scores soar by 11 percentage points, which helped it win Best Employee Engagement Strategy Award at the 2016 Canadian HR Awards.

Colliers’ vice president of people services for North America, Keri Fraser, will share insights into the company’s successful strategy at the HR Leaders Summit in November.

She spoke to HRD about what inspired Colliers’ new performance management direction, and what it’s meant to staff and leaders.

How did you reinvent the annual performance review?
To put it simply, we got rid of the annual review process that everyone dreads and replaced it with performance check-ins. The expectation is for managers and employees to check in regularly throughout the year to talk about successes, challenges, development opportunities and career goals. There are no ratings and no requirements to submit a completed form to HR. Performance check-in meetings can happen weekly, bi-weekly or even on a monthly basis – they can be as simple as 10-15 minutes to catch up, or an hour to brainstorm. We ask at a minimum, though, that these meetings happen once per quarter.

Why was this approach successful?
Employees want to know how they’re doing, and frequently, and they want help in areas where they want to learn. Unfortunately what many employees experience with the old annual performance process is that feedback doesn’t happen consistently throughout the year which can make the annual performance review ineffective and dreaded. Managers feel overwhelmed with the administrative process and paperwork, and, as a result, also dread this time of year.

So we’ve eliminated a tedious bureaucracy and given both managers and employees the flexibility to have meaningful discussions when they’re needed, not when they’re mandated. This way, employees are constantly aware of how they’re performing in relation to their managers’ expectations.  It is a simple and progressive performance management program that is transparent, because both managers and employees are mutually empowered to ensure Check-In meetings take place.

What difference has it made to staff, HR and the business?
Since scrapping the old system, employee engagement has increased by six percentage points and we’ve been named a 2017 Aon Best Employer in Canada. It’s been the single most important factor for our engagement increasing. The Managing Performance driver has seen the biggest increases and is no longer an engagement driver for us to focus on.  It’s also alleviated a very administrative process for HR, allowing the team to focus on more strategic work. The credibility the HR team has earned is tremendous. We listened, took a chance and changed something that wasn’t working that a lot of organizations are still afraid to do.
What advice would you give other companies and their HR professionals?
  • Get feedback! It has to make sense for your culture and business. I’m not advocating everyone just scrap the annual performance review. I’m advocating understanding what employees and managers really value, what will work for your business and design something based on that.
  • Involve the business in the process. Build, test, rebuild and finalize.
  • Work with marketing on a communication strategy. We created a lot of buzz for the rollout and treated it like a large campaign.
  • Managers still need help. It doesn’t matter what program you have in place, there are managers that are uncomfortable in providing feedback. We’ve incorporated Feedback into our Management Development Training and created a tool that help managers guide the conversation.
  • We underestimated the crutch of ratings. Managers need help in determining how to make compensation/merit decisions without that rating to fall back on.

Keri Fraser will speak on November 14 at the HR Leaders Summit in Toronto.

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