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Improving The Performance Review Process

Brief

             Performance review is a process used by businesses to evaluate, document and benchmark the performance of an employee, a team or business segment. It in turn allows supervisors to create guidelines for future objectives and employee growth. For the reviewee, it is an opportunity to showcase their perspective, receive feedback from their supervisors, and learn how to improve their overall performance. In a lot of cases, reviews are often impaired by weaknesses and inefficiencies that diminish its ability to derive value to all parties. In fact, Deloitte concluded that only 8% of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value, while 58% said it is not an effective use of time. To maximize the benefits of performance reviews, this article will diagnose key issues that are likely to occur, steps that employees can take to maximize its value and a task tracker tool to facilitate the odds of promotion and salary raise.

It is important to remember that the performance review process is a two-way street. So employees need to make sure that they think about the performance review comments raised by their supervisors. Further, all parties need to make sure to consider steps that increase process engagement. Not everyone has the same level of engagement, however, through this process, employees can be led to a path of success that benefit all corners of an organization.

Current Issues in Performance Review

1) Lack of Feedback

             Feedback is a valuable tool to help understand previous actions and guide future outputs. A lack of constructive feedback can have a detrimental impact on quality and employee engagement. In fact, studies from Officevibe concluded that 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement. The study also reported that 65% of employees would like to receive more feedback. It may also lead to a misalignment in business and employee’s goals among other issues.

             (Recommendation – Reviewer) To ensure feedback brings value to all parties, the reviewer should look to clearly define expectations and provide feedback with examples and supporting material to help the reviewee better understand the evaluation feedback. For jobs that are more ambiguous (lacks key performance indicators), there is still value to be had in feedback. For example, consider reviewing their priorities, behavior and methods in relation to their position.

             (Recommendation – Reviewee) When a reviewer is not providing feedback, it is essential that the reviewee take a proactive attitude to the performance review process by reviewing their own work and raising conversational points that will increase the odds of getting feedback. Ask for employer/ manager feedback on path to increased performance. For example, before pursuing a certificate with the goal of getting a promotion, question if such certificate ties well with the new role and whether it would increase the chances of getting a promotion.

2-1-min

2) Reviewer is Disconnected from Reviewee Daily Work

             When reviewers do not have some oversight or background knowledge of the work a reviewee does, it becomes difficult to contextualize and ensure that the conversation derives the value it should have to the business and the reviewee. In such cases, a reviewer can have little ‘skin in the game’ and therefore, may have limited incentives to properly assess the outcomes that have happened throughout the year.

             (Recommendation – Reviewer) To offset that, reviewers should be assessing their direct reports. In companies/ cases where there is a strong belief that this structure leads to a conflict of interest, the business should review their organizational structure and consider adding a third party or Counselor to help facilitate the process.

             (Recommendation – Reviewee) For reviewees that are tied to an environment where the reviewer is not directly connected to your daily work, it is imperative that action is taken to ensure that the work you do is clearly explained and exemplified to the reviewer. Take steps to maintain a line of connection to the reviewer throughout the year, including short e-mails or face-to-face meetings that will help you build a better rapport with your reviewer.

3) Excessive Negative Feedback

             Humans have an innate difficulty processing excess negative feedback. This is in part due to information being taken as an attack on the individual (personal attack), instead of the action(s) (or being perceived as a constructive feedback). The issue usually arises due to the method and structure of the communication, prior perceived relation between the actors and the repercussions that can happen.

             (Recommendation – Everyone) It is beneficial to limit both good & bad review(s) to the action, not the person taking the action. Whenever possible, ask them what they think they should do and then provide relevant recommendations. When the issue pertains to a certain task, let them know the areas you think are working (good) and let them know of the areas of improvement (negative). For example:

  • SCENARIO 1 (Bad Case): [Reviewer] The amount of errors happening in the data cleansing process you maintain is unacceptable, you need to resolve this issue by yesterday.
  • SCENARIO 1 (Good Case): [Reviewer] Regarding the data cleansing process, I have seen an improvement in the speed of process, at the same time, there has been an uptick in errors which is an issue to our clients. Can you think of anything we can do to decrease the number of errors in the short-medium run? [Reviewee] It seems that the data inputted into the system is not as static as I would have hoped, I think I can improve the algorithm in the coming month. [Reviewer] That would work, in the meantime, I would also like you to manually review the process while the fixes are implemented.

 

  • SCENARIO 2 (Bad Case): [Reviewee] I can’t do my job properly with all the errors that John does!
  • SCENARIO 2(Good Case): [Reviewee] There has been an uptick in the number of errors prior to the data arriving in my hands. I will be working with the team in the coming weeks to rectify the issue and will keep you updated.

4) Limited Scope

             There are cases where a performance review leaves one of or all parties thinking that the process ‘left a lot to be desired’. This can happen when not enough time is given for the meeting, when one actor is not given time to cover their perspective, when one of the parties did not prepare for the meeting properly, etc.

             (Recommendation – Reviewer) To ensure that does not happen, it can be beneficial to clarify the Performance Review process, allow the relevant parties enough time to provide feedback and to ask whether there are other areas that the reviewee would like to cover prior to the meeting(s). When the meeting occurs, leave time for questions or concerns, provide opportunities for the reviewee to give his responses and specify expected commitments. Sometimes, it is valid to end a performance review without covering everyone’s ‘needs’, however, it is important to understand the potential ramifications of such actions.

             (Recommendation – Reviewee) Be proactive, ask questions about the process, if there is an area you would like to be covered, talk to the reviewer and have it added to the meeting(s) agenda. If the company’s process is not well developed, you may want to give recommendation on how it can be improved and even create a mock example of how it would work.

5) Emotionally Driven Responses (Lack of Objectivity)

             Emotion is an active human trait that has been used throughout history due to its ability to impact the perception and actions others have. In a business environment, certain emotions should be carefully managed, since it can lead to unnecessary stressors and hamper business actions. In a performance review context, conversations should be driven by objectivity instead of emotion. Emotions should be seldomly considered as a tool to raise awareness for certain issues.

             (Recommendation – Everyone) Whenever a point is raised in a performance review, think of the facts that can be used to back the point raised instead of personal feelings. Explain the successes in an objective manner, this will allow either party to better understand what works. For a reviewer, it can be a tool to teach and empower employees; for the reviewee, it can serve to reinforce their actions and uncover paths to success.

6) Unclear or Limited Objectives

             Objectives are goals that are set for an individual or group alongside steps on how to do it. Limited or unclear objectives usually leads to a lack of direction which can impact motivation, lead to disconnected priorities and lower overall results. Performance review is a chance to see whether objectives were properly aligned, have been reached and to redefine future objectives. It is worth noting that with advances in technology and changes in business structure, ambiguity is becoming a larger part of people’s work. Therefore, working around ambiguity and creating goals, even if they morph with time is the best course of action. A key tool to maximize objective settings is to continuously provide feedback throughout the year (both upstream and downstream).

             (Recommendation – Reviewee) In cases where there is no or limited definition of success, it can be a great opportunity to help define it by raising the point to the reviewer and bringing a few ideas of your own for what the objectives can be. In an unclear definition of done, a reviewee can raise questions or points to clarify the objective.

             (Recommendation – Reviewer) Reviewers should look at objectives as a tool to help assist the team and individual reach their best results. Therefore, a clear and concise set of objectives should be written during the performance review and reviewed in future sessions. Reviewers should also look to continuously provide feedback throughout the year and modify objectives as needed throughout the year.

7) Lack of continuous feedback

             Continuous feedback is a tool that allows for quicker and continuous improvements throughout the year. Without continuous feedback, the amount of time needed to ensure an effective performance review increases exponentially, its effectiveness also diminishes substantially and there is an increased amount of risk for ‘surprise perception’ from both parties. In fact, a research by Reflektive concluded that 92% of employees preferred reviews to occur more than once a year, with around 49% preferring weekly formal feedback conversations. Ensuring a continuous feedback loop will increase the odds of a successful performance review.

             (Recommendation – Reviewer) Feedback does not always need to follow a rigid meeting-like format, it can be done in informal ways over a quick coffee. Try to incorporate feedback outside of the formal performance review structure by providing informal feedback to your reviewees.

             (Recommendation – Reviewee) Ask for quick feedback on processes and deliverables to better understand expectations and align objectives.

Increase Value from Performance Review

Human Resource (HR) & Management

HR and Management should look for ways to digitize a portion of the performance review documentation. This will provide the business with a treasure trove of data that can be harnessed to better understand key performance indicators within the business, which can lead to actions to improve employee’s success factors. It can also serve to better understand weak points in the business model that only employees may be able to see.

Performance review process in an HR & Management environment

HR should look to create a standardized set of questionnaires to be used throughout the company. This will ensure consistency and may help improve data collection for analytics purposes. For certain specialized areas, it may be beneficial to have a 2nd set of questions that are catered to that work group. A well-structured set of questionnaires in the performance review can help facilitate the process, and improve business outcomes.

Businesses should set-up training and provide material guidelines to help support the reviewer’s work. This can help ensure that company policies are followed and that reviewers are well positioned to guide their reviewees. The material should be easily accessible and robust enough to convene the business’s perspective on the matter, without it being too wordy to the point that no one reads it. A video presentation of 2-5minutes per segment or bullet points may be optimal for a quick reading.

There are many tools that can be used to create and maintain the performance review process. Most businesses tend to use Word, Excel, SharePoint, a web-based questionnaire, an appraisal software or a combination. Regardless of the degree of sophistication the company is at in terms of performance review, it is essential to find the right combination where teams are utilizing the tools and HR & Management are gaining insight on the business. Cost and scalability should be two key areas to consider if the business is in a growth trajectory, otherwise it may prove costlier to create a new solution in the future.

Culture of Building upon the Strengths

In a market environment, businesses often use their competitive advantage (strengths) to gain an upper hand against their peers. Likewise, managers should aim to harness the strengths of their employees in a similar fashion to ensure that their teams are well positioned for success. To improve the outcome of building upon their strengths, it helps for supervisors to specify the actions that make it a strength. This will reinforce the right actions and will help both parties better understand what constitute a strength for that task, which can be useful when guiding other employees through the task.   Morale (and therefore, performance) is often higher when subordinates are encouraged to play to their strengths and receive positive reinforcements.

Culture of Tackling Weaknesses

A weakness is often something that society frowns upon and individuals try to hide from each other since it is perceived as something that can be used against them. This often leads to asymmetric information and inaccurate conclusions that can lead to bad decision making and less than optimal solutions. Creating an environment where weaknesses can be constructively tackled and a ‘fall quick and rise fast’ mentality is essential for long-term success. For areas where the employee is weaker, both parties should look for ways to enhance outcomes and look to provide constructive feedback to each other. On the employee’s side, it is valuable to understand the current barrier and steps that can be done to circumvent it. Managers should look to facilitate the process by asking questions, providing feedback and creating an environment that leads to trust and short to long-term growth.

Culture of Continuous Feedback

Businesses should strive to create a feedback ecosystem that allows for continuous feedback, clearly defined performance review processes and tools. This will facilitate the work of both reviewer(s) and reviewee(s). When the business is ill equipped to do that, individuals should take upon themselves to improve the process as it will add value to themselves via new skills and improved quality of business results. A feedback diagram example is demonstrated below:

Tools & Structures

Set-up a short 5 minute presentation of the work you have completed. It is an opportunity for your supervisor to have a better understanding of the work you have completed which may have been forgotten or not seen by him. Below is an example of 2 presentable slides that can be used by the reviewee during a performance review.

Example of Performance Review presentation

Task Tracker

Most people don’t realize the amount of work they may have accomplished throughout the year. That is why everyone is encouraged to have a tracker (e.g. excel) to understand what has been done and use it for future references in performance reviews and even future job applications (internal or external). Please ensure that nothing on your personal tracker is confidential and if it is, that it has the appropriate approvals and that it is written in broad terms.

Activity tracker

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