High-Performance Performance Reviews: How to Improve (or Replace) the Annual Review

Let’s take a moment to consider all the great things about yearly performance reviews.

Nothing? Really? You don’t look forward to them even a little bit?

Well, you’re not alone.

Lately, Fortune 500 companies have started abandoning the traditional performance review in favor of more ongoing feedback systems. They say the old reviews were frustrating, unpleasant, and not incredibly effective. Sound familiar?

Even worse, performance reviews have been found to be biased against women. In fact, women are less likely to hold management positions in firms with review systems. And research shows that reviewing manager’s gender didn’t matter – performance reviews are unfair to women just the same.

Ending the annual review isn’t an easy proposition, even if you’re in the position to enact the change yourself. It’s early enough in the movement that it’s unclear what long-term effects might be, but those abandoning the performance review have a valuable point.

Performance Tune-Ups

There’s one thing everybody agrees on: Annually isn’t enough. Even if your company requires formal documented performance reviews, more frequent and informal reviews are always an option.

Performance reviews are a key communication tool, and more communication is usually a good thing. Increased frequency addresses three of the most frustrating issues in performance reviews:

  • Staleness: In today’s workplace, a job description can change fast – something that comes up in your review today may feel like three job descriptions ago for them. They might not even remember everything they did! More frequent reviews can address these issues in the moment and improve day-by-day performance.
  • Surprises: If a year passes between reviews, that’s a lot of time for job performance and expectations to diverge without being addressed. Then your employee walks into the room thinking they’ve been outstanding, while you have more coaching than compliments to offer. More frequent reviews catch these divergences earlier.
  • Sincerity: You want candid opinions and goals from your employee, and formal settings can make the conversation feel awkward or even antagonistic. More frequent, informal conversations without scoring systems or complex notes are more likely to put employees at ease.

Come Into My Office

When you do have a formal sit-down, it doesn’t have to be as painful. Since written performance reviews can and do appear in court, you can’t sugarcoat anything – and you don’t want to, since you want to improve on performance.

Try using our five P’s of successful performance reviews to maximize the benefit from these otherwise unpleasant conversations:

  1. Plan: Start with the logistical elements by giving the employee time to prepare and consider what they need or expect. Set a date and time early, and make sure you won’t have to re-schedule – the employee needs to know the review matters.
  2. Prepare: Before the review starts, you want to make sure you know what you want and expect out of it – and what you want to convey. Even if it feels like a bureaucratic exercise, it’s important the employee feels you’ve given time to their development.
  3. Praise: You’re likely aware of the feedback sandwich – positive feedback, constructive feedback, positive feedback – but this method is falling out of favor. Some critics say it undermines your feedback, while others call it transparently artificial. Instead, just be candid and encourage candor, but always include positive feedback.
  4. Pivot: Not everything your employee is doing is correct – that’s almost a guarantee. But this isn’t a time to simply grade performance; instead, this is your opportunity to coach and solve problems. Remember, any good employee wants feedback on how to improve – if you have nothing bad to say, they might chalk it up to your politeness rather than their perfection.
  5. Position: Set your employee and your company up for success. You’ve re-asserted expectations and outlined concerns, and they’ve shared their perspective and needs. This should always be a win-win conversation, and you should avoid ending it until you’re both satisfied. For this reason, some recommend making a practice of keeping the raise conversation separate.