The way you’re doing performance reviews is wrong.
Well, not wrong in the sense that you’re probably doing what everyone else is doing and has been doing for decades. But wrong in the sense that the annual meeting you hold with each member of your staff:
- doesn’t add value to them
- doesn’t add value to you
- doesn’t add value to the company
Why the current model is flawed
Most of the time, managers do their best to prepare in the days (or hours) leading up to a review with an employee, trying to grab as much quantifiable information about that employee’s performance as they can. Sales data; completed projects; customer or coworker feedback. Goals from last year are looked over and assessed, and then away we go, fingers crossed.
Why doesn’t this work?
- Trying to assess every individual employee’s full year of work in a matter of 30-60 minutes is basically impossible.
The most a good manager and employee can hope for in this kind of meeting is to speak broadly about the overall successes and struggles over the last year; there’s just no time to go over everything. But a person’s job is much more than overarching themes and fulfillment of goals from the year before, many of which may no longer even be applicable by the time the next review rolls around.By the end of the year, when most of an employee’s projects have happened several months ago, what are the odds you’re going to remember every meaningful contribution that person made or every area they could improve?
- Small victories slip through the cracks.
Occasionally someone from your team will impress you in a completely surprising way. Sometimes this happens on a big project, and sometimes – maybe even more often – it happens on a smaller project where they really find their rhythm and take it above and beyond what was expected.Big progress is made up of many small successes; if you’re not constantly taking note of those little victories, though, you can come away with no better idea of how a good employee became great, what made them shine or take a particular project to heart, and how to encourage them to do more of the same.
- Opportunities for growth are passed by.
Every project presents opportunities for employees to improve, even when they are overall successes. (“You could have stepped into a leadership role” here, and “Better communication would have made this launch even smoother” there.)But when you’re only meeting with employees once a year or every few months, these opportunities are forgotten and replaced with more general observations. Lacking real examples or actionable advice, employees are left to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing.
- Goals set are often too vague to be accurately assessed.
Disengaged employees set goals based on what they think their boss wants to hear. When they know their goals are going to be noted then forgotten until next year, it’s easier to set a vague “Be more productive” kind of goal than to pursue real growth. If they don’t get a sense of how their growth directly helps grow the company, they have no reason to set and pursue more valuable goals.
- Everyone does fine.
Giving negative feedback sucks, and when you’re trying to power through 10 performance reviews in a day, it’s much easier to look everything over and say, “Overall, this is fine.” And it works because most employees are doing fine, and everyone would rather hear that they’re doing fine than hear that they are doing poorly.
But you’re doing a disservice to your entire team – high performers, middlers, and people who are struggling – by not having the specifics to give them a really accurate picture of how they’re doing. No one gets inspired by hearing “everything is fine”.
Preparing for and completing this kind of review is a waste of time
With so much room for error, spending the time to prepare for and conduct these 1:1 meetings is not a good use of the manager’s or the employee’s time. Most employees go into their annual reviews knowing they’ll come out with an overall positive report and a vague outline of goals that can be stored in their desk drawer, never to be looked at again until next year.
For as much value as these meetings typically add, they could as easily be done over email and save everyone hours of time. It’s not that managers don’t want to add value; it’s just that the way performance reviews are done now doesn’t allow them to.
Effective feedback is ongoing, not all at once
So what do you do when you want your performance reviews to mean more? It’s simple. A good performance review shouldn’t happen once a year; it should actually be happening all year long. A good performance review is an ongoing conversation between a manager and each of her employees, where goals are constantly assessed and calibrated based on what’s really happening.
Without regular check-ins and updates, the manager and employee rarely know what the other is thinking (unless, of course, there’s a problem – which only helps to foster a negative relationship) and both are forced to operate on what they *think* the other one wants. When you communicate regularly, though, a relationship can form where both parties share goals, feedback, and concrete information.
It’s like diet and exercise; it’s way easier to do a little work every day and maintain a healthy weight than to try to lose 100 pounds all at once. Small, continual efforts – weekly 1:1 meetings, check-ins, status reports – all help managers and employees stay connected and help each other succeed, without demanding overwhelming amounts of additional time or energy.
This year, why not skip the last-minute cram session before performance reviews, and instead focus on connecting regularly with everyone from your team. You’ll all do better for it.