The employee performance review, also commonly referred to as the performance appraisal or performance evaluation, is a core component within the wider performance management process. Its overarching purpose? To identify areas for employee growth and improvement, and inform suitable development plans (CIPD).
It’s a definition we very much align with at OpenBlend for its employee-centricity and the fact it focuses on the thing that matters most: improving people performance.
Performance reviews, when done well, will help both manager and employee to track performance against established goals. They provide an opportunity to recognise achievement, and adjust goals in line with the changing environment or strategic business needs. Crucially, they should also provide a platform for open and honest discussion whereby the employee can raise any issues (work-related or personal) that may be impeding their ability to perform well at work.
That latter statement is particularly key for us. Why? Because we know that employees do not cease to exist when they finish the working day. They have lives and commitments outside of work - and these need to be factored into the review process so that managers can make a fully informed and fair assessment of performance based on a holistic view of the employee. This is how we believe people and businesses can get the best out of the performance review process.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen this way.
The more traditional annual appraisal, whereby managers typically measure performance from a retrospective viewpoint, is a prime example. This long-ingrained approach is fundamentally flawed for two reasons: it’s backward-looking, and it lends too much weight to accountability rather than learning and development, defeating the very purpose of performance reviews as defined above.
How have performance reviews evolved over time?
Performance reviews have evolved significantly in recent years, with the most notable changes relating to frequency and format.
The annual or bi-annual appraisal represented the standard regularity for many years but in more recent times, we’ve seen a marked increase in frequency across most industry sectors and geographies. It’s a trend that has been fuelled by increasing evidence in support of regular performance conversations, and growing employee demand for real-time feedback and recognition.
Fast forward to today, and quarterly, monthly, and even weekly, performance check-ins are the new normal for many organisations. Also referred to as ‘catch-ups’, these frequent interactions, whether face-to-face or virtual, enable continuous, two-way manager-employee communication, and can support early-stage problem-solving as well as employee wellbeing. They are also designed to be scaled up or down depending on short-term needs.
More than anything though, it’s important to remember that every employee is different. What works for one, won’t necessarily work for another. Some people will prefer a quarterly review and, so long as that’s underpinned by best-practice performance management principles, that’s absolutely fine. Other people will want regular weekly or continuous feedback and coaching, and that’s ok too. Key to success is tailoring performance one-to-ones to the individual employee - get this right, and the consequential impact on performance will pay dividends.
Changes in format:
The format of performance reviews has also undergone a notable transition in recent years. There’s now a widespread understanding that reviews need to take a different tack from the traditional manager to employee model. Instead, they should be a collaborative effort whereby the employee is not only an attendee, but an active participant who works with their manager to set the agenda line with the things that matter to them.
The increased frequency of performance conversations has also led to changes in the way they’re conducted. Regular check-ins, for example, are typically less formal in tone. They’re often much shorter than the annual or bi-annual appraisal, taking the form of a natural conversation between two people, rather than one person holding the other to account. In fact, participants need not even necessarily ‘talk shop’. The beauty with these informal check-ins is that they also cover a number of wider, but fundamental, factors for performance - wellbeing and engagement, for example. And, as key drivers for high performance, it makes every sense to build these into performance discussions.
Perhaps the biggest format change though is the rise of 360 feedback - a process that sees the employee receive feedback not only from their manager or supervisor but from their subordinates and peers, too.
It might come as a surprise to learn that 360 feedback was introduced to the business world as far back as the 1950s. Its popularity has increased considerably over the past decade, however, aided by global performance management software that facilitates peer-to-peer recognition, meaningful conversations, and actionable feedback.
So we’ve explained what a performance review is, and how they’ve evolved over time. Let’s look at some of the primary dos and don’ts for both managers and employees:
Employee performance reviews: dos and don’ts
Do tailor to the individual employee
Do recognise and celebrate achievement
Do enable the employee to set the agenda
Do make it a two-way, collaborative discussion
Do focus on future learning and development
Do ensure any constructive feedback is action-based
Do set goals collaboratively
Do keep a record of conversations and goals (and make it accessible to the employee)
Do be consistent and fair
Do be aware of unconscious bias
Don’t adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
Don’t make it a one-way process
Don’t criticise the employee for their mistakes
Don’t dwell on poor performance or past issues
Don’t set unrealistic goals
Don’t compare one employee’s performance with that of another
Don’t include compensation conversations within the performance review process
Don’t surprise the employee with an impromptu performance review
Don’t be afraid to change frequency and/or format
Don’t participate in a performance review if you don’t regularly supervise the employee
A couple of key ones to pull out from the above include the importance of separating pay conversations from performance reviews and understanding the potential for unconscious bias.
Don’t put pay to performance!
Pay conversations have long been tied to performance and indeed, many organisations still do this today. At OpenBlend, we advocate for keeping these conversations separate from performance management. Why? Because no employee is going to talk openly about their knowledge gaps or mistakes if they know that doing so could hurt them financially.
Beware of unconscious bias
Another, perhaps lesser-known, risk that managers need to mitigate at performance review time relates to unconscious bias. There are multiple social and behavioural studies validating the fact that humans are predispositioned to bias - and it can have a hugely detrimental impact on engagement and performance. In fact, findings from Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion report, revealed that 70% of employees said the bias they experienced at work had had a negative impact on their engagement - and by extension, their performance.
So whether it’s expedience, distance, similarity, or one of the many other unconscious biases that can come into play during a performance review, ensuring that managers are aware of these and, more importantly, know how to avoid them, needs to be a top priority.
Coaching managers to coach
We’ve talked a lot about performance reviews from the employee point of view, but what about the manager? Have they received training on how to deliver feedback in a way that creates positive action rather than disengagement? Do they understand what makes for a meaningful performance conversation? Do they know how to coach people and cater to the needs of the individual?
To state the obvious, the manager has a huge impact on whether a performance review is effective or not. It’s a point that highlights the critical importance of training managers in how to become great people coaches.
Of course, not everyone is a natural manager, and that’s ok. Some people enjoy it but need a steer in the right direction, others may be ‘accidental managers’ who have reached a position of seniority based on their experience as opposed to their people management skills. The combination of HR training, and HR technology that prompts managers into positive action, can really help here.
Remote performance reviews
Arguably though, in the current climate of remote and hybrid working, all managers are accidental remote managers. They’re learning how to navigate remote performance reviews and they’ll need best-practice advice on why and how to increase the regularity of reviews in order to provide additional employee support.
These are all things that a modern performance management system can help with - and here’s how:
Performance tech: supporting conversation, coaching, and culture
The OpenBlend platform promotes regular, meaningful performance conversations, but it’s also designed to upskill people managers and coach them in how to deliver consistently good performance management. Whether it’s giving managers access to a library of best-practice questions to ask in a review, or providing a framework to address sensitive wellbeing conversations, you’ll find it all within the OpenBlend platform.
The primary purpose of performance management is to continually develop people through regular feedback, goal-setting, and coaching, but that doesn’t mean the benefits have to stop there. At OpenBlend, we believe modern, people-centred performance tech can also act as a tool for connecting and reconnecting with people at work. In this way, it can be used to build community and wider company culture through such things as instant recognition and high fives.
To learn more about the OpenBlend platform and how it can support performance management in your organisation, contact our team to book a free demo. We’d love to hear from you.