Performance reviews are something people tend to differ on quite intensely. Has this practice outlived its usefulness when it comes to leading our teams, and if not, what should these discussions be like in 2021?
Most of us have very different experiences of performance reviews. Many of these are not positive. In my experience, it is not justified to blame the performance review as a process, but it is possible to find fault in how it is used in leadership and developing employee experience.
What’s the problem with performance reviews?
One reason why performance reviews are criticized is that too often they are the only occasion during the year when we talk about ourselves, our professional development, and our expectations. The rest of the conversations we have in our everyday working life are typically related to project updates and daily business. Because of this imbalance, employees tend to have very high expectations on performance reviews. When the appraisal is based on an impersonal, generic template that focuses on evaluation and setting new targets, expectations and reality do not meet. After the appraisal, the HR system is used to report on it. Then the routine is marked off the to-do list. But did the appraisal include discussion of the employee as a person, about their plans, and when these matters will be discussed again? Next year?
Performance reviews are more important than ever
Even if the term is off-putting for many, performance reviews matter now more than ever. The process just needs to be developed and adapted to meet the present needs of working life. Nowadays, employees generally work more independently, and the ability to self-organize is increasingly needed. Moreover, certain areas of expertise are highly sought after, and skilled and experienced employees tend to have options when it comes to the choice of job and working community.
Present-day working life requires us to think of leadership as a service we provide to our employees, one that entails being present and willing to listen and provide support and help when needed. We can’t afford to stick to the worn-out routine of holding performance reviews once a year.
What makes a good performance review in 2021?
What is their purpose? What’s the goal in conducting them?
The most important consideration in planning a performance review process is to determine how it serves your company culture, values, and goals. For example, if you prioritize innovation and learning, these can also be focused on in the performance reviews. This planning should not take too much time, but it gives a deeper meaning and purpose to the discussion, which helps to improve leadership. The day is long gone when the performance review can be just one routine among others to file away in the HR system.
How should the performance review be structured?
A more thorough understanding of the purpose and meaning of performance reviews will determine their structure and the agenda. If you don’t feel comfortable with the term ‘performance review’ itself, there’s no problem in simply calling it something else. Make it what you want it to be. This also makes it possible to have a fresh start when it comes to this important process.
In my opinion, an in-depth performance review should be held at least once a year, especially since we fairly rarely have a chance to reflect on our accomplishments and lessons learned. This reflection will help you realize that you have accomplished many things, which makes setting targets easier.
A performance review does not have to be something we only conduct one-to-one. Annual or bi-annual performance reviews within teams, focusing on successes and areas for further development, can be extremely rewarding.
Annual one-on-one performance reviews are seldom enough – it’s necessary to revisit agreed topics and targets during bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly one-on-one meetings. Once again, these need to be aligned with the company culture, targets and values. It is pointless having a bi-weekly discussion without a specific deeper purpose.
What is the most important thing when it comes to performance reviews?
Based on my experience, the importance of continuous discussions and interaction in leadership is not sufficiently appreciated. Good discussions are the most important means of developing the employee experience. The key thing to remember in performance reviews is that leadership is a service, and every discussion is a chance to make a difference to people and their lives. If we can keep this is mind, it’ll take us a long way.
Humbol helps organizations foster a company culture that is centered on dialogue. Our software helps you create leadership structures and conduct more rewarding performance reviews.