Long questionnaires and the element of surprise should be eliminated from the process, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today's edition, we asked seven people leaders to tell us their least favorite parts of performance reviews. Questions or comments? Send us a note at email@example.com
Chief people officer at HubSpot
Omit long, detailed performance review surveys. Some self-surveys feel like you’re taking a personality test with up to 50 questions about your performance. In fact, one study found that individual contributors spend around 40 hours doing self-evaluations.
You only need a few questions to guide a meaningful conversation about someone's performance and development, especially if you're an organization that encourages ongoing and frequent feedback. Opt for a shorter survey of no more than five questions that help to identify what went well, what could have been improved upon, and open up discussion around focuses for future growth.
By removing time-consuming and lengthy surveys, you free up time for more meaningful conversations around performance and place a greater emphasis on continuous feedback loops meant to help employees grow better.
Interim chief people officer at Anaplan
Performance reviews can carry a negative connotation and are often portrayed as outdated, ineffective, or anxiety-inducing. When done right, they’re an opportunity for employees to elevate their careers and connect with their managers beyond the day-to-day of their roles. The difference is whether the performance review focuses on development.
More often than not, reviews focus too much on the “what” — projects and numbers — and not enough on the “how” — a person’s ways of working. Managers who use reviews to understand and evaluate how their employees work are better equipped to create actionable, personalized plans to help them reach their potential. Don’t get me wrong, it's critical to assess talent against business goals, but there are some well-established performance-management tools — like the nine-box assessment tool — that I think are counter to the mission. This tool measures and compares employees based on performance and perceived potential. In my experience, it’s highly subjective and not based on concrete facts, so leaders who rely on it to project the company’s future leadership utilize their own interpretation of the tool to make those calls.
What the tool doesn’t account for is working styles, and as people ascend in their careers, this becomes a stronger indicator of potential. While an employee exceeds their sales numbers, if they alienate colleagues along the way, this tool doesn’t consider that. If employees are measured against this tool, then it’s unlikely this person’s manager focuses the employee’s review on coaching and development based on how they work.
Chief human resources officer at WEX
When HR leaders and managers conduct performance reviews, the element of surprise should be axed. Employees and their supervisors should be engaging in ongoing conversations throughout the year regarding employee performance rather than waiting for the review cycle to have difficult (or positive!) feedback conversations. If these discussions are saved for once a year and employees are receiving unexpected feedback, they can leave their reviews feeling discouraged and disappointed. Likewise, if supervisors are waiting for the review cycle to celebrate employee successes, employees may begin to feel undervalued and unappreciated, ultimately impacting employee satisfaction and talent retention for the company.
Regularly scheduled check-ins can be used to discuss overall expectations and goals for employees, along with areas where they’re exceeding and places where there is room for growth. Having these conversations proactively allows more opportunities for employees to focus on necessary skills, and also helps to grow stronger supervisor/employee relationships. It’s the role of HR and management to provide feedback and guidance to employees in real time so that no one leaves their performance review surprised.
Chief people officer at ServiceNow
Performance reviews should stay laser focused on outcomes: does your process help employees be successful and does it help the company achieve business objectives? If the answer to these questions is no, then the current performance review process won’t work for employees or the business.
As employers we need to create the conditions for our people to thrive. Performance reviews are one way to do this, but they need to be done with two foundational elements. The first is equity. Everyone should have the same opportunity to be successful, and providing clarity, objectivity, and a process designed to be free from bias is critical to that. This isn’t just good because it’s the right thing to do for employees. It’s how we can get a clear picture of tangible achievements based on data, not assumptions, which can then inform rewards and progression, as well as drive business outcomes.
The second is around putting people at the center. The shift from heavy, cumbersome assessment cycles to more frequent intentional touchpoints is an acknowledgment that employee growth is happening every day. At ServiceNow, our Quarterly Growth Conversations form a critical part of our performance review system. Using one platform, we’re able to incorporate touchpoints into the flow of work, use them to create meaningful development plans for our people, and drive high performance.
Chief people, places, & publicity officer at Credit Karma
As a People Ops leader, one might be surprised to hear I’m not a proponent of performance reviews. I haven’t utilized them at companies I’ve worked at since 2009. There are more efficient tools to set goals, correct or encourage behaviors, and provide career coaching versus a performance review or ratings that only happen once or twice a year. Employees work throughout the year, and do their best when they know where they stand in real time.
Performance reviews often overlook achievements made earlier in a cycle, and in many cases, employees feel penalized instead of feeling motivated to focus on engaging in their strengths or finding opportunities for success. Most review processes demotivate even top performers.
I recommend having ongoing conversations about career growth and professional development in your regular employee check-ins and separating compensation from advice and feedback. Career growth isn’t linear, so real-time followup is much more timely and relevant. Employers need to provide employees at all levels with tools and information on how to engage in regular ongoing employee feedback, as well as how to have constructive conversations about performance, what’s happening in the workplace, and how they can best communicate with their team.
Chief people officer at Qualtrics
Feedback is a gift. At an individual level, it’s a critical component of how we learn, understand what’s working well, gain confidence in new skills, and motivate ourselves to tackle new challenges. But when it comes to formal performance reviews, what is shared between manager and employee should never be a surprise, especially if the feedback may be difficult to hear. Performance reviews and feedback should be a continuation of open conversations that happen on a regular basis as part of an organization’s broader strategy of continuous listening and taking action on feedback. Managers and employees benefit when these are focused conversations and not blended with a regular 1:1 conversation.
At Qualtrics, we are on a journey to simplify our performance review process as we continue to grow, while also facilitating feedback to be shared throughout the year. We empower our managers to play a bigger role in career development, adding structured career development conversations between formal reviews. We also encourage employees to solicit 360 feedback using our own technology.
No matter the structure or format of your performance review program, feedback should be at the center. Anchoring to your purpose can guide decisions on what will work best for your organization. Be open to feedback about the program to continue iterating — this will strengthen the role performance reviews play in driving business results through individual performance.
Chief people officer at Coupa
A good review program all comes down to one important question: How do you define success at your organization?
For Coupa, everything starts with our values. Ensure customer success. Focus on results. Strive for excellence. We take our values very seriously and use them to inform action. These values guide us in our daily work together. They’re the foundation on which we build our company, shape our strategies, and make our decisions. Our values are the common bonds that draw us together as a Coupa community.
Each value has an actionable definition behind it to help employees internalize and apply them to their day-to-day. Therefore, our values also provide the framework for our annual reviews. During reviews, both employees and managers fill out an assessment with just three questions: How has the employee ensured customer success? In what ways has this person strived for excellence? How did they focus on results? Our focus on these questions ensures every employee is not only aligned with how they can drive the business forward, but what they need to deliver on to advance their career.
So what should be “axed” from the process? It comes down to the criteria for evaluation. Get rid of the long lists of tactical activities and focus on what matters: how you’ve embodied the organization's core values. These are the best indicators for growth and success. Plus, 80% should focus on an employee's aspirations and the skills they’d like to develop moving forward. Remember, it’s about development.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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