Performance Reviews in 2021

Performance reviews have a meaningful impact on employee motivation. In fact, people who like their company’s review processes are 2.9X more likely to work harder than they have at past organizations. So how can companies make performance reviews better in 2021? Read below for helpful information on how reviews can do more for you.

What is a performance review?

A performance review is a formal evaluation of employee performance. Reviews can be completed by managers, teammates, and cross-functional colleagues. The HR team provides reviewers with forms to assess the employee’s performance. Reviewers may be asked questions such as:

  • What could this person start doing that would benefit their career and the company?
  • What could this person stop doing to benefit their career and the company?
  • What does this person do well?

The employee may complete a self-assessment as well, in which they identify key contributions and areas of opportunity. Once the reviewer and reviewee have completed their assessments, they meet to discuss the employee’s performance, and align on goals and skills that would benefit the individual and the company.

Why do performance reviews matter?

Reviews are a crucial element of a holistic performance program. Review conversations are an ideal forum to:

  • Discuss performance, key accomplishments, and learnings
  • Share the employee’s impact and contributions to the organization
  • Confirm key work objectives
  • Discuss career growth goals
  • Share feedback from peers

What’s more, having an employee-centric review process shows that your company is committed to growth and development, and can result in higher employee satisfaction and retention. Those who like their review processes are:

  • 3X more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work
  • 2.4X more likely to work at their company two years from now

How can I make reviews better for employees?

There are myriad ways in which companies can improve the review process! We’ve bucketed them into the three categories below:

Enable Employees for a Successful Cycle

Manage employee expectations from the get-go. Include context on the upcoming review cycle by addressing the following questions in emails, intranet pages, or other employee-facing content:

  • Why: Why is your company running this review/check-in?
  • What: What are the benefits of the review cycle for the employee and the company? What is the process for the review cycle? What tool are we using for the review cycle?
  • When: When are the following due dates?
  • Self-assessment
  • Manager assessment
  • Peer assessment
  • Direct report assessment
  • Meeting between manager and employee

Adopt a Development-Focused Approach

Reviews are often perceived by employees as stress-inducing. And only 14% of workers strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve. Many companies are responding to this by creating review cycles focused on positive reinforcement and continuous improvement, rather than a “what went wrong” approach. This development-focused approach can be incorporated into review forms, where HR teams can add questions such as:

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How can I better support you in your work?
  • What skills would you like to use more of in your role?
  • What growth opportunities are you most interested in?
  • What do you want your next career step to be?

Gather Insights to Continuously Improve

After your review cycle, take a pulse on employee sentiment to learn what was most helpful, and what can be improved. Whether you gather feedback via a survey or poll, or through focus groups and interviews, ensure that you ask what went well, what questions were valuable, and what would make performance reviews even more productive. 

How often should companies have performance reviews?

We believe that formal performance conversations should be conducted on a quarterly basis. These can take the form of a manager review, 360 review, and/or a check-in. More details on the differences between these review types is available in Reflektive’s HR Guide to Designing a Reviews & Check-In Program.

What questions should be included in employee self-assessments?

We recommend the below questions based on the objective of your review cycle. In general, it’s best to keep your form short and limit it to 4-7 questions.

Building a culture of feedback

  • Appreciation: What are 3-5 accomplishments you’re proud of?
  • Alignment & Evaluation: 
    • Think about your main goals. How have you performed relative to these goals in the past quarter?
    • Think about the main responsibilities of your role. How have you performed relative to these responsibilities in the past quarter?
  • Coaching: What is the most important thing you could have done at least 10% better last quarter? What would you do differently next time?
  • Career: What do you want your next career step to be? What step can you take to get there?

Improving alignment

  • Have your goals changed or should they change?
  • What went well this quarter? 
  • What could have gone better in the last quarter? List 1-2 learnings that can be applied going forward.
  • What help do you need to make better progress toward your goals?
  • Manager: Provide 1-2 pieces of feedback that could help this employee make better progress toward their goals.

Developing careers

  • How did you grow your career here last quarter?
  • What knowledge, experiences, and/or collaboration opportunities would benefit you in the next quarter?
  • What do you want your next career step to be? 
  • What steps can you take to get there?  What support do you need?

Improving performance

  • Manager evaluates each value and/or competency and how frequently the employee shows the value

Informing talent management decisions

  • What goals did you accomplish?
  • What goals were you unable to achieve?
  • How will you tackle goals differently in the future?
  • What skills would you like to use more of in your role?
  • In an ideal world, what would your next role look like?

How should companies launch review cycles?

Launching a review cycle requires the coordination of many different moving parts. The following launch plan can help companies create a streamlined process, and drive higher completion rates too.

Step 1. Get executive buy-in

Ensure the entire leadership team is aligned on your review objective and strategy.

Step 2. Share your plan with managers

Schedule a manager training session to share the review cycle timeline and process prior to communicating with the broader organization. Ensure that managers are equipped to answer their team’s questions.

If you’re unable to hold a manager training session, provide managers with information on a wiki or intranet site. We recommend holding office hours so managers can stop by with questions or get assistance on preparing for their conversations.

Step 3. Send a company-wide communication

In your launch email, include information on the “why”, “what”, and “when” of your review cycle. Encourage everyone to block time in their calendars for completing reviews so they can finish them before the deadline (HR teams can also send calendar holds for all employees!) Finally, we recommend office hours for individual contributors so they can ask questions on the upcoming cycle.

Step 4. Launch your review, and use nudges if needed

Nudges remind employees to complete their reviews. In fact, most Reflektive customers use three nudges per cycle. Additionally, you can get higher completion rates by partnering with managers. For example, managers can share with their team that they’ve completed their review, and lead by example. 

Step 5. Track progress!

Leverage a people analytics platform to keep track of completion rates and other KPIs.

Step 6. Ensure fairness by calibrating

Gather team leaders for calibration sessions. Adjust performance ratings to account for leaders who may be easy or hard graders.

How can HR teams best prepare for performance reviews?

HR teams can benefit from completing the below tasks prior to launching a review cycle:

Develop success criteria for the review cycle

We recommend setting a desired completion rate, and establishing baseline employee sentiment metrics that are assessed post-review. For the completion rates, see what percentage of employees completed their reviews on-time. For 360 reviews, assess peer completion rates too. Employee sentiment, on the other hand, can be measured with a poll or engagement survey post-review cycle.

Incorporate employee feedback, recognition, and goals into the review form

Build a holistic picture on employee performance by pulling in helpful data. These insights help foster a discussion on key accomplishments, and what can be improved moving forward. Tip: encourage employees to always ask for feedback after a project is completed to get timely learnings!

Ensure goals and action items are up-to-date

As business needs evolve at your company, make sure that employees and managers are updating their goals and key projects. To ensure that direct reports are staying in-sync with organizational objectives, encourage weekly 1:1s and a strong company-wide communication plan.

How can managers best prepare for performance reviews?

To help managers prepare for an upcoming cycle, we recommend the following best practices:

Keep Consistent Notes

Detailed notes are your best friend when it comes to review prep. Save, categorize, and view feedback from throughout the year, track employees’ goal progress, and review discussion topics from 1:1 conversations.  

Review Goal Progress & Establish Upcoming Goals

Evaluate your employees’ goals from previous reviews. Did they accomplish their objectives? If not, what could they have done differently? Based on their past performance, choose a handful of goals to discuss during the review. These can provide a solid framework to help the employee identify areas for improvement and establish goals for the upcoming 3, 6, or 12 months.

Provide Regular Feedback

When you regularly provide feedback to employees, preparing for a performance review doesn’t feel like a Herculean task anymore. The employee has a better idea of where they stand, and you have prior conversations to draw from when preparing for reviews. 

How can employees best prepare for performance reviews?

Employees can put their best foot forward for the upcoming review cycle by doing the following:

Ask for Feedback

Nearly 85% of Millennials surveyed said they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent performance conversations with managers. The easiest way to get that conversation started is simply to ask your manager for feedback—regularly, throughout the year, and not just during reviews. It demonstrates initiative and a commitment to growth. And the more frequently these check-in conversations occur, the less uncertain (and anxious) you’ll feel when it comes time for your review.

Be Prepared

Know the format of the review. If you want to discuss a promotion or raise, have a target in mind with compelling talking points to support your case. Make a list of accomplishments and positive feedback that you’ve received. Also, take time to self-reflect and identify weaknesses, so you won’t be blindsided by negative feedback. Preparation is the best way to eliminate nervousness.

What should people do after performance reviews?

The below best practices help companies drive improved employee productivity, performance, and development after their review cycles.

  1. Canonize review program requirements and best practices
    If you haven’t already, make sure your review requirements – including self-assessment, meeting with your manager, etc – are documented and always available to employees. Include a reviews “Best Practices” section in your documentation as well — check out this article for ideas!
  1. Send an engagement survey or poll
    There are so many learnings that HR teams can generate from the performance review experience! We recommend sending out a survey or poll that covers the performance appraisal process and follow-up. Include questions such as, “Was information in the performance conversation valuable to you?” and “Do you feel that your performance has changed?” Insights from the survey will help you make continuous improvements that ultimately boost productivity.
  1. Hold a review post-mortem
    Conduct focus groups – and use pulse survey insights – to learn what went well in this review cycle, and what can be improved. Once your data is gathered, schedule a post-mortem with your HR team to shape plans for future cycles. 
  1. Document and share changes for future review cycles
    Once your HR team is aligned on the changes to be made for future cycles, document them and share them with employees. Let employees know when the next review cycle will be, the modifications you’re making, and why. This information can live on a wiki or intranet page, and should also be proactively shared with employees via email and all-staff meetings.
  1. Reward high performance
    Are employees knocking out high-priority deliverables left and right? Reward them! Whether employees are incentivized by food delivery or donations to their favorite charities, we also recommend sharing public recognition to build a culture of praise.
  1. Have managers follow-up on areas of improvement
    Conversely, if an employee is struggling with their objectives or developmental plans, encourage managers to speak openly with them and engage in problem-solving together. Bosses can also drive the importance of accountability for achieving team success.
  1. Encourage employees to get feedback after every project
    To drive continuous development, encourage employees to request feedback after major projects and milestones. By learning from teammates about what went well and where they can improve, employees will receive relevant (and timely!) insights that will help with future projects.

What other tactics can help employees improve performance?

Performance reviews aren’t the only way to help employees do better in their jobs. We recommend the below programs to complement reviews and equip workers for success.

Encourage more frequent 1:1 conversations

Weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s with managers help employees work towards the right objectives. While we generally recommend that 1:1s are employee-driven, manager-driven 1:1s are also appropriate for driving alignment and following up on important business updates.

Boost company-wide recognition

To drive awareness of wins across the organization, we recommend more frequent employee recognition. HR teams can create a contest or a challenge to encourage kudos from workers.

Encourage employee-driven feedback

Between review cycles, employees can proactively request feedback from managers, peers, and cross-functional colleagues. This will help them grow professionally and develop core skills. Additionally, if your HR team is overburdened and cannot run reviews now, employee-driven feedback can replace reviews.

Modify goals as needed

Finally, to ensure that employees are set up for success in an ever-changing environment, enable workers to adjust goals as needed. Additionally, if it’s too difficult for certain employees to work towards numeric results, managers can create qualitative scorecards to reward employee behaviors. 

To build a successful performance review program, HR teams should think through their high-level objective, and the strategy and tactics that will help them achieve that goal. Building an employee-centric review process – focused on growth & development – will make review conversations even more valuable to workers. To craft the right program for your organization, schedule a consult with an expert.