As of 2016, 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies announced plans to move away from traditional performance reviews — IBM being one of them. The tech powerhouse tossed a 10-year-old system out the window for one that allows employees to change their goals throughout the year and creates opportunities for more frequent feedback. This move seems bolstered by an American Psychological Association study that concludes receiving feedback more often improves employee performance and learning.
Traditional performance reviews are great in theory, but companies can go through many changes throughout the year, from restructuring to leadership changes to pivoting their offerings, that an annual hour-long session can't adequately address.
Moreover, as company structures undergo a major shift and an emphasis on teams overrides hierarchical silos, leaders and employees need to rethink how they approach workplace engagement and evaluation — from everything to how jobs are positioned to job titles to success metrics and review processes.
If a business is unwilling to alter how it approaches performance reviews or continues to rank team members by static metrics that fail to maximize growth efforts along with the company's objectives, then a company and its teams will simply stop evolving.
So, what is the first step toward a new performance review strategy?
While the process isn't universal and leaders and employees shouldn't expect it to be, leaders who want to introduce a shift in performance evaluations and explain why that shift must happen should do so while foregrounding honesty and engagement. Communicating new schedules and metrics allows your people to make recommendations about the type and manner of feedback they find most useful. Companies can then focus on a scalable solution that works best for them — one that can be modified depending on the company's goals and an individual's role but that ultimately aligns company growth with employee growth.
At my company, for instance, we've conducted both weekly one-on-one reviews and monthly check-ins. We've also implemented performance tracking tools such as Asana and frequent meetings for certain projects and employees, all of which creates the most effective and efficient review process at any given point. While in general we undertake employees reviews at least twice per year, this fluidity allows us to accommodate exceptions — such as needing more evaluations for new team members or during special projects — without having to sustain these changes over the long term.
The point is that leaders should approach performance reviews with the same flexibility they use in approaching the marketplace, making them work for their roles and their organizations. Whether the data tells you that it's time to shake things up or you simply feel it's time, adjusting reviews monthly and quarterly can help ensure that your company continues to meet (or, if necessary, redefine) its goals and that your employees feel challenged.
The Nature of a More Modern Performance Review
If you're still struggling with how to begin, though, try using these questions borrowed from 15Five CEO David Hassell when approaching either a general review or a specific review:
• What’s going well in your role?
• What challenges are you facing? Where are you stuck?
• On a scale of one to 10, how happy are you, and why?
• Provide one idea to improve.
• What are your top three priorities for next week?
During a general review, have your people write down their answers and track them. Then hold your people accountable for the priorities they set in place to ensure and measure growth. During a specific review, such as conducting team postmortems and feedback meetings during and after a big project, use these questions to give team members a chance to voice their experiences. This can provide valuable insights that help you, as the leader, structure your approach to delegation and that foster team dynamics.
The corporate environment is changing. Creating a more fluid performance review system that embraces the dynamic nature of goals and objectives allows companies to use reviews as something other than fleeting moments of acknowledgment or admonishment. Your employees will be more engaged and satisfied as a result, and you may just see your company grow in ways you hadn't even considered.