Management - Improve Performance Reviews

Why Frequent Check-Ins Are Catching On

Improve Performance ReviewsThe days of once-a-year employee performance reviews may be numbered in corporate America. Companies from Adobe to Google to Gap are conducting more frequent “check-in” reviews, and are seeing a huge payoff in higher employee productivity and morale.

Could the same shift be helpful to your business? Here are some suggestions from experts who’ve witnessed what works – and just as importantly, what doesn’t – in improving employee reviews.

Go Quarterly
If you’re still a fan of a sole annual sit-down with staffers, one eye-catching stat may change your mind. A recent study found that companies that conduct quarterly reviews are nearly four times more likely to have high performers than those that opt for a once-a-year meeting.

Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, which creates goal-setting software, thinks this stat is one that companies can’t ignore. “It’s like if Fitbit sent you one email at the end of the year with your step count,” Duggan says. “If you do quarterly goals, you’d be forced to do more coaching. You’d be forced to make sure that the goals you’re working on are really the goals that people should be working on. You’d have all this opportunity for feedback, and there wouldn’t be surprises.”

Duggan recently met with the CEO of a large company who realized his company’s annual reviews just weren’t getting the job done. “He said the annual process is so frustrating because in January they spend a bunch of time laying out their annual plans, they work on that for two months, and then by April, those goals are out of date because the business changes,” Duggan says.

Susan Baroncini-Moe, CEO of Business in Blue Jeans, agrees that quarterly reviews are helpful, but she believes managers should take it one step further. “I think it’s important for managers to be in a position to do ongoing reviews,” she says. “All the time, people should be in review. Managers need to know their people well enough to communicate when something’s not going well so there’s time for the employee to address it and improve it without it being a shock or surprise.”

Compare Apples to Apples
Baroncini-Moe believes managers should avoid the temptation of using a universal set of metrics to grade every employee. “I think it’s important for managers to be aware of the context for each role,” she says. “You may have one salesperson who’s working territories or contracts that are traditionally easier to get. Well, great, but it’s not fair to evaluate that person in the exact same way that you would the person in a territory that’s much harder to get sales in.”

In reviewing employees, managers should also look closely at how that person is improving over time. “What about the guy who came in with bad numbers, but he’s raised them? He’s still not in the same range as the top performer, but he’s made a huge increase. If you’re seeing improvement and someone who’s actually putting in the effort, that should be as relevant,” Baroncini-Moe says.

This evaluation method will also boost employee morale and make workers feel like people rather than cogs in a machine. “I know companies are now going to a strict metric system where you just do rankings and a little bit of commenting, but that misses the contextual and human elements, and I think those overly systematized performance reviews end up hurting more than helping,” Baroncini-Moe says.

Coach Them
Duggan believes managers who aren’t taking on a coaching role with their employees are missing out on a critical part of the regular evaluation process. “I think what’s really lacking in organizations today is that quick, continuous, ongoing feedback,” he says. “I’d say there’s a need for ongoing feedback every week or two.”

The goal is simple: to help employees realize just how valuable and successful they can be in their roles within the business. “The new approach is, ‘I want you to unlock your full potential, and my job as a coach is to help you realize that, so let’s talk about some big goals you can be working on that will be satisfying for you, but also valuable for the company,’” Duggan says.

Consider Personal Circumstances
Just as each employee’s professional situation should be discussed during performance reviews, Baroncini-Moe says thoughtful considerations should be given to staffers in difficult personal spots.

“These are human beings. There might be an illness in the family or something going on so they’re just struggling,” she says. “You want to make sure people have the help and support they need, and you also want to make sure they do their jobs in the most effective way possible.”

This is another reason why more frequent reviews are a good idea. “There should always be an opportunity for managers to say, ‘This is what’s going on with this person,’” Baroncini-Moe says. “You have to also be able to ferret out the people whose personal lives consistently get in the way of their performance versus the top performers who simply have one personal thing going on.”

The bottom line: managers need to be interested enough in the lives of employees to know how they’re really doing. “If you have an employee who’s suddenly or gradually falling down on the job, you want to know why,” Baroncini-Moe says. “So, I think you have to look at a number of variables, and it’s not just one-size-fits-all. It’s very contextual and it’s nuanced, so managers have to be keyed into what’s going on with each person.”

Encourage Coworker Feedback
Setting up an anonymous feedback system is another great way to enhance the review process. Employees can be invited to use the system to share positive information about coworkers and even make suggestions for how team members can do their jobs more effectively.

“Employees should be able to do something, whether that’s a comment or through a point system allowing them to pat each other on the back,” Baroncini-Moe says. “You fuse that all into the same culture so that you have an emphasis on positivity and the awareness that it’s also about, let’s all pull ourselves up, and let’s encourage each other to improve, as well.”

Baroncini-Moe says many companies have successfully set up this kind of system, and those businesses tend to have happier, more efficient employees than those who breed a culture of constant criticism. “Creating a negative environment and a negative culture is not good for anyone, and if we’re going to spend as much time as we do at work, we should be trying to make it pleasant for employees,” she says.