Performance Reviews

An expert opinion on making performance reviews more valuable

By Marie Gould Harper

At the start of a new year, many organizations are about to go - or have just gone through the performance review process. This task has been a source of contention among managers and employees for a long period.

Why the performance review stress?

Individuals tend to procrastinate completing the necessary forms, have anxiety regarding what information to share, and do not look forward to meeting to discuss the results. An Adobe survey found that 25% of employees left a performance review in tears, and 60% of those individuals thought they should quit after receiving a bad review. Similarly, 60% of managers felt the performance review process was outdated, wasted their time, and had an adverse impact on their ability to do their job.

The same report also indicated that men are more likely to have a stronger reaction to a bad review than women are, with 43% of men and 31% of women having looked into switching companies after a bad review. In addition, 25% of men and 18% of women reported having cried after a poor review, and 28% of men (11% of women) have quit their jobs entirely.

These results clearly illustrate that we are not creating the right experience for employees, nor is the current formula helping them gain meaningful insights to support their professional development.

How can the performance management process provide more value?

Based on my experience, I believe the traditional performance review process should be revisited as the purpose and process has changed for many organizations. For example, many companies promote and value effective team and project work. Therefore, the review process should be designed to assess performance as a team as well as project outcomes, not just individual contribution.

However, I do recognize that many organizations are not positioned to make the change, electing to keep the same process in place despite evidence that middle managers and employees do not see the value in committing time and effort to the traditional approach. There are also Human Resource departments insisting that the traditional performance review process is needed in order to document derogatory performance in the event that separation of employment is the only option.

In order to make the process more valuable for employees, leaders will need to do a better job of:

  • Communicating the purpose: ensuring managers and employees are aligned on goals and outcomes

  • Explaining the value: supporting people’s professional development by providing valuable feedback on their performance

  • Rewarding employees for performance by acknowledging a job well done and not just focusing on constructive feedback

As for the Human Resource Departments, I believe they should review the market on a regular basis to ensure their compensation and classification systems are up to date with best practices, and that salary ranges are competitive.

If we're going to stick with the format of the annual review, I believe more preparation and communication should take place before and after the process, so that we can get more value out of it. For example, some of the concerns that have arisen among employees is that:

  • They do not understand how the performance review correlates to salary administration (i.e. determination of salary increases)

  • They are upset when a manager discusses areas of improvement for the first time during the annual review process, as it comes as a surprise

  • They are concerned about the lack of communication regarding how their personal goals tie into the department and organizational goals (i.e. their personal career development as it relates to meeting overall organizational objectives).

Based on my experience working in leadership and human resources, if the opportunity arose to work with an organization experiencing this type of disconnect, my recommendations would be the following:

  • Empower the Human Resource Department to create a communications campaign on performance reviews, showing both managers and employees how important this process is to the success of the organization, and the value it can bring if done properly.

  • Create a “Kickoff Session” for the entire organization where everyone is made aware of and educated about the expectations of the performance review process. Explain what individuals can do at the departmental level to contribute to the organizational objectives.

  • Provide training workshops for managers regarding how to complete the process. Items to be covered include:

I would suggest small group sessions so participants have the opportunity to role-play and share experiences and suggestions among peers. Too often, we put managers through traditional training with little interaction, minimizing the time this group has to share. They need to feel like they are not in this situation alone.

Complete the process by providing an opportunity to collect feedback, either via an engagement survey or by initiating a leadership review (if that's available to you). You could also do a combination of surveys and focus groups.

Questions can be completed after an employee has held the feedback session with his/her manager. Once a department has allowed all of its employees to go through the process, focus group sessions for employees as well as managers gives people an opportunity to provide additional verbal feedback on how well they thought the process went and areas of improvement for the next round of reviews.

There is the possibility of engaging both employees and managers by implementing a process that encourages feedback, communication and discussion. We want to create an environment where the company looks forward to versus dreads the process. By doing so, perhaps we can minimize the call for the performance review process to be eliminated.


About the author: Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. She is an innovative thinker and influential leader who is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.


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