Performance reviews are due for an upgrade—actually, many experts are calling for a complete overhaul of the process.
Industry observers have forecast the end of the performance review for quite some time, the most famous example perhaps being Samuel Culbert’s 2008 Wall Street Journal article “Get Rid of the Performance Review!.”
Why such animosity toward reviews? There are lots of reasons, but here are some of the most significant:
- They’re stagnant. They represent a fixed point in time: namely, the past. (Not ideal in today’s dynamic business landscape.)
- They’re templated. When was the last time a human could be accurately evaluated according to a set of proscribed behaviors? (Hint: The answer is never.)
- They’re myopic. Traditional reviews too often look to the bottom line as their only barometer.
- They’re inherently biased. Reviewers are human, too, and they have a hard time shelving personal preferences in favor of strict adjudication guidelines.
Still, companies and HR departments need to evaluate work and monitor progress. So, without a plan for conventional review, what are modern businesses to do? Is there a better way to execute assessment?
Performance evaluations should be reformulated to look forward, not backward, seeking to motivate instead of reprimand. This is based on the theory that people would rather be coached than reviewed—gently guided toward high-level performance through positive reinforcement and in-the-moment learning.
But while Culbert suggests we ditch performance reviews in favor of performance previews, we recommend companies expand on this concept by investing in ongoing feedback that keeps the future in mind.
And the numbers back up this idea.
As early as 2015, a full 70% of our workforce could be identified as “minimally bound.” That is, their individual stake in their jobs was so low, they only performed at bare-minimum levels. This indicates that 21st-century businesses need a new, hands-on approach to activating and engaging employees—one that preferably avoids the standard, dispassionate system of review. Case in point: Research from McKinsey suggests companies who focus on holistic employee growth (as opposed to reducing workers to “win-vs-loss” paradigms) can carry competitive advantage in areas like consistency, resiliency and talent retention.
So, the time for a serious reevaluation of the evaluation is now.
Hoping to reinvent your performance review policy to accommodate a coaching mindset while keeping one eye on the future? Here are five top benefits to rebooting your rubric for review.
- It accentuates the positive.
Standard reviews come with negativity baked in. Their existence all but demands reviewers sniff out employee shortcomings.
This system presupposes (naively) that everyone can demonstrate expert-level proficiency in more or less the same skillset … if only they work hard enough. But, as organizational and clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Kinnebrew points out, this thinking overlooks the fact all humans possess natural inner strengths and weaknesses—the bedrock principle of “teamwork.” As such, Kinnebrew suggests leaders and employees divert energies toward reiterating strengths rather than wasting time on in-built limitations.
One way to do this is through guided conversations that paint a positive light. These can spotlight productivity (e.g., “Awesome job on that presentation!”) and reframe subpar behaviors as potential strengths (“You stumbled a bit in that final section, but I know you’ll nail that next call.”). Ideally occurring within the flow of work, these teachable moments can bypass negativity by anticipating what will be, as opposed to dwelling on what was.
- It’s collaborative.
Whether you take a moment to debrief your accounts manager on a client’s meeting or pencil in a sales rep strategy session about the upcoming quarter, you’re setting the stage for give and take. This two-way street communicates transparency, accountability and mutual trust. As a result, employees will likely be more open to providing their own feedback, which, in turn, can help them feel validated and supported.
In other words: Personalized interactions driven by a coaching mindset can signal employees are an integral part of your organization—not faceless members of a dispensable workforce.
Collaborative interactions also upend reviews by moving them out of the realm of “control” and into a place of “guidance.” And this culture shift can help nurture an even healthier work environment. When employees are given an active role in company improvement, they’re inclined to see it as a sign of respect. Workers who feel respected tend to read evaluation as constructive criticism rather than unproductive “micromanaging.” Hence, they’re better positioned to make changes faster, with minimal resistance.
- It motivates and engages.
Any employee who feels like a valued team player is an employee with buy-in. Their stake is personal. And they’ll no doubt take a genuine interest in company success, if only because they recognize a win for the company is a direct reflection of their own hard work.
See also: Are annual reviews a thing of the past?
Consequently, if we reimagine assessments as interactive dialogues, they can help boost employee engagement. This is in part because, as we’ve mentioned, dialogues cast employees as functional contributors. They give workers a voice and incentivize them to use it by acknowledging they have something impactful to say. Organizations that listen to employee voices and harness them to inform company processes can therefore inspire deeper levels of investment, pushing performance well beyond the “bare-minimum” plateau toward higher growth.
- It’s forward-thinking.
Imagine a typical performance review write-up.
Outside the statements about “demonstrates proficiency in” and “needs some improvement regarding,” is there any substantive information on how to actually augment performance? Probably not.
By contrast, performance conversations that spark immediate engagement help realign the review process toward progressive goals rather than regressive analysis. They zoom in on work already in progress, allowing for concrete, detailed explanations regarding which behaviors to keep and which to amend. This can galvanize efforts around a series of quantifiable results and/or tangible milestones—what McKinsey calls “transparent performance expectations”—making review less of a rehash of what’s gone wrong and more of a prediction for what can go right … complete with a roadmap for how to get there.
- It’s flexible.
A major disadvantage of traditional review is that it takes time. Keeping this challenge in mind, some HR leaders recommend an agile approach that emphasizes continual feedback, served up in the moment of need. And contextual conversations can support this model of HR performance management on an exponential scale.
- They’re unscheduled. Discussions can happen anywhere, anytime.
- They’re multi-formatted. “Coaching mindset”-driven interactions can come in any form: from casual chat to gamified lesson. (No vague, boring write-ups need apply.)
- They’re multi-functional. With no template in play, managers can tackle any number of behavioral topics as they arise.
- They’re employee-focused. In-the-moment conversations develop organically out of employee activity. They center on the needs, desires and performance patterns of the worker, not the biases of the supervisor.
Additionally, this flexible answer to performance review speaks to the rise of a contiguous learning module that’s currently outpacing conventional, one-and-done solutions from the C-suite on down. Streamlined, accessible and customizable, these educational systems are designed to work alongside you and can easily be tailored to accommodate agile, collaborative interactions geared toward optimal performance.
Curious how this new style of education—along with a responsive renovation of performance review—can further support your business? Consider your options.