Before You Dump Your Annual Review, Ask Your Employees What They Want. Here’s How

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Apr 28, 2017

With companies like GE, Adobe and Accenture revamping the way they do performance reviews, many others are now jumping on the bandwagon. But how do you design a new process that will work for your unique work environment? The best way is to start by asking your people.

Beginning a new policy with a survey gives employees ownership of the process and ensures you’ll get the information you need to make it successful. The main issue you’ll have to watch out for is how to get answers that you can then use to shape your new process.

This starts with asking the right questions. Rather than simply asking, “What do you think about the way we do performance reviews?” ask questions with a specific goal in mind. To do this, think about the most important components that make up the process for your company and make a list. Here’s one possible list:

Employees: Development & engagement

  • Employees should receive sufficient information about what their strengths are and areas for improvement.
  • Top performers should receive recognition for their contributions.
  • All employees, even top performers, should be encouraged to continue improving and receive support in creating development goals for the next quarter.
  • Those who are struggling should be provided with extra coaching by managers or peer mentors.

Managers: Improving their team

  • Improving communication and engagement by having discussions with each individual about where they are, where they want to be and how the manager can help.
  • Being able to use the information to plan and delegate more accurately.
  • Knowing where and to whom extra coaching should be directed.
  • Identifying top performers and possible peer coaches.

Company: Having a dynamic workforce

  • Having an efficient system that engages and develops the workforce.
  • Everyone from the CEO to the new intern should be receiving development advice on different aspects of their performance.
  • Having a high learning capacity that enables the team to quickly meet new industry trends and challenges.

Ask the right questions

Now think about how these objectives can be broken down into solid questions. For example:


  • How long does it take on average for managers, HR and employees to complete the review process?
  • Do the results provide each with enough information and insights into individual performance?
  • Does HR feel the results are accurate?

Follow-up with

  • Do employees receive regular coaching and follow-ups from managers after the review period?
  • Are employees able to translate the information into goals?
  • Do they understand how these goals will contribute to their personal development and to reaching the company’s objectives?

Quantitative and qualitative questions

Multiple choice questions are the most common and allow you to gauge likes and dislikes with a range of responses, such as: Strongly Agree; Agree; Sometimes; Disagree; Strongly Disagree. Examples of this type of question include:

  • You have sufficient time to prepare for your review.
  • I receive actionable information about my performance in my annual review.
  • Your manager regularly follows up with you after reviews.

You’ll want to include qualitative questions to get more detailed information. These are the questions where employees offer written answers. Examples include:

  • Did you feel the results of your annual review reflected your performance?
  • Do you feel you get enough coaching to improve?
  • How many hours a week do you have to dedicate to your personal goals?

What to avoid

To keep your questions as neutral as possible be conscious of your word choice. Leading questions can sway the reader towards a particular answer. For example, “Why are annual performance reviews burdensome for you?” The word “burdensome” already denotes a negative connotation for the reader thus influencing their response.

Putting too many thoughts into one, or a double barreled question, is confusing. For example, “Are stretch assignments and leadership opportunities you’re given helpful for your professional development?” When in doubt it’s best to split them in two. At the same time remember that too many questions will make participants weary of filling out the survey and lead to fewer results and less detailed responses.

Getting started

Send out a first email explaining the importance and impact of the survey. It’s essential that you explain your intention to overhaul the company’s performance management process and would like their feedback to create an effective new strategy. It’s possible that a number of people will not respond if they think it will take up too much valuable time. It’s therefore important to emphasize how this transition will impact them specifically — “What’s In It For Them” — and the opportunity it provides to have more input into the new performance management system.

Keep in mind that a long email may be ignored. The best strategy is to keep it short and to the point: why they should participate in the survey. Provide links to further optional information to learn more about real-time feedback and case studies. If it’s possible to hold workshops or talks this would be a great way to be certain employees are informed about the changes you want to make before participating in the survey. If not, be sure to spread information about the survey on all of your company’s internal communication channels.

After sending the survey be sure to give sufficient time for employees to answer. Send reminders. And note the deadline for completing the survey.

After the survey is completed, share the results with the rest of the company.

Put your results into action

The most important rule of conducting an employee survey is to never ask a question about an aspect of the workplace that you don’t intend to change. For each question you ask you should already anticipate possible fixes. If your employees don’t feel they get enough follow-up, encourage your managers to implement weekly or bi-weekly 1-on-1s with each team member and provide extra management training. If employees feel the results are not always accurate consider introducing 360-degree reviews to get a more diverse range of perspectives. If you find many employees get demotivated by what tends to be a long and arduous process, consider adopting a tool that can simplify your review period.