The Top 5 Pain Points in Performance Reviews (And How To Solve Them)

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Jan 24, 2014
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes readers ask about past TLNT articles. That’s why we republish a Classic TLNT post every Friday. 

Let’s be honest: performance reviews are a pain in the you-know-what.

Employees don’t like them and HR aren’t fans either — 45 percent of HR leaders didn’t think reviews were good gauges of a worker’s performance, compared to last year’s 39 percent, according to a poll by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce.

They simply aren’t the kind of feedback the modern worker needs to perform better, particularly in ever changing work environments.

More specifically though, performance reviews don’t do much to help an employee to stop and realize what they are doing right or wrong as they need it. Yes, performance reviews may focus on the “big picture” stuff, but that’s not what employees need in the moment.

Let’s look at a few reasons why performance reviews don’t do this and some alternatives:

1. Infrequent

Most performance reviews are only given once or twice a year. Well, does an employee need the right feedback annually, or, do they need it as a goal is being worked on?

Research from employee survey specialist ETS found that only 42 percent of employees are asked to provide feedback to their manager through 360-degree feedback, and 45 percent of employees think clear, honest communication from managers would improve the quality of management.

To get the best out of your people and become a solid manager, you need to provide positive feedback along the way. Traditional performance reviews just don’t meet the needs of today’s agile workforce.

Instead: Real-time feedback offers employees the direction they need as a goal is being worked on, not a year later. According to Derek Irvine, “Regular, frequent, consistent recognition – from multiple sources (not just the direct manager) – gives the ongoing, real-time feedback employees at all levels need to stay on course.” I couldn’t agree more.

2. Generic

Performance reviews are akin to used college papers with a name change. That is, the benchmarks are usually the same for every person. So, if the scale is generic, it likely means the feedback will be as well. If you don’t want mediocre employees, don’t give them mediocre reviews.

Instead: Feedback becomes easier to give if it is tied to results — real work that happens throughout the workday. Think about it: Is it easier to give feedback on one’s communication skills, or is it easier to give feedback on the latest project they completed or an account meeting that went well?

When you tie feedback to results and objectives, it’s easier for both the receiver and giver. It gives you an opportunity to really mention their strengths, innovative approaches and results. Cater feedback to the candidate by considering their individual behavior, work ethic, goals, and direction — and by using benchmarks that are fair to them.

3. Not every goal is considered

Employees work on tons of goals throughout the year, yet only a few can possibly be considered in a performance review. Yes, not every goal compares to the other, but if it helped the overall focus then the goal was obviously important. Most performance reviews look at overarching goals and don’t look at the steps it took to achieve the objective.

Instead: In addition to giving frequent feedback, try to look at every goal an employee reached, not just the huge ones. This also helps employers to gain some real insight into their workforce which they may not have been aware of before.

4. Not agile

We live in a world where news, trends, and objectives can change in an instant. Most performance reviews consider the number of goals reached, as opposed to the quality of those goals. If a goal had to be adjusted quite a bit, it may look like the employee wasn’t on task, when in reality they were just adapting to the nature of the new goal.

Instead: Adopt a results-only work environment (ROWE), which focuses on results, as opposed to when the goal was met. Some organizations have found ROWE to increase productivity by 41 percent as well as reduce turnover by as much as 90 percent. This helps your workers focus on the outcome of a goal, instead of rushing to meet deadlines or exerting too much effort on things that do not benefit the end result.

5. Bad for engagement

A recent survey indicated that 63 percent of employees are not engaged and are struggling to cope with work. Performance reviews don’t help with this case or with employee engagement since they are impersonal and irregular.

Instead: Offer feedback to employees in a more personal way. Let them know how they’re doing with their goals by regularly offering critiques, whether it’s good or bad.

This shows employees that you not only care about their performance, but that their performance actually contributes to the well-being of the company. This can boost the engagement levels of employees because it shows they really matter and that the future of the organization can be shifted through their work.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.