Help Your Managers Conduct Performance Reviews That Actually Work

By Baili Bigham

It’s no surprise that traditional performance reviews don’t cut it in a modern workforce. And if working through a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that leaders must be ready for anything. That means putting the right systems in place to ensure you and your organization are agile and prepared to pivot.

One of the best ways to keep your people motivated throughout the year is through frequent and structured performance reviews. And if that statement shocks you, it might be time to rethink how you’re conducting reviews altogether. Below, we’ll share the problem with traditional reviews today and tips you can share with your managers to make every review effective and inspiring.  

The problem with performance reviews today

When it comes to traditional employee performance reviews, research shows that even the best managers can be highly biased. Without the right strategy and solutions in place, our personal biases are difficult to avoid when assessing someone else’s performance.

Plus, cadence matters. Most people are still having annual reviews, rather than mid-year or quarterly reviews. But having once-a-year performance conversations doesn’t address urgent problems in a timely manner nor do they give the employee an opportunity to course correct a problem until too late. 

Overall, only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve, according to Gallup, which can do more harm than good. Think of it this way, “if performance reviews were a drug, they would not meet FDA approval for efficacy.”

Tips for conducting effective performance reviews

Ideally, your performance review cycle shouldn’t just be about performance. Your managers should treat this conversation as an opportunity to give feedback and direction that may not get covered in quick check ins or weekly one-on-ones.

Here are three tips you can share with managers to help them to conduct better performance reviews. In doing this, you’ll be able to respond to the needs of everyone at your organization and motivate them to go above and beyond.

1. Talk about the past and the future. It’s important to ask employees to look back on their proudest moments and biggest challenges over the last six-months or quarter (depending on the frequency of your review cycle). But instead of stopping there, as many people do, managers should also be learning about their employees’ personal career goals for the future. Performance conversations are the perfect time for managers to figure out how can they can help get their people where they want to be.

2. Avoid comparisons to peers. Part of the dread of the performance management process is employees feeling like they’re being unfairly ranked. Forced ranking, or social comparisons, can generate negative employee reactions and create a culture of unhealthy competition because simply put—they’re deeply unfair and demotivating. How would you feel if your manager was required to promote their highest performers and yank their lowest performers?

Research suggests a “me now, versus me in the past” comparison. The contrast of the same individual at two time periods is seen as a more fair and individualized approach, which helps employees feel more receptive to both positive and critical employee feedback.

3. Separate compensation and review conversations. Most performance reviews are, unfortunately, too biased to be accurate. And when pay conversations and performance reviews are combined, it naturally results in inaccurate compensation decisions.

Performance cannot objectively be reduced to a single number because it’s only one dimensional. It doesn’t capture the true essence of a person’s performance nor does it provide the necessary context needed to influence bigger career decisions, such as promotions.

When trying to determine compensation, account for performance over time. In a separate but timely pay conversation, assess performance by looking back at various manager assessments and peer assessments, rather than leaning on just one performance review.

At 15Five, we use our very own Competency Assessment, Private Manager Assessment, and 360° Best-Self Review to help make determining pay a seamless, unbiased, and most importantly, fair process for all.

To learn more about how 15Five can help make your performance review process better, click here

Baili Bigham is the Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge-reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco. 

Image credit: Shutterstock


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