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11 Min Read

What is Continuous Performance Management?

Genevieve Michaels

Your annual performance reviews aren’t cutting it anymore. Only 14% of your employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve, according to Gallup data.

Traditional performance management has long been a top-down process, where employees would meet with their manager one to four times a year. This mostly involved managers talking “at them” about their strengths, weaknesses, and where they needed to improve before the next review. The result of these reviews? A one-sentence description of the employee’s performance: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, or does not meet expectations. Employees might also get an answer about whether you can expect a raise in the future or not.

No wonder they don’t work.

By contrast, continuous performance management fills the gaps between your annual or quarterly performance reviews while encouraging two-way conversations instead of monologues. 

More frequent check-ins—sometimes no less than a month apart—allow managers to guide employees along their growth plan and give feedback they can actually work with. Even better, some organizations using this sort of performance management share feedback as often as daily, giving employees a better understanding of their performance on day-to-day work. Continuous performance management also involves using the appropriate tools to track performance over time, saving the manual work that would usually be involved in this process.

So why continuous performance management? And how should your organization implement it? Let’s dive in.

8 benefits of continuous performance management

Continuous performance management comes with many benefits, especially when compared to its traditional counterpart. But don’t be fooled; employees aren’t the only ones who benefit. Your organization can see some significant improvements from implementing this process. Here are just a few of them.

  • Better employee engagement: As noted previously, few employees find traditional performance management particularly inspiring. Conversely, getting the daily feedback that’s usually common with continuous performance management makes employees 3.6 times more likely to say they’re motivated to do outstanding work according to Gallup data. That helps push the entire organization forward.
  • Better employee retention: When half of your employees are ready to quit for the right opportunity, you need to work twice as hard to retain them. Managing their performance in a way that makes sense for them can be a massive cost-saving strategy while making your workplace a better place to work.
  • Efficient goal management: When your organization sets a goal, does it only check in on its performance once a year? Since continuous performance management both increases the frequency of check-ins with employees and relies on stronger data, you can help guide employees if they stumble while going after their growth targets.
  • Constant opportunities for development: Traditional annual reviews have some distinct disadvantages. They demand a ton of preparation from managers and only cover performance in a shallow way. With continuous performance management, managers have a more complete view of how well employees are doing and what their goals are. That helps them find more growth opportunities and ensures they’re a good fit.
  • Real-time employee growth: When you only check in on an employee’s progress one to three times a year, it’s tough to get a good read on their progress. You might have a few metrics that let you track how they measure up against the organization’s expectations, but both you and the employee have little visibility on that growth during the rest of the year. With continuous performance management, you can get an updated, real-time snapshot of those important metrics, helping them reach their potential.
  • Better alignment between employee and company goals: Having yearly or quarterly reviews makes it difficult to ensure an employee’s goals and priorities actually contribute to the organization overall. With more frequent check-ins, managers can keep their teams abreast of what the organization is aiming for and help correct employees who get off-track.
  • Streamlined performance reviews: When managers give a single performance review a year, they need to do significant prep. They have to go over every project an employee has contributed to, gather feedback from stakeholders and team members, and review any past conversations about performance. With continuous performance management, there’s a lot less to review each time since your feedback sessions are more frequent.
  • Less biased performance reviews: In traditional performance management, everything moves through a single manager, which can make implicit biases especially damaging. Continuous performance management relies more on a constant stream of data, meaning managers and employees alike can base their conversations on metrics rather than hunches and best guesses.

There are two main differences between traditional approaches to performance management and this method: frequency and data-based decision-making. Employees get a stronger understanding of their strengths and can better communicate their impact on the organization. For managers and organizations, having better data and more frequent reviews means they have a better understanding of how each employee contributes to larger goals. That helps them find their high-performers and keep them longer while supporting everyone else with the right growth plan.

How to implement continuous performance management

If you’ve been using traditional performance management for some time, adopting continuous performance management will take some getting used to. You’ll have to make changes bit by bit, testing out how they work in your organization before adopting any wide-sweeping policies. Here are a few ways you can start implementing this type of performance management progressively.

Increase manager check-in frequency

In many organizations, employees don’t get frequent check-ins with their managers. At best, they might get in-depth conversations with their direct manager in a 1-on-1 once a quarter, with no real meetings with VPs or department heads.

For continuous performance management to work, that frequency needs to increase significantly. You might not immediately be able to get all managers to meet with their team members once a month, but that’s the target you should be aiming for. This frequency allows employees to make meaningful progress between meetings while giving managers a more accurate view of that progress.

Implement skip level 1-on-1s

Many organizations struggle to give leaders visibility into what’s happening within teams they may not directly supervise but definitely affect their responsibilities. Yet few roll out any processes to improve this.

A skip-level level 1-on-1 allows individual collaborators to meet with leadership that’s usually one or two seniority levels above their own direct manager. That means even a junior collaborator might meet with a VP or department head. These don’t need to be as frequent as regular 1-on-1s, especially considering the busy schedules senior leadership and executives have. However, these meetings can help employees get a better understanding of what they need to do to have a serious impact within their organization, while leaders get a sense of what teams need to perform better.

These meetings are a powerful tool, especially in organizations that are in the middle of a serious growth spurt.

Encourage employees to create a work portrait

A work portrait is part briefing, part self-assessment. It allows employees to express who they are and how they work from their perspective. Managers can then step in and, with what they know about that employee, make corrections or challenge certain points as needed. Here’s what a work portrait will typically include:

  • The employee’s goals: Where does this employee see themselves in five years? In 10? This allows managers to know which opportunities motivate that employee to grow.
  • The employee’s greatest strengths: What is this person an absolute superstar at? This can (and should) include skills directly tied to their work as well as soft skills.
  • The employee’s main weaknesses: Where does an employee struggle? This allows managers to know where (and how) they should step in.
  • The employee’s work style: Some people like to keep headphones on all day while others live for the buzz of collaborating at the office. Managers should know where their employees fall on this scale and more.
  • Paths forward for both employee and manager: A work portrait should have a plan for employees (covering how they’ll grow) and for managers (covering how they’ll support that growth).

A work portrait doesn’t solve all your performance management problems, but it creates a baseline from which you can build up your strategy. Use it as a reference point whenever you check in with an employee or build out next steps for their growth.

You’ll want to refresh work portraits about once a year to reflect how your team has grown. New employees should make a work portrait as part of their onboarding.

Build a growth plan with each employee

A growth plan is essential for continuous performance management. It gives an employee a North Star to aim for, the milestones they need to cross off to get there, and a glimpse at the rewards that will come from that growth.

One of the most challenging things for a manager in this regard is providing a realistic reward that’s still inherently motivating. You can’t promise promotions that aren’t there, but you need to give people some kind of incentive to keep growing.

But putting some time into building this plan proactively with your employee will tie their personal development directly to broader organizational goals. This means every check-in and performance review has a roadmap both parties agree on, making it easier to review concrete improvements and missteps.

Use a performance management platform

Tracking, reporting on, and verifying all the data you need for continuous performance management can be a slog if you do it all manually. Spreadsheets can help, but they’re full of formulas that are too easy to break and still involve a serious amount of work. And while an HRIS (human resources information systems) tool can help automate some of that work, it’s not quite what you need. 

A dedicated performance management platform like 15Five doesn’t just put all the data your managers need at their fingertips, it gives them a real-time glimpse at everything performance-related for their team.

How? Let’s dive in.

How 15Five supports continuous performance management

15Five transforms data into action and action into results. Pull all the data you need into a single platform that you can treat as the command center for everything you need to implement continuous performance management. Here’s why 15Five is the platform of choice for this.

No more prep

One of the toughest parts of running the regular performance reviews and check-ins essential for continuous performance management is the prep. 15Five makes this a breeze with easy-to-use templates that give managers a headstart by simplifying the overall process while giving them the resources they need for each review.

Turn 360 reviews into measurable growth conversations

360 reviews allow employees to get feedback from a group of their peers, helping to eliminate the effects of biases too common in traditional performance management. 15Five gives managers a single place to dispatch, receive, and analyze 360 reviews to give employees a more thorough and fair evaluation of their strengths and achievements.

True data (not hunches)

When your performance management process hinges on a single person’s perspective, your employees are bound to feel like their work isn’t accurately represented. 15Five’s data-based approach creates a holistic measure of performance that employees can trust and refer to as they grow. It’s fair, integrated directly into OKRs and performance goals, and deep enough for even the most data-obsessed managers.

Better decisions

Making decisions around promotions and raises can be stressful for managers and employees alike. Don’t make it a guessing game; be confident about your decisions. 15Five offers insights, built on all the data from your performance management process, that help managers make better calls around growth.

Make your process a top performer

Continuous performance management can be difficult to implement, tough to maintain, and costly to deploy at scale. But when you have the right platform, you can roll out specific initiatives that are guaranteed to lead to more motivated employees, more high performers, and better results for the organization as a whole.

Want to see how 15Five can make this process real for your organization? Book a demo with our team here.