Reflect Tips – Four ways to improve your performance reviews

Performance reviews – they’re a bit marmite.

Ok, let’s be honest – in most organisations, the whole performance review process is a bit broken.

Some truly shocking stats show that:

  • Only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve, according to Gallup.
  • The traditional performance review approach can make employee performance WORSE than before!

Despite this, I am an advocate for performance reviews, provided they’re done well, and have a focus on future growth and development.

In this video I give my four ways for improving the performance review process for everyone involved, including:

  • Avoid any surprises
  • Focus more on the future than the past
  • Avoid biases and subjectivity
  • Managers should be adequately trained

If you’re looking for some support with your performance review process then this is something I have helped numerous organisations to develop. Get in touch with me for a chat here.

Enjoy the video!

See a full transcript of the video below:

Performance reviews; they’re a bit like marmite. 

They tend to be something people either love or hate.

According to Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve.

Even worse, it’s believed that in a third of cases, traditional performance reviews and approaches to feedback are SO bad that they actually make performance worse.

Hi, I’m Sean Butcher and I am a culture consultant and Founder of Reflect Consultancy.

I work predominantly with digital agencies and other ambitious businesses to help them create cultures that bring out the best out of their people. 

In this video I’m going to argue why, despite some of the worrying stats, you should stick with performance reviews, and also give you some ways to make them better for everyone involved.

In recent times it’s been trendy to dismiss using traditional performance reviews in favour of ‘always on’ feedback. 

Whether it’s claiming they’re an outdated process, or that they lead to very little in the way of change or action, a lengthy yearly, bi-annual or quarterly review is not always a welcomed addition to people’s agendas!

I agree that many, MANY businesses don’t get performance reviews right, and for that reason it’s little wonder that it’s an experience that their employees dread. 

And if the stats mentioned earlier are to be believed, clearly something needs to change.

But I’m a firm believer that performance reviews should be something you make the time and effort to do, provided you do them well. 

So with that in mind here’s my four tips for running successful performance reviews. 

The first is to avoid any surprises.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers…

  • 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback
  • 4 out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback
  • Organisations are 30x more likely to have actively engaged workers when managers focus on employee strengths
  • There’s a 14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback
  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback to their workers

Of course, much of these stats are based on receiving feedback on a regular basis. If you’re doing this properly, you shouldn’t ever be waiting for 6 or even 12 months to be providing your employees with feedback on how to improve in their role, or to highlight their unique strengths. 

As such, you need to treat your performance reviews as a culmination of all of the feedback you have shared across that timeframe.

Feedback received ‘in the moment’ may be interpreted very differently to what it might be with greater time to reflect. In a good performance review, you’ll instead ask questions that encourage productive, forward-looking action. The employee will have been able to think about the feedback that they have received and developed more awareness as a result.

And this leads me onto point number two, which is to focus more on the future than the past.

Trawling through past feedback and reflecting on any additional thoughts that have arisen since that has been received is fine, to a degree.

But the real value from a performance review comes from the plans you make and the goals you set to help your employee reach their potential.

I’d actually argue that you want to spend around 70-80% of your time in a review on forward-looking activity. 

If you have a culture of regular feedback in place you don’t need to trawl over old ground. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time. 

But as a leader, you can now coach your employee to consider what it is they need to focus on over the next review period to get to where they want to be from a personal and professional development perspective; whether that be a promotion, a step up in pay, or just being more effective in their current role. 

Here it can also really help to have the skills and competencies – including both technical and behavioural traits – that are required of the person in that role. Having these clearly outlined and made visible to them makes expectations far clearer, and analysis of performance far more objective. It also makes it easier to identify development areas which can be improved, or strengths that can be built upon even further. 

Point number is three is a big one, and it’s to reduce bias and subjectivity

One of the most common complaints about performance reviews is that they’re unfair or biased, often because they are only conducted through the lens of that employee’s immediate manager. 

And this is a very valid point. All of us have biases, many unconscious, either that have more broadly formed over time, or based on experiences we have had with that particular individual.

As such, your performance reviews should actively seek other ways to bring more objectivity into the process, and there are a couple of key ways you can do this.

The first is to use peer feedback.

Asking a few people from across the business who have worked closely with that person for their feedback can introduce angles on their performance that the manager may not have considered. This can then be used for any decisions around pay increases or promotions, alongside the feedback received from the manager. 

It’s important to say here that this shouldn’t just be friends of your employees, as this doesn’t make things much better either.

The second is to calibrate results.

This is particularly important if you’re wanting to use any sort of numerical rating system, or if decisions about changes to that person’s role need to be made. 

Whilst it’s important for managers to feel empowered to run the performance review process, leaving all of the big decisions to one person does not do anything to reduce levels of subjectivity, and will concern employees across the business, particularly if their relationship isn’t great. 

It’s also only natural that some managers will grade more generously, or more strictly than others.

Calibrations aim to avoid that problem, with a panel of people that have a view of things across the business ‘balancing the playing field’, if you like. 

Do these two things and explain why you’re doing them, and this should provide far more confidence to your employees that subjectivity won’t be an issue. 

The fourth and final point is for managers to be adequately trained

Of course, managers need to know how to actually run the review, and the details of the process involved.

But it goes beyond that. This really taps into some of the core behavioural skills that are required of great managers, such as how to have difficult conversations, asking the right questions to increase ownership and accountability, and how to set effective goals in collaboration with their employee.

These are the things that, as a manager, you need to be competent and confident to do, and are core responsibilities of any role where you are looking after people.

If you are a manager yourself, depending on the size of your business, you’ll want to work with your people team, or as a team of managers on skill, experience and knowledge sharing, particularly if these are areas you don’t feel so confident in. 

Or you can get in a consultant to help you 🙂

Employees will always remember great managers throughout their careers – they’re the ones that helped to coach and inspire them to take charge of their development. That gave them timely feedback and direction to help them grow. And gave them the autonomy to try things, make mistakes and learn from them, without fear of recrimination.

So ensuring your managers are really confident in running the performance reviews is crucial for making this an experience that everyone enjoys, and sees the value from. 

So there you have it, my four ways you can improve your performance reviews: 

  • Avoid any surprises
  • Focus more on the future than the past
  • Reduce biases and subjectivity
  • Train your managers

I’d love to hear what you think! Do you have any additional tips to share? Do you just think performance reviews should get in the bin? Let me know!

Thanks for watching, and if you enjoyed this video please give it a like and subscribe to the channel, so you’re notified of my future tips and podcasts.

Take care and hopefully see you on my next video.

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