In recent years the annual performance review has undergone a makeover. For instance, now we no longer assume reviews only occur annually and most are no longer delivered "top-down" but incorporate input from multiple sources, including the employee being reviewed. Some companies have experimented with the frequency of performance reviews and some have tried eliminating them altogether. But, in some form or another, performance reviews play a necessary role in company culture.
Performance reviews are an essential part of our workplaces, they just might look different these days. Here's what's new:
Performance is reviewed more frequently - whether it's because a new generation of employees has expectations of instantaneous feedback or whether the work we are doing is more project based and easier to review upon project completion, managers are increasing the frequency of their feedback as this Wall Street Journal article asserts.
Reviews are moving online - paper-based files are indeed a thing of the past, but it's not just online accessibility and file sharing that companies are taking advantage of. Now, some firms are using social media conventions to highlight performance and share feedback. Social media enables organizations to be more transparent and share goals, expectations and status updates. Social media can also make it easy to recognize and reward good work, e.g. through endorsements, recommendations or 'badges' for excellence. In a few years we may be used to a whole new form of online reputation management.
Workers aren't always visible - as the number of remote workers increases, managers face challenges in communicating, making accurate evaluations and 'connecting' with their staff. Reviewing the performance of a telecommuter or remote worker is similar to the review of a traditional office worker, but along with the benefit(s) of working remotely comes additional responsibilities and remote workers should also be evaluated on their ability to participate in group or department meetings and events and their ability to communicate and report on progress.
Self-evaluation - while 360 degree reviews seem to have seen the last of their 15 minutes' of fame, self-evaluations are in vogue and perhaps here to stay. From having employees take a "first cut" at their evaluation, to implementing a back-and-forth comment-response approach, performance reviews aim to be more interactive.
Probably the only thing that hasn't changed over the years is the dread that some employees and managers have for them. I'd like to say that the changes we've seen have resulted in a more positive experience for everyone involved but getting to that point that appears to be a tough balancing act.
On one hand, employers use performance reviews to benchmark career advancements and distribute merit rewards. On the other, they use performance reviews to give constructive feedback and motivate performance. Too much of one and not enough of the other can result in miscommunication, misperception and unhappy workers. Another reason performance reviews get a bad rap is because they involve people - and people bring their own biases, personalities and politics to the process.
As employers and HR representatives, there are several steps we can take to aim to improve the performance review process.
First, ensure the frequency of the review fits the circumstances. Not all work is suited to a formal review just once a year. Take a look at the various types of work performed in your organization and shape the review process to that schedule. For instance, it may make more sense to evaluate your product developers after the launch of the latest product release.
It's also important to avoid surprises at the time of the evaluation. Layering your feedback throughout the review period helps to "set the stage" for a formal discussion and also helps the employee prepare for a more interactive and constructive discussion.
In recent years there's been talk of doing away with formal performance reviews, but personally I can't imagine running an effective HR function without them. Performance reviews are necessary contributors to company goal-setting, feedback and coaching and useful for setting performance expectations and establishing parameters for reward. Perhaps the most important step we can take to make them more effective is to explain their role in our organization and how they are linked with other important business metrics.
Please share your thoughts on making performance reviews more effective in the comment section below.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.
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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.