How Performance Reviews Support High-Performance Talent
Employee performance reviews are perhaps the most fundamental tool for talent development. Yet in their traditional form, they may not be the most useful evaluation system for helping employees develop their professional skills.
Regardless of industry and corporate structure, employee reviews traditionally were given to employees once a year. But like most things in business, the review is evolving into a more flexible system of evaluation, planning, and support.
There are two challenges with annual reviews: First, they can come across as forced and loom as formal judgements rather than helpful feedback. Even if you have a great relationship with your manager and have had a great year, the review can be stressful. Second, they are often focused on the past and miss the opportunity to set goals, identify growth opportunities, and support professional development.
Some young companies have moved away from formal reviews. They no longer rate employees at all. Their evaluation and development systems are based entirely on the communication and commitment of both supervisor and employee. Other companies – Google for example – have created an elaborate review process that includes employee peers and a group of managers rather than just an immediate supervisor.
Regardless of the review methodology, companies do need to evaluate employees in one form or another. Feedback alone is not enough. Reviews are necessary for promotions, salary reviews and for professional development. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “What’s measured improves.”
Employee Reviews Offer an Opportunity to Connect and Coach
Managers succeed by helping their employees succeed. When managers serve as coaches, they can’t (or shouldn’t) wait a year to let a team member know how she is doing, make suggestions or complement a job well done.
I find that the most effective feedback flows as naturally as a conversation about the current situation. This avoids the stress associated with a formal meeting. Whether an employee has achieved something notable or is struggling with a problem, my role as manager is to support, congratulate, coach, brainstorm, help plan a next step – whatever is needed at the moment.
Frequent Feedback Supports Rapid Growth
Feedback conversations need to take place frequently to support improvements in employee performance and growth.
It needn’t take long.
You have a conversation, write a note about the employee’s progress and development in a continuously updated document, and you’re done.
In my experience, annual reviews are actually more work. When I conduct an annual review, I know I’m looking at two to three hours of planning and meeting, along with two pages of documentation per employee. In contrast, an informal feedback conversation could take 15 minutes and require three lines of documentation.
Documentation Formalizes The Feedback
When offering informal feedback, it’s important to remember that final step: Writing down what you’ve just discussed. Then send a copy to the employee. This provides a reminder of agreements you’ve made and feedback given. It also clarifies that while informal or even spontaneous, the conversation served the same purpose as a formal review meeting.
When you write up your feedback, it can be useful to write the most important takeaway you want the employee to take, as well as the talent development goals you discussed.
Having a living document assures you are not forgetting any important points that you’ll want to remember or you want the employee to be aware of the next time you speak.
Integrating Talent Development Planning Into Performance Reviews
To make the review a more positive and useful experience, I use it as an opportunity to measure progress and plan for advancement.
Just as with performance feedback, talent development plans need to be written and shared so that everyone remembers what both manager and employee promised. The plan should be revisited regularly to assure ongoing progress.
Every individual’s talent development plan will necessarily be unique to her needs and circumstances. As managers, we can standardize the process of writing and following through on those plans, regularly reminding the employee what she promised, and coaching the employee to success.
The more we can make the process routine, the easier it will be for employees at every level to remember and make time for it.
In our company, we’ve started conducting quarterly rather than annual reviews. We’ve simplified documentation requirements to encourage ongoing feedback and planning for future professional development.
In the end, commitment is what makes the plan work. Each employee is responsible for learning new skills, tackling new challenges and pursuing growth. Company management is responsible for providing structured guidance, talent development opportunities and feedback and support. The result, I believe, will be a high-performance workplace that will retain the highly qualified talent we work so hard to attract.