HR Management, Q&A

When Performance Reviews Need a Boost, Try Something New

Today, we are joined by Peg Buchenroth, the director of HR at Addison Group, to discuss fresh ways to make performance reviews more effective.

Having a performance review process ensures that all employees will receive a minimum annual review of their performance. Administering a consistent evaluation process is often viewed as a fair and balanced measurement of performance. In the absence of a structured process, employees may feel their achievements will be overlooked. Given the current market conditions related to available talent, it is critical that managers engage with employees on a consistent basis to ensure retention.

Without an opportunity to discuss achievements and future goals, employees with broader career aspirations may become disenchanted with their current employer and seek opportunities elsewhere. Performance reviews offer an excellent opportunity for managers to recognize an employee’s contributions and open a dialog regarding potential areas of development that can ultimately assist the employee with his or her professional growth.

HR Daily Advisor: How can changing the setting of a performance review help or hurt?

Peg: A successful performance review is often more about the conversation at hand and not the location. However, some employees may feel more at ease in a less formal setting, which can result in a more fruitful overall discussion regarding their performance and future goals. When it comes to choosing a location for the review, managers should take the personality of the employee into account. If he or she is someone who loves structure and you know would prefer a professional setting, a conference room would be suitable; however, moving the review off-site, such as to a local coffee shop, allows for a neutral, relaxed environment, which takes the dreaded formality (for some) out of the review, putting the employee at ease.

HR Daily Advisor: Some might complain that an hour is too long for a performance meeting. What do you think?

Peg: The length of time can vary depending upon how aligned the employee and his or her manager are as it relates to the employee’s performance. Managers who conduct regular discussions with employees throughout the year whereby the managers have provided intermittent feedback regarding the employees’ performance often need less time for the official performance meeting. Regardless, the performance meeting should have a scheduled start/end time so an employee knows how long the meeting will last.

HR Daily Advisor: A lot of performance systems work around acronyms that spell out important words. In your experience, how effective is that?

Peg: Acronyms are fine if employees are familiar with the meaning. If the performance system covers quarterly reviews whereby a newer employee is not yet familiar with the common jargon, it might be helpful to minimize the number of acronyms.

HR Daily Advisor: What is the right frequency for a performance review?

Peg: Determining the right frequency for performance reviews is often associated with the pace of change within an organization. Organizations with an aggressive pace might consider touching base more frequently to ensure employees are adapting well. Pace of change aside, a good rule of thumb to follow is to conduct performance reviews for each employee one to two times a year.

HR Daily Advisor: What is actionable feedback? Can you give me an example?

Peg: Actionable feedback should include ideas for professional development. For example, if the manager expresses feedback about an employee’s communication style with his or her colleagues, the feedback should include suggestions for alternative methods of communicating versus simply stating the employee needs to improve his or her communication with colleagues.

HR Daily Advisor: Where/how does peer input factor into a performance review?

Peg: Peer input can be valuable when a peer served in a leadership capacity with a colleague. For example, someone serving as the project manager for an important project that involved others on his or her team may be asked for feedback related to a peer’s contributions to the project.

He or she may be asked to fill out a survey that asks for feedback on the following areas:

  • Identify your colleague’s strengths/weaknesses in the following categories as they relate to the project you both worked on:
    • Timeliness
    • Quality of work produced
    • Internal communication
    • Communication with the client throughout the process
  • Feedback can also be elicited from peers who work with the employee on a regular basis, whether that be at the same level or one above or below, to get additional feedback specific to his or her working style.

HR Daily Advisor: What are some of the advantages of peer input?

Peg: Peer input can be advantageous when the manager is somewhat removed from the day-to-day activities of an employee. As mentioned above, a peer who served as a project manager for a team project might be able to provide a more comprehensive assessment of a peer’s performance than a department manager who was not involved in the day-to-day activities of that particular project.

HR Daily Advisor: What are some of the things HR professionals might want to prepare themselves if they go for a peer input model?

Peg: Peer feedback should be based on actual performance results that are measurable and explainable to the employee being evaluated. Giving examples of where the employee excels and where he or she needs improvement is helpful in determining actionable goals that will benefit everyone in the end. Peer feedback that merely gives a performance grade on a scale of 1–5 could fall into the trap of a popularity contest whereby ratings are viewed as biased.