Performance reviews don’t actually assess your performance.
By Hebba Youssef
Two dreaded words have the power to ruin employees and People team’s day: performance reviews.
GAH I tense up writing those words.
I’ve never met a People team that enjoys performance reviews. If you do, drop me a line please! Reviews are easy to deploy thanks to great softwares but a freakin’ pain in the behind to get folks to complete.
You’ve hit rock bottom during reviews when you’ve sent your 10th Slack asking a manager to complete their reviews.
Not to mention employees say reviews bring up feelings of anxiety and fear and contribute to their overall stress. Total flight or fight. ACK.
So, if everyone hates performance reviews why do we do them?
Because they can tell us how employees and in turn the company is performing!
Research shows that performance reviews can cost companies millions in terms of hours invested for very little return.
- 90% of HR professionals say reviews don’t provide accurate results
- 58% of execs say reviews don’t drive success
- 14% of employees say reviews inspire them to improve their performance
OOF that is the trifecta!
Why are reviews ineffective?
So, we all agree that reviews are ineffective and don’t give us good results.
But how did they get that way?
It’s a combination of things that contribute to making reviews ineffective.
1. We’re trying to do too much with reviews. Review conversations have been used to:
- Provide feedback
- Discussion compensation
- Celebrate a promotion
- Provide evidence to fire someone (manage up or out, right? Gross)
It’s too much! Each of these bullet points could be a conversation on its own and when so many things get tossed into one conversation, the real message doesn’t land.
Leaving employees to wonder, what is the actual purpose of performance reviews?
2. Managers aren’t effective at giving feedback. Hey, I’ve been there too! Where you feel like you have a million tasks on your plate and the last thing you want to do is give your team feedback. You’re not alone.
Most managers are promoted because they’re good at their job NOT because they are good managers. Then, they’re not really provided with training on how to give feedback.
Everyone has a horror story involving a terrible manager. Well, well, well how do you think we got here?
Companies do not invest enough in training and supporting managers.
When it comes to evaluations some managers are unable to provide accurate, actionable feedback.
3. Performance reviews are riddled with bias. Y’all didn’t think I was going to talk about performance reviews and not mention bias, did you??
I have biases. You have biases. We all have biases! Don’t believe me?
Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won a Nobel Peace prize for his work, showed in his research that the vast majority of human decisions aren’t made based on facts or logic rather intuition, bias and beliefs.
Bias can creep into performance reviews so easily. You can have the best intentions when going through a review process but the sneaky part of bias is that it can be unconscious. That unconscious bias can affect how you assess the performance of an individual without you even realizing.
Three tips for effective performance reviews:
So um… how could reviews ever be fair or effective? It feels pretty impossible but there are a few things People teams can do!
- Build a culture of continuous feedback. Start with requiring managers to conduct 1:1 on a weekly or biweekly basis. By requiring managers to make time to give feedback they will hopefully give feedback. 1:1s should work like a two way street giving the employee time to share feedback and their perception of their performance.
There are different types of 1:1s like general, tactical, growth, motivation, and alignment setting. Flexibility will be key as managers should guage what their employees need most that week. This question bank has over 100+ questions over several categories you can use for 1:1s!
A sample framework for your general 1:1: 30 mins
- How is your week going?
- What are some of your priorities for this week?
- What challenges have you been having?
- How can I help you?
- What feedback do you have for me?
With continuous feedback being a core part of your culture, reviews won’t be a time to pack everything into one conversation. The conversation will feel like an extension of an ongoing conversation.
People teams: If 1:1s are required, how will you hold your managers accountable?
- Monitor the bias. There are common biases that show up in reviews such as:
- Primacy bias: letting something you learned early on influence your perception of someone’s performance.
- Recency bias: focusing on what happened recently rather than the entire time period.
- Halo/horns effect: letting good/bad traits overshadow others.
Bias show up in reviews in several ways. From how employees are described to what feedback is being given.
- Women get 22% more personality feedback than men, for example calling women “nurturing” or “dedicated”
- 63% of men reported being described as “ambitious” compared to 17% of women
- Black and Latino employees receive 2.4 times more not actionable feedback than their White and Asian counterparts.
Before reviews begin, conduct a training on how bias can appear in reviews. While you can’t train the bias out of folks you can make them more aware!
People teams should monitor the feedback inputted in reviews and require that all ratings have examples.
- Train your managers. For the second week in a row, I’m including this in my tips section. Training you managers is the single most important thing you can do to resolve a lot of the problems that occur in the workplace.
When it comes to performance reviews having managers that are strong at communicating, effective at giving feedback and empathetic enough to lead conversations will be a game changer. But none of that matters if managers can’t build trust with their teams.
Three training sessions I would recommend holding with managers prior to any review cycle:
- How to build trust with your team
- How to write actionable feedback
- How to deliver feedback
Call me crazy, but what if we didn’t do performance reviews?
I can’t let you leave without sharing my take on this. Don’t do reviews.
Performance reviews that happen 1 or 2 times a year contribute to this notion that performance is a linear line.
But it rarely ever is. Your performance changes weekly. What happens if you have an off week right before a performance review, is that going to impact your performance and raise? Maybe…
What if we could design a system that accounted for the fact that performance varies week over week?
There is a way to get quality performance data, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, in a meaningful way on things that are most important to the organization.
Like a product iterates in sprints, why can’t we approach employee performance like a sprint?
Imagine the following scenario:
- Employee <> manager check-in scheduled for every two weeks to discuss performance
- At the end of the check-in both employee and manager answer 2-3 questions about performance, expectations, morale, etc.
- At twice a year, employee <> manager meet for a longer period of time to discuss bigger career growth, goals and achievements
Yes, this requires managers to make time for their employees. At the same time, it’s really a lighter lift than those one or two performance review a year. It could also resolve the feeling of anxiety and stress employees feel with reviews.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to try rolling this out at Workweek in the next few months. I’ll be sharing everything I learn with this group! Hoping my hypothesis that more touch points around performance will lead to happier and more engaged employees.