In many cases performance reviews are neither productive nor enjoyable. Managers resent the time and form filling needed to compile them and the person being reviewed never really knows beforehand whether the outcome is going to be good, bad or indifferent. Often the employee being reviewed feels that it is a tick box exercise, that won’t result in any follow up or action planning relevant to their career or progression. A 2014 study found that pretty much everyone hates performance reviews and some within the industry have called for the ‘death’ of them altogether.

Yet the issue isn’t with the fact that employees should be reviewed and mentored. Quite the opposite, the real issue is the outdated model that’s used. Once or even twice a year just isn’t enough. It leaves any issues to ‘fester’ and can mean that praise (when deserved) isn’t levied within a timely fashion, leaving employees demotivated and wondering if they’re doing the right thing or not.

This is particularly true for staff born in the 80s and 90s – the so called ‘Millennials’. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, co-authors of the 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees noted that Millennials “demand a constant stream of feedback” and are in a hurry for success. In a similar vein they stated that Millennials have high expectations of their employers but also set high standards for themselves, but essentially by keeping Millennials engaged they will be happy to overachieve for their employer.

What’s needed to achieve engagement for all staff is a more agile approach to performance assessment that’s based on continuous feedback. The following five pointers are a step in the right direction:

1. Define and measure objectives
Clear objectives help drive performance. However it’s important that employees have bought in to the objectives that they’ve been set and that they’ve agreed that targets are achievable. Employees should also have a clear understanding of how their individual goals tie into those of the wider team and even the company’s wider vision. The more personally committed to this an individual is, the stronger their overall performance will be. Objectives should be open to continuous measurement and adjustment (or even correcting if needs be).

2. Ingrain performance feedback in the company culture
Customer feedback is seen as vital to the functioning of a business. Yet feedback between employees within the business is not as widely encouraged or ingrained in company cultures. This doesn’t make sense since feedback is both a valuable and necessary part of how departments and teams operate in meeting departmental or corporate goals. Employees and managers should therefore firstly be trained and then encouraged to provide feedback, both formal and informal, on a regular basis. This can nip problems in the bud and also route positive praise at the point at which it’s earned. However this process needs to be led from the top and all employees made aware that both providing and receiving feedback is integral to the company achieving its wider goals.

3. Ensure feedback is a two way process
Feedback must flow both ways. No one likes to be talked at and their voice not taken into account. Employees will have a greater respect for the process if they are active participants. Therefore the performance review process must include 360 degree feedback (including peer groups). This provides a rounded perspective and ensures that the employee understands that their manager is just as engaged within the feedback process as they are.

4. Less managing, more coaching
Staff turnover is a fact of life but very often people leave not because of the company but because of their immediate boss. It might be they feel they have stopped learning or it could be that they feel they won’t progress within the company under that person’s stewardship. Either way it’s the ability of the manager to give consistent, accurate and effective feedback that’s key to organisational success. There are times when managers should ‘manage’ but there also times when coaching and guidance are more important. Organisations need to invest in the right training and tools to enable managers to widen their skills to successfully engage with staff and increase loyalty.

5. Manage negative feedback carefully
Whilst sometimes necessary, none of us like to receive criticism. But the way it is delivered can make a major difference to how the employee takes it on board and subsequently performs. Sticking to the facts and focusing on improving future performance is key to ensuring the employee has a clear idea of how to move forward. If you build a feedback culture, you need to plan how to deliver and understand negative feedback, without it impacting performance or morale.

If just some of this best practice is followed then hopefully it will lead to a process that both employee and manager can enjoy (and get value from) rather than dread.

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