7 Ways to Improve Employee Reviews

Traditional, annual performance review practices are dying. Instead, organizations are teaching managers better ways to communicate and connect with their employees more often.

Performance management was once intended to identify and protect companies’ most important asset: superstar performers. It also can be a valuable tool to course correct and boost performance. Unfortunately, many companies have perverted the process with a “document, document, document” mantra — echoing the rank-and-yank systems made popular by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch — so they can arm HR with a sharpened guillotine and lop the heads off bad producers.

As such, many managers look at reviews as a negative exercise because the process often eliminates what it was intended for in the first place: coaching, managing and helping to grow people inside the company.

It’s not surprising that those things are lacking. Daily mentoring, discussions and providing feedback are hard. It takes real thought and time a lot of managers feel they don’t have. But with a little tweaking, companies can turn performance reviews from pejorative to positive. When mentoring is ongoing, there are no big surprises. People expect raises or performance improvement plans because feedback is ongoing.

Part of the problem stems from how businesses still rely on dated, proven ineffective performance management systems. Deloitte’s Global Capital Trends 2014 report found 58 percent of corporate executives believe that current processes do not drive high performance and are not an effective use of “anyone’s time.”

It’s time to consider that traditional annual or bi-annual review methods are ineffective, and may actually foster disconnect and confusion between manager and employee. Here are seven ways learning leaders can better equip managers to be better, more effective communicators.

1. Make the time. Finding time to have these discussions is probably the hardest thing to do, especially when the conversations might not be easy to have in the beginning — who wants to carve out time to do something uncomfortable? Encourage managers to create reoccurring times for performance reviews, such as quarterly or even monthly. Eventually, it will become a habit.

2. Set ground rules. Acknowledge that this might be cumbersome at first. Help managers create an agenda or script they can follow, especially for receiving positive and negative feedback. It will make it easier to address a topic if it’s one of several regular items that must be checked off. After a little while, what is familiar will get easier to address, and conversations will flow more naturally.

3. Create rapport through authenticity. People don’t always show up to work as themselves because they fear being judged. Rarely, though, do people fault each other for their authenticity. Encourage managers to put themselves out there and share to establish better relationships.

4. Remember these conversations are about the whole person. These conversations may not just be about work. Most people want to connect on a personal level as well, to be seen as a whole person while at work. Enforce the idea that these are not mutually exclusive.  

5. Understand how much communication modalities matter. We communicate primarily through nonverbal communication, such as body language and tone of voice. What we actually say is a very small percentage of how we communicate. Teach leaders to be aware of this if they’re on the telephone with a person and can’t see them. In such a situation, both parties rely heavily on tone and words, which can be misinterpreted. Stress the importance of asking questions and repeating things to avoid miscommunication.

6. Ask questions. Encourage managers to be curious. Don’t assume things. Everyone can acknowledge having done this and how unproductive it has been in business and personal life.  

7. Get them involved at the start.Create a “managers committee” to create a plan and make recommendations on ways employees can forge a stronger alignment to the company’s business goals, values and mission and what it means to live those things within their role.