We know that people are happier and healthier when they know their work matters — and performance reviews can be a powerful tool to help us all know how we’re doing at work. But the performance management process in many organizations is broken. I think it’s time for a major change in how we think about performance reviews.
In a 2017 survey by Gallup, only 29 percent of employees strongly agreed that the performance reviews they receive are fair, which Gallup attributed in part to the relative infrequency of those reviews. Even though our organizations and the world around us are changing quickly, we’re not discussing our work in a meaningful way very often. About a quarter of employees said their performance was evaluated less than once a year, and 48 percent said they were reviewed only annually.
In the past few years, my team at Trakstar has heard from more and more companies looking for ways to improve their performance reviews. They often want to adjust what they measure, improve timing and invite participation from all levels of the organization.
A few simple adjustments can make a world of difference and relieve some of the pain sometimes associated with reviews, making them purposeful instead.
I’ve seen a few common roadblocks that make reviews challenging. Here’s my advice for moving beyond the roadblocks and building better performance reviews.
Why the human performance matters more than reviews
Focus on Two Big Questions
First, performance reviews too often focus on answering what happened, when they’d be more effective if they could address why things happened — and how to make those things better.
Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of why something happened, you can think through ways to change or pivot going forward.
The best reviews combine the questions “What have we learned?” and “What can we do differently in the future?”
Measure the 3 Factors That Drive Engagement
Engaged employees build inspired workplaces, and inspired companies grow faster than typical organizations. Performance management, when done correctly, can go a long way toward engaging your workforce and fostering that valuable environment of inspiration.
Employees are engaged when they have a sense of mastery, autonomy and purpose, as Dan Pink discusses in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”
- Mastery means they have the skills to do the job.
- Autonomy allows them to control how they do their job.
- Purpose means they feel like they are working toward something worthwhile.
The combination of the three elements creates the conditions for high engagement. But the problem is that most organizations don’t have a way to measure and understand engagement — along with mastery, autonomy and purpose — so they often realize too late when something’s amiss.
At Trakstar, we believe in engagement so much that we built a survey tool to empower managers to gather engagement feedback at regular intervals. “When managers have data, they can make adjustments or double down on the good.”
As technology advances over the next five to 10 years, the performance management industry will offer more tools that help companies better understand why things happen, what might happen next and what they can do to drive change and positive outcomes. The result will be better employee engagement, development and retention.
We’ll see performance management expand beyond the review — in front of it and alongside it. The growing companies of tomorrow have data about how to first recruit the best people, then how to measure their engagement, how to set performance goals and provide ongoing learning — allowing them to grow faster than those without insights.
About the author
Julie Rieken is the CEO of Applied Training Systems, Inc., owners of Trakstar - a software company that helps HR with online performance reviews. She carefully follows the trends in HR and in performance management, and is always seeking best practices along with new, creative ways to approach performance conversations in the workplace.