3 Questions to Improve Performance Reviews

Is your company’s annual review process really working? Ask these questions to find out.

  1. Does it foster growth? “The first question that a company or HR department has to ask themselves is, from the point of view of the employee, is the process helpful? Am I learning?” says Yosh Beier, executive coach and co-founder of Collaborative Coaching in New York City. “If the answer is, ‘Not really,’ then the process has already failed.” Typical performance reviews, he explains, are more like verdicts that look backward rather than forward, and may come too late to have a positive effect. What’s more, the traditional emphasis on compensation can create anxiety that obscures developmental opportunities. Beier advocates a coaching process focusing on clear objectives separate from any discussion of compensation.
  2. Is it easy? A burdensome process will become a chore for all involved, or worse, a checklist to get through as painlessly as possible. Instead of an all-or-nothing annual review, Beier recommends shorter, more frequent conversations – quarterly, semi-formal check-ins that offer actionable feedback, for instance. He suggests providing managers with questions that get to the heart of the matter quickly while focusing on future growth, such as:
    • Would you promote this person?
    • Would you re-select them for your team?

    In addition, he advocates project-based group conversations to encourage productive dialogue, such as post-mortems that explore what works and what doesn’t.

    Another approach is to institute peer reviews, which takes some pressure off managers and makes the process more fair. “The idea is to make the review more than just one person’s judgment call,” Beier says. “It also creates peer accountability, which research in employee engagement has been shown to be highly effective.”

  3. Does everyone get it? This question aims at the leadership abilities of individual managers. “It’s the classic example of people who have risen to the ranks of manager based on their technical aptitude,” Beier says. “Just because they’ve advanced doesn’t mean they’ve automatically become good communicators.” He cites an example from his coaching practice. “When I’m brought in to coach an executive or someone with high potential, I have a checkpoint conversation with his or her boss, and they’re crystal clear about what’s needed. But in the following three-way call, they hem and haw, trying to say things nicely. After 15 or 20 minutes, the point still hasn’t been made.” Training and coaching managers can help improve communication skills.

In the end, Beier says, the form that performance review takes is less important than the intention behind it. “A lot of companies talk about being a ‘learning organization,’” he says. “But it takes hard work to make that more than just a buzzword.”


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