The Performance Review is Dead; Long Live the Performance Review!

Most employees dislike performance reviews. In fact, the only people who might dislike the traditional performance review more than the employees themselves are the managers who give them.

In many companies, performance reviews are an annual challenge timed in conjunction with, or linked to, compensation reviews (often just before the December holidays, prior to the New Year). They are typically retroactive and may or may not be given by the person who is in the best position to understand the employee’s work and habits. Rarely useful, they are just one more step in the paper trail needed for hypothetical disciplinary problems.

As an employee, it can feel pretty threatening to rehash job “performance,” since the review often involves incidents long past. It’s both unhelpful and arbitrary to shine a light on an issue that can’t be changed and that affects a current salary review. It’s hard to move forward if one is always looking backwards, and usually in a negative way.

From the manager’s perspective, the whole performance review process can feel like a huge time suck. There’s paperwork involved and it can be difficult to schedule and engage in these reviews in a meaningful way, for both parties. Most people don’t work in an environment where their production is easily measurable. We can’t count widgets or even time in the office to determine an employee’s performance anymore.

So what to do about it?

At Boly:Welch, we’ve recently moved away from traditional performance reviews, replacing them with ongoing one-on-ones between employees and their managers. The intention is not to create a paper trail or determine compensation – rather, it’s about true growth. It’s an opportunity for managers to connect with employees in better ways – it’s a formalized, yet informal way to develop transparent relationships, offer coaching, and gain insight into employee job satisfaction.

Companies benefit from these meetings too – they offer great ways to better align employee goals with company goals and find the intersection between team strengths, passions, and client needs.

But the transition can seem strange, so we’ve posed and answered) a few questions about the process.

Why not tie performance to compensation? When the conversation is not focused on compensation – which should be an established philosophy – employees and managers can have honest discussions about crucial topics like performance, achievements, aspirations, and development.

Why add another duty to an already busy schedule? Because frequent meetings between managers and employees naturally create trust. Small issues can be resolved in real-time, employees can make adjustments and see their progress more quickly. Employees with engaged managers will naturally be more engaged themselves. By offering consistent meetings, you create a platform for organic, ongoing dialogue that leads to process improvement, and measureable growth.

If this is sounding interesting, the next question is…How?

It’s not an easy task to completely revamp the performance review process, but the rollout will be most successful with intentional planning about communicating expectations to both managers and employees. It’s important to:

+ Explain the reasons behind the change. In our case, the process was built on mutual respect and an interest in helping employees grow and improve.

+ Focus on training managers on how to lead the process. In turn, managers need to adjust employee expectations away from the annual performance reviews.

+ Keep the rollout steady, remain committed to the process and encourage feedback from all parties to improve the process over time.

+ Be patient and open-minded to incorporating feedback.

No, but really, how?

Every organization probably has a best way to approach one-on-ones, but Boly:Welch has started with basic guidelines for conducting our sessions:

1. One hardline rule: no distractions! That means no phones or electronics during the meetings. It’s fine to take notes with pen and paper, but the employee should have their manager’s undivided attention.

2. Be respectful of everyone’s time. Managers should send a calendar invite at least a week in advance and stick to the time. Establishing consistency is crucial, and rescheduling meetings sends a signal that the one-on-one (and the employee) isn’t as important to them. They should plan for an hour, schedule for 45 minutes, and shoot for 30 minutes!

3. Put employees in charge of their agenda. Let them send whatever is on their mind to discuss. Managers should ask: “What do you want to discuss in our one-on-one? What challenges are you facing and where are you blocked?” Managers can still bring good questions – they should try to address items that haven’t been discussed in a while and leave no elephants in the room.

4. We have a template one-on-one form to use as a conversation guide. It includes: a quick check-in, achievements, roadblocks and challenges, opportunities, decisions and ideas, and (SMART) goal-setting. However, it’s important to avoid simple status updates. This is the time to really dig into important topics like career development, practical feedback, and interpersonal issues.

5. After the meeting, managers should ask for employee feedback on their performance, send a timely summary, and follow-up on promised actions.

With thoughtful planning, you can change a once-dreaded chore into a strong developmental tool that generates trust, respect, collaboration and most importantly, satisfied and engaged employees.