It's confirmed: Many employees hate performance reviews. At the recent SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, attendees learned that, upon receiving the annual performance review, 18 percent of women reported crying, while 25 percent of men reported doing so. Thirty-four percent of Millennials said the annual review has driven them to tears.
Another interesting statistic: 57 percent of individuals surveyed reported that the annual review made them feel they were in competition with co-workers.
This research was shared by speakers Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, CEO of WithIN Leadership, and Art Jackson, president of Eagle's Nest Performance Management, in a panel discussion moderated by Tony Lee, vice president of content for SHRM.
Currence and Jackson noted that the traditional annual review tends to promote favoritism, inconsistency, abrupt swings between leniency and severity, and recency bias (which happens when reviewers judge an employee's most recent performance and apply it to the whole year. For example, Employee A has a lousy year with a great finish, whereas Employee B has a great year with a lousy finish. Who gets the higher rating?).
Another problem with the annual review is it tends to increase fear of confrontation, which results in avoidance. This produces silence when communication is most needed.
With this data, information and experience, it's not surprising the speakers' strong recommendation regarding the annual review was simple: Get rid of it!
This doesn't mean eliminating performance feedback. Employees still want to know how they're doing. Unclear job expectations are the No. 1 cause of workplace stress, Currence and Jackson said. They shared several things that can be done to replace the annual review:
- Initiate more frequent conversations about performance.
- Adopt a less cumbersome and more welcoming approach.
- Separate the review from any discussion of compensation.
- Train managers on coaching techniques to help them get away from being the traditional "boss."
- Include 360-degree feedback.
In addition, managers should be trained on how to give objective feedback, not subjective feedback. Subjective: "You don't seem to be doing as well as your co-workers." Objective: "Here's what I'm observing regarding results on your individual performance plan." Subjective: "You've got a lot of potential that needs developing." Objective: "Here's how you could increase your contribution toward achievement of our organization's strategic plan."
Currence stressed the value of forward-focused discussions. Instead of rehashing criticism of past or current failures, managers should ask questions such as, "What do you think?" Develop the habit of replacing a declarative statement by starting with "what" or "how" to elicit more powerful responses.
Jackson also encouraged abandoning the widespread 1-to-5 rating scheme, noting that most managers will default to the just-above-average and not-too-harsh 3.5 rating. Instead, he recommends using a 4-point scale that provides a little more information to the recipient.
As a guide for these more frequent performance-related discussions, the speakers recommended five actions:
- Set performance expectations.
- Establish accountability.
- Focus on mission priorities.
- Seek to develop team members.
- Solicit feedback and document the discussion.
Currence and Jackson prefer to call these discussions "check-ins" rather than "performance reviews." In terms of frequency, Jackson suggested one check-in per month. An alternative suggestion was once every 90 days.
They also recommended that topics include more than just performance assessment. Use the review as an opportunity to connect with employees on a personal level. There's nothing wrong with asking, "How's the family?" Some managers even request that employees include a personal goal on their workplace goals sheet to encourage work/life integration.
No More Tears During Reviews
When employers follow the practices recommended by Currence and Jackson, employees will benefit from not having surprise ratings and won't obsess over mistakes and failures. Instead, they will focus on shared goals and a positive future, and managers and workers will connect as human beings. You'll watch as the tears quickly dry up.
Jathan Janove, J.D., is the author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins/Amacom, 2017). He is president of Organization Development Network Oregon and was named by Inc. magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for 2018. If you have questions or suggestions for topics for future columns, write to JathanJanove@comcast.net.