How to make performance reviews year-round

Employee feedback should not be reserved for annual reviews. Here's how to create ongoing performance reviews.

Why performance reviews are so important for goal-setting

Many workers are in the thick of annual performance review season, which are often critical for determining raises, bonuses, and promotions. However, managers offering feedback to employees only once a year can be detrimental to the entire organization.

Once a year performance reviews are problematic, says Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner. "Not only are you missing out on potential things, but more importantly, you're actually creating damage," Kropp said. "The world moves so quickly that if you're waiting for a year to go by to get that sort of feedback and direction, odds are a year from now it'll be so different than what you're working on now that you're going to miss out on all sorts of things, and will most likely be working on the wrong things."

Ideally, you should be having a conversation on at least a quarterly basis about different goals, performance feedback, and on how you should be spending your time at work, Kropp said.

SEE: Accomplishment tracker (Tech Pro Research)

Regular one-to-one meetings or check-ins, however formal or informal, can help employees stay on track for meeting individual and overall business goals, said Colleen Hughes, senior vice president for human relations at CompTIA.

"That helps the employee as far as validating, 'I'm doing well. I'm on track. I'm contributing.' All the things that we as human beings need to hear," Hughes said.

Creating the conversation

Regular feedback conversations should never start with the question, "Give me performance feedback. What sort of score am I getting?" Kropp said. Instead, the conversation should be shaped with questions like "What goals do we need to accomplish across this next quarter?"

Without this regular conversation, "the likelihood that you as an employee get misaligned from what your manager thinks is worth supporting is actually quite high," Kropp said. "And if you're misaligned, the likelihood that you actually have a good performance review when that time comes is quite low."

From the manager's perspective, holding regular review meetings will help you get a greater contribution from your employees, because they will be focusing on the most important goals, Kropp added.

The manager's job during these conversations is to provide direction, and make sure the employee knows how they should be prioritizing their time. Managers need to avoid falling into a common trap, though. "One of the bigger mistakes that most managers make is to say that it is exclusively their job to provide feedback and coaching to their employees. That's actually wrong," Kropp said. "While managers play a critical role in providing that feedback and coaching, as jobs and organizations have become more complicated and collaborative, one of the corresponding realities is that most managers don't actually know what their employees are working on."

SEE: Tips for getting the most from your performance reviews (free TechRepublic PDF)

That means a manager must not only provide their own feedback, but connect employees to other leaders both inside and outside the organization who can help them with any unique challenges they are facing, Kropp said.

"Part of your job in terms of providing that feedback is really helping your employees connect to the people that could actually provide the best support for them, rather than you being that exclusive person that finds that support for them," he added.

Meeting goals

Managers and employees should refer back to goals set in the main annual performance review meeting in subsequent meetings, Hughes said.

"Reflect on those on a regular basis, and measure what's been done, what hasn't been done, and how well it's been done," she said. "Way too often, people wait until the end of November to think about, 'Well, I was supposed to do X, Y, Z this year and this is the first time I've thought of it.' That's a problem."

In both performance reviews and later one-to-one meetings, managers and employees must ensure that they are honest and share practical information, with data to back it up, Hughes said.

Some argue that performance reviews should be eliminated all together, in favor of strong conversations between managers and employees, Kropp said. However, this approach only works if you have top managers at all times, he added. "We've yet to find the organization where all of their managers are top 10% quality," Kropp said. "So if you don't have that, what you actually need is to have those scores and those reviews and a process, because most managers need the support of having effective tools and resources to make those conversations happen."

Organizations that don't have performance review infrastructures spend less time giving coaching, feedback, and advice to employees, Kropp said. "Having those scores in place is absolutely critical for employees to get the right performance feedback that they need to help them have more successful careers and to be more successful and effective within their jobs," he added.

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