Performance Review Cycles – Keep Pedaling or Put on the Brakes?

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By Debbie Noschese
July 28, 2020
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In the age of a pandemic and with the move to remote workforces, HR professionals are brainstorming with each other about what to do about performance cycles. Given the circumstances, and that managers are not typically “fan favorites” of performance reviews, what can HR leaders do to sustain a performance review program? Should the established cycle continue as normal or should changes be made? How about a new process all together?

Recently a group of HR Professionals from leading Boston area companies asked these questions of each other. They weighed in on how their companies are managing the performance process in these times of change and challenge. Here are some of the findings:

Fluid & Frequent Communication

Most of the HR participants felt it was important for HR and managers to be empathetic and flexible not only with performance reviews but also with day to day work.

In one case the company is holding off on setting sales targets for this fiscal year given the uncertainty that lingers as a result of COVID-19. A focus on more frequent discussions between managers and employees provides an opportunity for continuous feedback. Organizations may be operating with fewer employees due to furloughs or layoffs and work may have shifted. Frequent conversations allow managers to be in a better position to understand issues their employees are facing such as competing priorities, project deadline shifts, and general concerns. It is an opportunity for managers to review and adjust goals/objectives to maintain productivity. From both the manager and employee perspective, productive conversations include what the individual is most proud of, challenges, growth opportunities, and what the manager can do to better support them. Also, the timing may be optimal to focus on skill improvement, development, and action planning.

Simplify Processes with Prompts

Overall, these HR leaders feel that the established quarterly, semi-annual, or annual performance review cycles are sufficient. All agree that regardless of the timing, conversations need to be documented in the HR system. To make it easier for managers to log the information some companies simplified the process by using system generated questions so managers can provide short responses, even in a bulleted format. In a few cases, the company no longer has performance ratings. Providing manager training on giving performance feedback more effectively and frequently helps drive a mindset shift so that managers comply with changes in the cycle.

Remote Requires Responsiveness

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, performance review processes and cycles was a hot topic of discussion among HR professionals. The significant changes in the way many managers and employees are working and communicating now that they may not be co-located, has put even greater emphasis on the need to consider the best way to share feedback and develop employees. Some HR leaders recommended running a pilot with a few functional areas to drive decisions on the performance review cycle that will work best for each organization.

Conclusion of Findings

It is important that organizations strike a balance of meeting business objectives while providing support to managers and employees. Optimizing performance reviews is an on-going HR initiative that has seen changes in the past and will likely see changes again in the future. All in an effort to provide timely and actionable feedback that allow employees to maximize performance.

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