Performance management and assessment are fundamental to running a successful business at any scale. When you know who is creating organizational gains and who is causing challenges, you can lead much more effectively.
Unfortunately, however, most organizations still assess performance on a yearly basis. That means formalized feedback for employees only comes at the end of long terms, and any discussions about performance in between are seen as scary or punitive.
If your organization is still using the traditional annual appraisal model, you’re missing out on the opportunity to have better, more productive conversations with your employees and create a more data-driven approach to performance and talent management.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- Why a continuous feedback system is better than yearly appraisals
- What a continuous feedback system actually looks like
- How to build buy-in for the transition toward constant assessment
Why Continuous Feedback is So Powerful
In general, continuous performance assessment is the best way to support your employees and keep your organization healthy. When you’re constantly deepening your understanding of not just what’s working but why it’s working and how you can extend that success to new arenas, you have the power to transform your organization into its best self.
Transform Managers into True Leaders, Not Just Bosses
Much of the strife surrounding performance assessment (and talent management in general) is rooted in the fact that the average worker and manager don’t have a strong, productive enough relationship to meaningfully discuss performance.
The yearly appraisal model simply perpetuates that disconnect, as team members rarely sit down with their immediate supervisors to discuss goals, performance, achievement, and so on. When those conversations are so spread out, it’s difficult for them to feel authentic – both for the assessor and the worker. Everybody grits their teeth to get through it; nobody actually gains anything.
When you encourage your supervisors to lead ongoing conversations about strengths, areas for improvement, and achievement with each of their team members, you’re creating an environment where assessment can be both less stressful and more useful.
Continuous performance assessment takes that nebulous role of “boss” and defines it in a way that fosters better, more productive relationships and the kind of mentorship and coaching that drives everyone to get better.
Become More Responsive to Talent Needs & Create Opportunity for Improvement
If you’re assessing employees on a yearly or even quarterly basis, you’re leaving yourself open to disaster. The wrong employee or team underachieving in the incorrect position for months at a time can lead to financial disaster. On the other hand, if your best talent is laboring for 11 months at a time without recognition, they’re probably looking for somewhere else to work.
By embracing continuous assessment, you create an agile culture in which it’s easier to:
- Recognize problems or challenges in their early stages
- Strategize adjustments or corrections
- Design actionable improvement plans much more quickly, creating opportunities for employee turnaround.
That responsiveness makes assessment feel more supportive and less punitive. In this way, you can set underperforming talent up to save themselves, rather than letting them go in December because they struggled for an entire year.
How to Design and Anchor a Constant Assessment System
It’s important to start by saying that any business’ performance management and assessment system should be custom-built to address the company’s specific organizational system, goals, and employee culture. With that said, there’s a few pillars that should inform any approach.
Identify Goals, Competencies, and KPIs for Each Position
For your continuous assessment system to be successful, it needs to be grounded in structure, objectivity, and a deep understanding of how you want to do business. That means working with HR and department-level leaders to create a profile of each individual role on your organizational depth chart.
For each position within the organization, you should have a clear sense of:
- What skills and knowledge someone needs to be highly successful in that role
- How their job success will be gauged or measured (projects completed, revenue generated, etc.)
- Which tools or applications will provide assessors with the data they need to assess that person
- What the professional journey might look like for someone in that position (i.e. “If this person is highly successful in this role for two years, what might be next?” or “How long can we afford for someone to underperform in this position?”)
- How that person’s direct supervisor or team leader can guide their professional development to build success for all
Allow Employees to Grow in Ways Most Relevant to Them & Their Work
That strong understanding of your depth chart is crucial to great performance management, but it’s only half the puzzle. Your team members are individuals, and that means you can’t manage them like numbers in a spreadsheet.
When a continuous assessment system accounts for employees’ individual needs, strengths, and quirks, it greatly increases buy-in and builds better business results.
A great continuous feedback loop isn’t just standardized for company use; it’s also personalized to maximize its value for each worker. Upon hire or the completion of each identified assessment term, employees should work with their direct supervisors, coaches, and other relevant professionals to discuss:
- Individual knowledge and skill goals (“What can you do in the next six months to become even more knowledgeable or talented in this role, and how can we support you in that?”)
- Workplace engagement and employee cultural goals (“What can you do over the next term to increase or maintain your participation in or maintenance of our great team, and how can we support that work?”)
To maintain two-way accountability, it’s important to always think about and discuss how work toward these goals will be measured, how success will be assessed, and what success or failure means in terms of next steps.
Foster Two-Way Communication and Reflection
One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when it comes to performance management is making it an entirely one-way system where supervisors review their team members individually. That just perpetuates old fears about the workplace power dynamic and makes employees feel voiceless.
An excellent performance management system ensures each employee has a strong voice that’s heard and richly documented throughout their professional journey. Managers should encourage each worker to reflect on their own work and provide self-assessments to accompany supervisor feedback.
At the same time, each worker should have a voice in assessing the functionality of their teams or departments and the success of their manager or supervisor. That way, everybody is empowered with a voice and everybody is kept honest.
Focus on Data
Qualitative feedback about people’s impressions, personal experiences, and reactions is an important part of any assessment, but it can’t be the whole emphasis. In order to win buy-in with your discerning employees and stand up as fair and objective in court, your continuous feedback system must be data-centric.
Thanks to the incredible variety of tech tools and software applications we use on a daily basis, supervisors actually have access to more workflow data than ever – they just have to know how to get it and how to analyze it. With a little training from IT and assessment experts, your supervisors can guide conversations about performance by discussing data points like:
- Job or task completion rates
- Ticket turnaround times
- Campaign success
- Success of accounts managed
- Impact on team-based or departmental goals
When you build your assessment system around data, you’re creating something that’s actually gauging employee success, not just providing observations about work style or personality. That means you’re creating something more authentic, more useful, and more resistant to criticism.
Setting Your Employees Up to Embrace Change
Continuous performance assessment and management are best for business, but they can still be a tough sell at first. That’s because when people hear “continuous assessment,” they think that means more work and more awkward conversations.
In order to dispel those fears and build buy-in for your assessment system, you need to provide your workers and their supervisors/assessors with the support they need to see the value in the new approach and make a smooth transition.
Provide Clarity & Employee Education from Day One
From the day you make the decision to transition towards an ongoing feedback loop, you need to be transparent with your employees about what that means and what they system is going to look like.
You need to provide your ground-level workers with employee education that helps them understand the philosophy of the model as well as how it will affect what they do from day to day or week to week.
For managers, supervisors, and other assessors, you need to bring in talent and performance assessment experts to teach them how to be impactful coaches, use the system right, and get the most out of it.
If you drop ongoing performance assessment into your employees’ laps, you risk significant damage to morale and company culture. If you create a well-explained, well-scaffolded transition, however, you’ll gain the buy-in you need to make such a drastic change.
Make Strong Performance a Core Value Organization Wide
For any initiative to truly change a business and its culture of work, it has to be baked into daily life within the organization. If you want employees to reflect honestly, improve earnestly, and dedicate themselves to maximizing performance, it’s fundamental that you make great performance a highly visible organizational value.
That requires crafting messaging for display around the office, bringing in the right presenters to get your team motivated about performance, and even revisiting things like meeting protocols to make sure that discussions about performance are voiced in every context.
When performance and achievement are key daily values in your workplace, you greatly increase the chances that your employees will engage deeply in the process, strive for excellence, and work to better the environment on the whole.
Honor Your System Through Promotions & Raises
There needs to be an endgame anytime you’re assessing or judging something. If employees don’t understand how your continuous assessment system can be of benefit to them, it’s simply an externalized structure that they’ll engage with exactly as much as they need to in order to keep their jobs.
For people to really honor and value your assessment system in a way that leads to workforce maximization, you need to make it real for them. That means there must be real benefits and real rewards for those who exhibit high performance and take their role as part of the overall evaluation system seriously.
Raises and promotions are the most obvious and classic ways to make that happen.
At the same time, however, it’s important to honor the improvement aspects of your system. For example, if an under-performing employee exhibits a great turnaround, there should be some recognition that motivates them to continue growing.
When you have a strong, continuous feedback loop for every member of your team and each of those team members values and cares about the process, you have the power to maximize your workforce for business and cultural wins.
- Continuous feedback is more powerful for
- Management gains a better understanding of talent company-wide
- Struggling or under-performing workers gain the time, structure, and clarity they need to improve in a timely manner
- All-star talent gains access to a system that helps them feel appreciated and build a documentation trail to support promotions, raises, and so on
- Any constant assessment system must be rooted in
- Qualitative observations are never enough
- Embracing data analysis significantly reduces assessment workload for managers
- Emphasis on data shows that everything is fair
- You need buy-in from employees at all levels for
a continuous assessment system to work
- Be sure you demonstrate the value of the system and clarify expectations across the board
How to Learn More
If you’re a business leader looking to build an impactful, forward-facing performance management strategy, be sure to join us on Wednesday, December 11th to learn about The Future of Performance Management!
This free webinar from Launchways will be packed with actionable insights about emerging best practices for performance assessment including…
- How to assess the impact of your current performance management program and get started on building something even better
- How to recognize the common pitfalls of performance management
- How to replace an annual assessment system with a continuous feedback loop
- How to deliver actionable, powerful feedback, even when it’s difficult
- How to build a step-by-step procedure for handling employee underperformance
The hour-long learning experience will feature presentations and Q&A time with an all-star panel of veteran business leaders who know what it takes to build, manage, and continuously improve a great team. Presenters will include…
- Paul Pellman, CEO of Kazoo, who specializes in creating employee engagement and performance management strategies that build purpose and success in the workplace.
- Jodi Wellman, Co-Founder of Spectacular at Work, a leading executive coach who specializes in helping business leaders maximize their teams to build success and balance.
- Adam Radulovic, President at XL.net, an experienced entrepreneur and small business leader with a track record building and managing profit-driving teams at many different scales.
- Jon B. Howaniec, SHRM Certified Professional and VP at Clark Dietz, who oversees talent acquisition, staff development, and employee compensation at a multi-state engineering firm and specializes in strategic planning.
Any business leader, HR director, or manager hoping to improve their skills as a coach, mentor, or accountability partner should make time to check out The Future of Performance Management: How to Modernize Your Approach and start the process continuously improving their team this December!