Performance assessment and management should be two of any business leader’s top priorities. Unfortunately, discussions about specific employee performance often get lost in the shuffle until a serious issue arises.
That’s because the prevailing performance assessment model feels awkward and inauthentic to most of us – whether you’re the one being assessed or the one doing the assessing. Yearly or quarterly appraisals create “heck weeks” for managers during the review window and create anticipatory anxiety for workers that damages their buy-in and daily productivity.
The long-term performance management strategy we inherited from the 20th century just doesn’t work well anymore. Given the pace of business and the capabilities of technology, we need performance management processes that are more agile, more responsive, and more immediate.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- The true value and potential of a constant feedback loop around employee performance
- How transitioning from a yearly or quarterly assessment system to an ongoing performance management process can be easier than it sounds
- Guiding principles organizations can use as they begin to build their new performance management system
Why Constant Evaluation is Best for Business
Instead of thinking about employee performance on a yearly or quarterly term, businesses of all sizes, industries, and developmental stages should begin to transition toward a culture of constant, on-going evaluation.
It’s easy for that statement to produce a knee-jerk reaction because, on its surface, it does sound like more work and more stress. The fact of the matter, however, is that ongoing assessment provides more value and more authenticity.
Let’s explore some of the ways an ongoing performance assessment feedback loop can be beneficial to a business:
Keep Leadership Aware of the Organization’s Pulse
Senior leaders frequently express frustration that they are unaware of individual employee performance issues until they become a business, legal, or HR problem. That’s because the prevailing yearly assessment system leaves them in the dark for months at a time.
When there’s a formal, ongoing, well-documented discussion about performance between each employee and their direct supervisor, it’s far easier for managers higher up in the chain of command to “take the temperature” of each team or department at a glance.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Performance management that operates on a quarterly or yearly term basically assumes that everything is going fine. Unfortunately, however, we live and work in the real world, and that means some things aren’t fine.
When you assess each of your employees regularly, you create a framework to proactively identify low-performing employees or teams and shorten the time that bad apples stay in the barrel. Your ground-level supervisors and team leaders gain a vocabulary, a structure, and a support system that they can use to help senior leadership prevent small problems from turning into big ones.
Maintain Open Lines of Communication About Performance
Yearly performance reviews are a tense time around the office because, when someone’s assessing an entire year of your life, it’s hard not to feel like the process is deeply personal, judgmental, and potentially punitive.
An ongoing performance management strategy makes professional feedback and conversations about improvement part of daily or weekly life within each team or department. That means there’s less of that long-term stress the yearly model creates, and the entire conversation seems more casual, with everybody having a voice and staying plugged in.
Engage Your High Achievers
It’s easy to think of “performance management” as “identifying and eliminating underperformers,” but too often, we forget about the importance of recognizing the great work that high achievers are doing on a daily basis.
Many of your employees who quietly, consistently do well are yearning for a grateful, reassuring pat on the back, and an ongoing conversation about performance with specific feedback is a great way to do that. When great talent feels valued and seen in the workplace, they’re much more likely to stick around or develop into leaders themselves.
Implementing Ongoing Performance Management Isn’t as Difficult as it Sounds
Anytime you say something is going to shift from a yearly practice to a weekly, daily, or ongoing practice, employees understandably get concerned that you’re about to create a lot of additional work for them.
Thankfully, however, transitioning toward an ongoing performance assessment and management model isn’t actually as daunting as it seems because a lot of the system you need to create already exists on an informal level.
Let’s explore some of the reasons adjusting your assessment timetable isn’t as disruptive as you might expect!
Much of the Tech Support Framework is Already in Place
Unlike the supervisors and performance assessors who created the annual appraisal system, you have access to modern HRIS, HCM, document sharing platforms, project management software interfaces, and so on.
That means your supervisors have many ways to measure how their team members are doing that don’t involve looking over their shoulders or having unnecessary, distracting conversations. Our tech-enabled work environment is constantly capturing insights about how individual employees work and achieve differently – it’s just about using that data to its full potential.
By the same token, technology platforms make it easy to house performance management or assessment information in an easily accessible way, so visibility is maximized for supervisors and employees alike.
Team- and Department-Level Leaders are Just Formalizing What They Already Do
Many supervisors, managers, and team leaders in your organization are already making constant performance assessments about everybody they work with. When you transition toward a formal ongoing assessment model, you’re just empowering those leaders to turn those insights into action in the workplace.
When you change models, you’re not creating new anxieties for your managers, you’re providing them with a framework to document their concerns and use them as a basis for authentic discussion about what needs to happen in order for organizational performance to improve.
Employees Want to Know How They’re Doing
Contrary to popular belief, most employees are hungry for feedback. Feedback makes people feel more secure – even constructive feedback – because there’s nothing worse than not knowing how you’re doing.
For many employees, timely feedback can be the difference between feeling underappreciated or feeling entirely bought-into the organization’s mission and vision.
Many business leaders assume buy-in and morale are major hurdles to having more serious conversations about employee performance, but if employees know they have an authentic voice in the system, they will engage.
How to Transition Toward an Ongoing Performance Evaluation Model
So now that we’ve obliterated the myth that ongoing performance management is challenging, creates more work, and harms morale, let’s take a look at what each business needs to do to create a successful, powerful assessment system.
Provide Training to Turn Your Managers into Professional Assessors
For your ongoing performance evaluation system to work well, your supervisors, team leaders, managers, and other assessors need to be really good at giving targeted, thoughtful feedback, brainstorming solutions or improvement plans, and talking to employees in a way that feels supportive and positive yet firm.
Not everybody naturally knows how to do all those things. While some of your supervisors might have gone to school for business management, others have probably risen through the ranks or achieved their position by demonstrating other key skills.
Getting performance management right requires ensuring that each assessor is well-versed in best practices for performance assessment, feedback creation, and so on. That will most likely require some professional training from an outside consultant, but great coaching is the fuel that powers strong performance.
Create a Data-Driven Assessment Process
In order for any assessment system to truly work, it must be fair and based in a shared, objective understanding of the facts. That means your approach to performance management needs to avoid over-reliance on qualitative, observation-based manager feedback and focus on the data.
Thanks to the backend data from those HCM systems, project management applications, and other tech-enabled work platforms we discussed earlier, it’s easier than ever to gather data about work completion times, project success, and other relevant measures of performance. If you bring in a performance management consultant or similar professional, they can also help you identify other easy-to-access data points that can tell powerful stories.
Build in Both Accountability and Mutual Protection
A bad or incomplete performance management system can potentially get your business into a lot of trouble.
On one level, poor performance assessment leaves you vulnerable to sagging business or employee disengagement. On the other hand, bad performance management practices can also lead to wrongful termination claims and other legal issues.
As you design your ongoing performance management system, it’s crucial that you back up your new practices with appropriate, legally compliant policies and provide employee training to guarantee awareness of best practices and key accountabilities.
You need to be sure you’re building something that will hold up to outside scrutiny, display your company values in a positive manner, and help everybody appreciate the weight and importance of the work they do on a daily basis.
As we move into 2020, we must augment our practices to reflect the faster pace of business and the increased urgency of success and profitability at scale.
Proactive, ongoing performance management has the potential to strengthen any business and foster healthier discussions about work between employer and employee. Just remember:
- Constant assessment creates a feedback loop that keeps employees, ground-level managers, and upper leadership on the same page when it comes to talent and performance management
- Regular feedback sets low achievers up for improvement and provides high achievers with the recognition they need to thrive
- Making the transition to ongoing feedback isn’t as difficult as you might think as you’re just formalizing and validating the work that many of your managers are already doing in an unstructured way
- Rolling out your new assessment system requires appropriate educational support for both assessors and individual employees to ensure strong coaching and good buy-in
- Feedback should be based in measurable data, not just qualitative observations or feelings