Saving Performance Reviews: Why and How You Should Keep Them Around
It’s that time of the quarter again: review time. Every three months, our team reviews employees, asking for feedback from that past quarter. Each time, I stay up to read as many of them as possible. I enjoy seeing what the different teams are working on, and it helps me stay in touch with projects and how our biggest investment — our team — is feeling.
Some companies have done away with reviews altogether, while most are considering a change. In fact, more than 80 percent of organizations are considering making a major change to performance management or already have, according to CEB research. It’s not that reviews are seen as unimportant; it’s that the traditional way has stopped serving its purpose for many companies.
I realized that was happening at my company, too. Because employees are our greatest asset, I didn’t want to have a review process that wasn’t useful for them or for our company’s growth. I assessed our review process and came up with a new version that ultimately improved employee participation.
Why employee reviews matter
Employees are expensive. In fact, the biggest P&L expense is payroll — not to mention the added cost that comes with hiring and training new employees. That’s why investing in your current employees is the way to go. Supporting employees in working better and faster — and making sure they’re happy in the workplace — will not only be good for the company, but will also make employees more likely to stick around.
Employee maintenance, in some regards, is like maintaining a house. If I’m investing in a house, I’m going to spend the time and money to maintain it — have it cleaned, look at electrical, check the foundation and renovate — because it’s a large expense. That’s what we should also do with our employees; we have to coach and grow them so they can continually improve as well. The more they grow, the better they’ll perform, which is ultimately better for the company. We all want more revenue, right?
Reviews offer one way to help your employees grow. They allow managers to check in on their employees’ progress and uncover new opportunities for improvement. They provide an opportunity to determine how team members can continue contributing to the team in ways that are meaningful for them as individuals, as well as for the company. As a whole, reviews give management insight into employee morale and how team members are working together. They also provide an opportunity to reorient the team around the company’s goal and mission.
Reviews do serve a purpose; done correctly, your team will feel engaged and even be more productive. A study by economists at the University of Warwick shows that “happy employees are 12% more productive.”
How to elevate reviews so they’re no longer a slog
Despite all the benefits of reviews, they’re often viewed as time-consuming and unnecessary. That’s the kind of feedback we began receiving.
The past few quarters, I saw an increase in employees writing things like “you know what I did last quarter” or “n/a,” and our HR team continually had to remind people to even complete their reviews. How was this helping me or my management team? What benefits exist if people aren’t submitting their reviews or are providing vague answers without any insight?
There weren’t any, at least not for the purpose I had in mind. It was time to make a change. I began by gathering feedback, researching and then looking for inspiration.
The feedback we gained from employees was that it wasn’t the actual reviews that the team was unhappy with; it was the time it took to review their teams and peers. Employees would often say they weren’t aware of what their peers were working on, nor did they feel comfortable assessing their peers’ performance, so peer reviews were often dreaded.
I researched alternative review formats. I looked up what other innovative tech companies were doing and searched current review trends. But inspiration hit when I attended an event at my own company: our intern presentations.
At the end of every semester, we ask our student apprentices to present their projects to the company. They tell our team what they worked on and learned and what they were proud of producing for us. During these five- or 10-minute presentations, I receive feedback, learn about what they did and see what they’re proud of. This is exactly what we needed from our reviews.
How to win team buy-in when performance reviews aren’t popular
Instead of peer reviews, I decided our team members should create a brief slide presentation about one project they were proud of from the previous quarter. I’d found a solution that I really liked, but I’ll admit I was worried the team might not be on board with creating presentation-style reviews.
I shared the idea with HR and thought through every possible rebuttal. We decided that for this to work, the new type of review would need to meet three requirements: 1) It would need to be simple for any employee to create, 2) it would need to take less than 30 minutes, or less than the amount of time it took to complete peer reviews previously and 3) we would not require employees to present in front of the entire company.
Out of these discussions came our new review process: a four- or five-slide presentation deck, which would allow employees to share a project and explain how it tied into the company goals, how they made a difference and what’s next to progress the project.
We also shortened the time spent on reviews by removing long-form questions and changing the frequency of peer reviews to once a year instead of once a quarter. When we announced this, we received a booming clap of approval.
It was remarkable; our engagement spiked the next quarter. Every person submitted his or her review without one HR reminder email going out. Employees were taking ownership of projects and learning presentation skills, while managers gained insight into the types of work that inspired their employees, deciphering how their direct reports viewed their roles and contributions to the company. On both ends, we received great feedback.
Reviews require time from your employees, your management team and you. Whether you decide to change up your review process altogether or change one thing, take a look to see whether the time spent is worth the knowledge gained. If not, don’t be afraid to change it up so employees feel motivated by and engaged with your review process.