The yearly performance review can be a stressful time for everyone. Employees don’t like to hear them and bosses don’t like to prepare them. They’re difficult to do, time consuming and don’t really allow both parties to walk away feeling like something good was accomplished. In some cases, it can be demoralizing and hurt the employee’s work performance instead of bolstering it. So why does everyone insist on them?

Evaluating employees on a set scale has some advantages, but those rating scales often miss out on the fact that workers are actual people. Rating them like cogs in a machine isn’t an option anymore, not when the workplace and competition changes at lightning speed. So what can you do? Well, for starters try these six tips for new and improved performance review methods:

  1. Drop the Annual Standard

Evaluating someone once a year is stressful and it can be demoralizing. If someone’s biggest accomplishment of the year comes shortly after their last evaluation, it’s not likely to have as big of an impact when it comes around next year. What happens to the goals you and the employee set for the year? What if they became unimportant, or got pushed off by other things? If those goals weren’t achieved, it can reflect poorly on the employee, regardless of what else happened.

Despite realizing that a yearly review might not be the best way to go about things, most companies still do it. In fact, 73 percent only do reviews annually, while 13 percent do so biannually. With as quickly as technology changes industries now, that’s just not enough. Faster, more frequent reviews are much more helpful.

  1. Make It Less Formal

Many companies are dropping formal dress codes and are starting to act more like a group instead of a hierarchy. However, it can be hard to maintain that for performance reviews. Instead of calling employees to your office, drop by their desk and tell them you’d like to discuss their latest project over lunch. Moving the meeting to unclaimed territory puts you both on equal footing and helps ease some of the tension.

Clearly, there are challenges here. It can be difficult to talk about raises and bonuses without the backing of the rest of your office. However, if you’re able to do reviews more frequently, then you don’t need to discuss pay at every meeting. You can sit back and really talk to the employee, finding out about their goals and how their work ties in with the rest of their life.

  1. Invite Employees to Review Back

Part of what makes performance reviews so nerve-racking is that the person being reviewed tends to feel pretty powerless. However, giving them the opportunity voice their opinions can help them feel a measure of control. It can also help you to become a better manager. There are, of course, apps available for exactly this purpose. Some are even reported to improve employee retention by 49 percent, simply by taking a poll of employees and tallying the results anonymously.

  1. Invite Problem-Solving Ideas

If you’re already aware of problems you need to discuss with an employee, think about how to turn it into an active discussion, instead of just a list of things they need to improve. A browbeating doesn’t inspire anyone to make changes, only to look for another job. By working with employees to solve problems instead of just letting them know about them, you can eliminate the threatening aspect of improving work performance.

If the threat is gone, then employees are no longer primed for a flight-or-fight response. You, the manager, are no longer seen as a threat, but as a person. The employee is now able to talk to you instead of panic, and you can come to legitimate solutions and understandings. In turn, you have a chance to help someone overcome a difficulty.

  1. Get Everyone’s Input

A single point of view is influenced by many things. Managers and executives are just as likely to fall prey to their own biases as anyone else. It’s almost impossible to separate personal interactions with people from how you evaluate their work, which means there is no real way to do so fairly, unless you take into account most of the people they work with.

No rankings need to be done, just a simple question for groups they worked with and co-workers they’re around. It doesn’t even have to be about one person. You can simply ask people to evaluate their co-workers, and use whatever information is freely offered. This provides a well-rounded look at people. It lets you see how they deal with crises, handle interactions, offer help and how much they’re willing to learn.

  1. Take Salary Out of It

Linking an employee’s pay to their numerical ranking sounds awfully depressing, doesn’t it? After all, the performance review is easy to politicize, and it practically lays the groundwork to blame someone else. Instead of fostering a cooperative atmosphere, this sort of pay scale undermines colleges who work together, makes voicing honest opinions difficult and emphasizes the hierarchy. That’s pretty much the opposite of what you want for a fluid, cohesive workforce.

By taking pay out of it, you give employees freedom. They can now accept mistakes they’ve made, because they won’t cost them their livelihood. They can voice opinions on their co-workers and superiors because they aren’t threatened by losing their income. They can listen and hear what they can do to improve because they’re no longer deafened by the sound of their raise.

There’s no need to fear the annual performance review. It’s old fashioned, and it simply doesn’t keep up with the pace of business anymore. When times change, employers need to change with them. Look at your reviews in a new way, and you’ll get more out of your employees.


What would you like to see in your performance reviews? Share your worst review stories and your tips for improving reviews in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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