As you’ve likely heard by now, performance reviews are broken. In large part, that’s because performance reviews aren’t really designed with employees in mind. They’re really only good for one thing: deciding to fire someone who hasn’t met expectations.
A lot of thought leaders have held forth on how we can fix performance reviews. Often, the suggested solution is to “have them more often.” Regular check-ins, people argue, actually give employees a chance to improve their performance, whereas once-a-year reviews happen too long after the fact. By the time an end-of-year review rolls around, mistakes have already been made, an employee’s performance has already been deemed “poor,” and the company has missed out on months of productivity and engagement.
Deidre Paknad, CEO of Workboard, Inc., the makers of an employee performance and productivity app, agrees that performance reviews should happen more often. Her company suggests holding one-on-one meetings between managers and employees once every two weeks. But Paknad goes a step further. She says we should remove the concept of “review” from the proceedings altogether.
“Take the ‘review’ word out,” Paknad says. “It should be a conversation, an open, constructive, compassionate conversation about achieving together. When you put the word ‘review’ in, it makes for judgments instead of partnership. Great teams perform because of partnerships.”
So, what does a reviewless performance meeting look like? Paknad stresses that managers should focus on three things every time they meet with an employee:
1. Figure Out What Obstacles the Employee Faces and Try to Remove Some of Them
“The intent is not that the manager does the person’s job,” Paknad explains. “It’s that they try to remove the organizational or operational roadblocks outside of the employee’s control.”
Especially in large, complex organizations, there may be certain factors thwarting an employee’s success. Rigid processes, frustrating bureaucracies, and uncooperative colleagues can spell disaster for even the most engaged and passionate employee.
By taking an active role in removing obstacles that are beyond an employee’s control, managers do themselves — and their businesses — a huge favor: instead of toiling in vain, the employee can actually accomplish what needs accomplishing.
2. Sync Up on Performance, Alignment, and Engagement
Paknad says that, during every one-on-one meeting, managers should take the time talk about an employee’s performance, alignment, and engagement. The idea here is that the manager rates the employee in each category, and the employee rates themselves as well. Then, the manager and employee can identify any gaps between the manager’s perception and the employee’s perception, and they can work together to close those gaps.
The best way to demonstrate the importance of this conversation, Paknad says, is to talk about what happens when managers and employees don’t have it.
“If you don’t sync up on these things regularly, you end up doing it at the end of the year during a performance review,” Paknad says. “Maybe the manager says an employee is a ‘three’ on a scale of 1-5, but the employee spent the whole year believing they were a ‘five.’ Now, the employee is crestfallen.”
Bridging the gap between employee and manager perceptions becomes much more difficult after such a meeting, Paknad says, because the employee will likely be carrying a lot of ill will. After all: the manager didn’t give them any opportunity to improve over the last year, and that lost opportunity hurts them and their career.
“More importantly, you lost the benefit of their performance for 10 months or so,” Paknad says. “And you’re probably going to lose it forever after this.”
While “performance” and “engagement” are likely self-explanatory to most managers and employees, “alignment” warrants a little more explanation. By “alignment,” Paknad means “How aligned are the employee and the manager with one another? Do they share the same priorities?”
“Often, low performance is the result of an alignment gap,” Paknad says. “What the manager thinks is important to focus on isn’t what the person is focusing on.”
Paknad stresses that alignment gaps — as well as performance and engagement gaps — are highly closeable. Managers and employees just need to have these conversations.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room and shrink him down, not let him grow bigger and bigger over the year,” Paknad says.
3. Set Long-Term Goals for the Employee
Paknad says it is important for managers and employees to spend some time away from daily to-do lists in order to focus on long-range goals. These goals come in two forms: business goals and career development goals.
In terms of career development goals, managers should try to help employees grow, build their careers, and boost their skills over time.
“That’s the greatest gift you can give to the company and the employee as a manager,” Paknad says.
That’s because helping an employee develop doesn’t just impact the individual employee’s career; it also means the employee can perform at a higher level in service of the company.
As for business goals, the main idea here is to give employees “permission to ignore some things,” Paknad says.
“People often don’t know what they can drop. There’s so much on their plate, and they feel they have to do it all,” she explains. “The manager’s job is to say, ‘Let’s set this aside. We need to meet these goals this quarter, and this is what’s important.’”
Having this conversation helps employees set priorities and course-correct in real time. Rather than waiting until the end of the year (or quarter) to find that an employee didn’t deliver, the manager can set the employee the right path toward personal and organizational success.
In fact, that’s what all of these conversations do. Through regular feedback that focuses on helping employees, rather than judging them, managers can not only positively impact the lives of their employees, but also drive company success.
What would you rather have: an employee who underperforms for a year until you let them go, or an employee who regularly adjusts their activities and priorities in order to perform at their best throughout the whole year? You know the answer, and managers, you can’t have that kind of employee unless you’re willing to make time for building partnerships.
Don’t pass judgment — help your employees succeed.