3 Ways to Stick the Landing with Every Performance Review

August 9, 2021

Close wins are nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat fun to watch—the U.S. women’s soccer team’s emotional, hard-fought win over Brazil in 2004, with the winning goal scored in the 112th minute of an overtime game, or in 2012, David Boudia diving his way to victory by a mere 1.8 margin. And judged sports like diving add an extra element of drama to the mix. How will this panel of strangers favor or foil the hometown favorite? What do they really know of the years of struggle and training athletes have endured to get to where they are?

High hopes, byzantine point systems, impersonal judging—this sounds eerily similar to annual reviews. And while we all cheer when the points go our way, traditional reviews can leave employees feeling more like Nancy Kerrigan losing to Oksana Baiul. As one newspaper put it at the time, “It was the figure-skating equivalent of a club to the knee cap.” (Too soon, Seattle Times. Way too soon.)

As we tune in to the thrilling competitions in Japan and rejoice when our favorites win, it’s good to remember a single moment of judgment isn’t what motivates high performance. In this article, we’ll give you the top three ways to improve performance reviews and motivate great performance from employees—and avoid making them feel like their reviews are “as crooked as anything that ever happened in Chicago.”

1. Put Your Coaches in, Coach!

Imagine if the only time top athletes got feedback was from the judges at big competitions. Sure, the scoring would tell them where they rank compared to others in the sport, but how would they ever improve without more input during their months of training? Yet, many organizations think that’s enough for employees—close to half of employees only get feedback from their manager a few times a year or less.

Your employees want a coaching approach to feedback. In research by BambooHR, 61 percent of employees said they prefer to receive feedback as projects are completed or in informal meetings with their managers (as opposed to annual reviews). Your managers want a better system too—95 percent feel dissatisfied with their review process.

Ready to shake up your own process? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Train managers on effective feedback techniques, such as constructive questioning and active listening.
  • Prioritize frequent, informal conversations between managers and employees.
  • Instead of lingering too long on past mistakes, focus coaching conversations on what employees can do in the future and on building their strengths.

More Resources

Want gold-medal employees? Learn to manage like a coach.

2. Help Employees Go for the Gold

Along with good managers, employees put “opportunities to learn,” “interest in type of work,” and “opportunities for advancement” at the top of their list of needs from their employer. Many workers will go to great lengths to find work that’s purposeful and challenging, with 89 percent of American employees willing to make a lateral career move without financial incentive. But if money isn’t the incentive, what is? Here’s how the answers break down:

  • 57% would switch for a position that gives them greater satisfaction.
  • 41% would switch for an entirely new career path.
  • 40% would switch for a new professional challenge.

As you shift your performance management process to focus more on coaching, think about how your organization can unleash your employees’ drive to grow. Consider doing the following:

  • Create an internal hiring policy.
  • Nurture employee growth through employee development plans.
  • Come up with clear promotional paths and succession plans for each position.
  • Offer opportunities for cross training and mentorship.
  • Offer tuition or certification reimbursement.

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3. Get as Good as You Give

The world of sports isn’t keen on feedback from athletes—granted, the criticism offered to umpires and referees often comes in the form of vociferous arguing (and even some chest-bumping and shoving). But it’s easy to understand the frustration players feel at being judged and then ignored. To employees, performance reviews can often feel like those one-sided judgments from behind home plate: decided in an instant and then never to be questioned again.

This sense of employee powerlessness is pervasive:

  • 67% feel they are not heard during their reviews.
  • 55% say their companies don’t address concerns raised during performance reviews.
  • 62% don’t see changes occur from feedback they give.

Is it any wonder only four percent of employees surveyed thought performance reviews were the best way to motivate and engage employees? When employees and managers not only accept mutual feedback but collaborate to find the best way forward, your organization gets the information it needs to resolve problems and help everyone grow—instead of just imposing judgment on employees.

Here are some ways your organization can help employees feel heard:

  • Make goal setting a part of performance reviews (and have managers regularly check in with employees on progress and support needs).
  • Implement an employee feedback cycle outside of performance reviews to give employees an opportunity to voice concerns anonymously (even if you don’t implement  every suggestion).
  • Share the company’s objectives with employees, so employees can see how their goals and performance contribute to overall business success.
  • Recognize and reward employees for their contributions.

More Resources

Champion Your People

Improving performance starts with focusing on what’s at the heart of an organization’s success, and the HR team at BambooHR has a motto that encapsulates this perfectly: Business doesn’t create value—people do. And that’s essentially the purpose behind performance reviews: growing your people so they can do their best work. So instead of taking a judge’s perspective in performance management, take on the role of the coach and the fans. Encourage, support, and most of all, cheer your people on.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.