Performance reviews – are they as dead as the dinosaurs?

Are we dinosaurs welcoming the annual performance appraisal meteor or do performance appraisals still have a useful purpose in workplaces today?

Many organisations are phasing out performance appraisals in favour of more regular feedback sessions. They say the former is backward-looking and a token obligatory process while the latter is more practical and future-oriented. After all, 12 months is a long time between reviews and a lot can change over the course of a year.

According to a recent survey of ours of 1,516 people, only 33 per cent of managers said they would prefer to conduct an annual review. The remaining 67 per cent would prefer another form of feedback.

Ditching a formal feedback process altogether however is not an option; most employers say without it employee performance would decline, their feelings of ownership and accountability would fall, and they’d be given the impression no one cares.

As one survey respondent said, “Work performance evaluation is critical for managers to feel connected with staff and ensure both their physical and emotional needs are being considered. For staff it is imperative that they feel their supervisor listens to them and takes their feedback on board. Staff need to feel they are being heard at all levels.”

Regular reviews more effective

The consensus is that performance reviews are more authentic and effective when undertaken regularly.

As one respondent said, “We’ve abandoned annual reviews as feedback should be ongoing throughout the year. We're not abandoning the focus on performance, just how it is managed and discussed with employees. By making it more timely and ongoing we see performance improvements throughout the year.”

Another noted, “If someone told me I’d performed one thing wrong eight months ago, it (the feedback) wouldn’t be effective and would actually discourage me because it took so long to feed that back.”

So what forms of feedback do people prefer?  There was general agreement that ongoing regular conversations, preferably monthly, should be occurring between an employee and their manager. This can then be supplemented with a more formal quarterly KPI discussion and an annual salary review and career planning session.

Most agreed that some form of annual feedback is still important in order to celebrate the year’s successes, but that other more regular feedback must be provided too so that areas for improvement are addressed as they arise.

This allows an employee and employer to change behaviour before it becomes embedded. Performance and productivity improve because feedback isn’t held off for the annual review, and managers spend less time managing issues that could have been avoided.

Regardless of the feedback process used, it’s critical that it remains transparent, credible and consistent for all staff.

Staff must also still have a voice in the process. This is important from a staff engagement perspective as well as a diversity perspective. An article in The HR Director revealed that one in five (20%) women in the UK fear they’ll be seen as a ‘pest’ if they ask for advice on workplace and career issues, compared to just 14% of men. So it’s important that feedback sessions are two-way discussions where individual team members feel they can ask questions and gain help if needed.  

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