How to make performance reviews meaningful

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Performance reviews are one of those responsibilities entrusted to you, as a technical manager, for which life and school have not prepared you. Take a massive shift from an office culture to a model where people work remotely, an influx of millennials into the workforce, a mental illness epidemic, and massive resignations into the mix and you might be faced with performance reviews that seem very far from your depth.

To help prepare you, I’ve spoken to leaders who are master of the art and see these focused one-on-one – especially in a hybrid or remote model – as a rare opportunity to connect, to set clear goals, build the values ​​and culture of the company desires and help staff find meaning and a sense of belonging at work.

Good results start with preparation and cultivation

“Making performance reviews meaningful starts long before you plan the meeting,” said Gil Pekelman, CEO of Atera. “It starts with the culture of your organization.

If your business has created an environment where people thrive and feel valued, challenged and respected, he says, “they are most likely excited about their performance reviews.”

Mark Kinsella, VP of Engineering at Opendoor, agrees that preparation is key to performance reviews and that much of that preparation starts at the top. Opendoor has created clearly defined career paths that outline roles, responsibilities and expectations so that it is easier for managers to see if team members are fulfilling their obligations.

But in a remote working world, where human interactions have been reduced to the essentials, these reviews are also one of the few opportunities you’ll need to connect with your team. For this reason, Kinsella believes managers should take full advantage by being more prepared than ever.

“As a leader, you need to be clear with your direct report about the role and your expectations,” he says. But with so many employees now remote, “you have to be objective, specific and actionable because there is less human element in person to provide detail during the discussion.”

All of this preparation turns what was once a transactional meeting into something more. “I have found that the discussions about assessing performance during the pandemic have resulted in more fruitful and in-depth conversations,” he says.

Take this opportunity to uncover prejudices and build a strong culture

It is important throughout the review process, from preparation to final approval, to consider how your expectations are influenced by biases. Rethinking the types of comparisons you make is a good place to start.

“Avoid comparing one person to another,” Kinsella says in order to eliminate the stigma. “Instead, focus on the person’s performance and work in relation to career paths.”

Performance reviews are often riddled with false expectations that affect the careers of your team members. According to Harvard business review (HBR), part of this translates into stereotypical groups having to prove themselves over and over again while white men are judged on their potential. In addition, women often have to walk a narrow tightrope of acceptable behaviors while men do not, and mothers are assumed to have lost interest in their work when they have not. Check your own bias and eliminate it to the best of your ability.

To achieve this, HBR suggests removing open-ended questions and asking for evidence to support individual achievements and skills, not just stereotypical groups. It not only helps to eliminate prejudice, but also improves your reviews.

Performance reviews provide an opportunity to help your business build a diverse culture. “Performance reviews and ultimately promotions reflect what you value as a business,” says Kinsella. “So encourage people who excel at their current level and meet the demands of the next level. But also promote those who embody the values ​​that are important to you.

Don’t overlook the value of validation

We live in strange, pressured and disruptive times. For the members of your team, it is possible that work has become an important axis, a stable place, a situation where they feel competent and necessary. So in addition to the classic goal of a performance review – to give people the opportunity to measure their contribution to the success of the organization – Tony O’Donnell, CTO of Prezi, thinks it’s important to ensure that your employees are confirmed and validated that they are doing the right thing.

“It’s something that can really help foster retention, engagement, emotional well-being, and make people feel that they matter,” he says. “One thing that I’ve observed as a loss over the past year is that it’s easy to reduce people to transactional actors, when they are working remotely, and that’s not a good way to retain your best employees. “

The appraisal interview, he says, is an opportunity to give a pat on the back, praise, a look into the future of your team and that employee, and help build a sense of membership of this person in the team.

Do them more often

Most people have found remote working good for productivity and work / life balance, but some things get lost. “You lose the connection you had with the conversations about the water bubbler and the kitchenette that we had in the office,” says Chris Conry, CIO of Fuze. “It allowed you to be informal with employee recordings because you could see how they were doing, have a quick chat, and engage lightly. “

Now that most human contact is reduced to primarily messaging, calls, and video, Conry suggests increasing the frequency of touchpoints for performance review. “Instead of having semi-annual or annual reviews in a formal setting, which was the case until recently, we find that having almost weekly or monthly reviews with employees is a better model,” he says.

“In today’s troubled world, measuring any kind of performance over a 12-month strategy is difficult to do,” agrees O’Donnell of Prezi. “There was an emerging trend, even before all of this, where organizations, especially in the tech arena, were demolishing the idea of ​​annual performance reviews and embracing the idea that performance is an ongoing conversation. Now that the world is changing so much, the pace of an annual process is even more difficult. At the end of the first three months, all of the 12-month goals you set for yourself probably don’t make sense. “

It’s not just about what the employee does for you

If your team is made up of millennials or younger, the things that motivate and inspire that generation should be a part of your criticism as well, advises Conry.

“Our research indicates that what is important to these generations is, to a large extent, transparency in the workplace, understanding of the business and the impact of their work on broader business goals, as well as on the way the business interacts. and contribute to the community, ”he says.

If you ask an employee to fully assess how the job leads to promotions, career path, and money while ignoring these larger issues, it will be difficult to empower that workforce. works the feeling of belonging and commitment that will make him want to stay.

“. Work-life balance is about knowing what could happen in their life that could contribute to their performance, ”explains Conry.

Train your managers on how to do it all

For traditional managers, suggesting that they ask team members how they feel during a performance review and checking in with them frequently can be met with contempt. For managers who believe in the servant-leader model, the world is likely to finally turn around.

Either way, it’s a good idea to teach managers on your team how to engage with their team at this level.

“We explained to our managers why this element of the review is important to the business and to getting the most out of our employee base,” says Conry. “We provide training and tools to help them use this method of connection. We encourage the use of an app – CultureAmp – that helps them prepare for weekly or monthly conversations with questions that could include, “How are you feeling?” “

It doesn’t have to be parenting, groovy, or throwing you into the role of therapist. But managing a team of remote workers means considering factors that might be invisible to you, unless you ask, as factors that affect performance and retention. You are also the glue that holds your team together.

“What we’ve found now that we’ve removed all the pitfalls from our fancy offices is that the thing millennials – and everyone else – want is to feel like they’re engaged in something that They care about them and they belong, “said Prezi. O’Donnell said.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.


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