July 25, 2021
Performance Management 25 November 2020
5 Steps for Starting A Performance Review Program From Scratch
Guest Poster

Conducting performance reviews is a daunting task, you never want anyone within your organization to feel like they are under a microscope! But performance reviews are an important part of ensuring that everyone is on the same page and getting the support they need to provide optimal results. 

By most measures, performance reviews are looked upon by most employees with at least some amount of dread and dissatisfaction. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, and as reported in Inc.

95% of employees are dissatisfied with their company's appraisal process. What's more, 90 percent don't believe the process provides accurate information."

It’s important to remember that reviews benefit everyone—or at least they should. Fortunately, there are a few steps that can make it a little easier to help you start a performance review program that is as valuable for you as it is for your employees. 

1. Establish What You Want to Review.

It is so easy to get caught up in the review process and let it simply turn into an evaluation wherein employees get generic feedback and a mediocre overview of the job they’re doing. Instead, before you ever even implement your program, you really want to figure out exactly what it is you want to look at and what you are looking for. 

Sure, a straightforward performance evaluation is an important part of the review process, but this is also a good time to focus on how important aspects of your company, such as your core values, and how the employee understands and acts on them. 

Have those values undergone any changes? Do your employees understand what those values are?  This is just one example of something you might consider incorporating into your review to avoid simply checking off some boxes and calling it a day.

It’s critical that employees understand when and how they’ll be reviewed, along with how often. 

Make an explanation of the review process part of your new employee onboarding. You might also consider incorporating it into your company’s project management system.  Setting up a small project team with you, your employee, and their manager can allow you to schedule and communicate HR and review-related tasks within the system that’s already familiar to them. 

2. Think About the Type of Review You Want to Do.

A performance review is not one-size-fits-all, and you should never feel like you must conduct your reviews in a certain way just because that’s the way it is most typically done. Performance reviews should be a dialogue between a manager and an employee to figure out what is going well and what needs some work, but it doesn’t have to be conducted that way.

Think about what will work best for your team based on their size, dynamic, and on what insights you hope to gain from the process.

You might find that the more traditional top-down approach will ultimately work best, or you might choose to incorporate a different strategy, such as peer review, or self-evaluation. 

Regardless of the type of review that you decide on, make sure that it’s customized. Review customization should blend discussion on department needs with what the employee needs for professional development or performance improvement.  At the same time, you need to be able to ensure your evaluations are fair. Not every measure can be fairly applied to every employee.  

3. Don’t Rely on Memory Alone.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a poorly conducted review, you know how stressful it is to be asked to recall why you did something a certain way four months before. Or from the other side of the desk, trying to remember how the employee handled challenges back in the first quarter isn’t beneficial for anyone.  Both of you miss out on an opportunity for professional growth.  Mark Herschberg of the Career Toolkit has this advice to share when it comes to avoiding this pitfall: 

Don't try to remember what happened. During a December review it's hard to remember what the employee did last April. Keep a running note file on employees. If someone really helped out the team, or quickly learned a new skill, make a note and be detailed. This way when you do the review you're not going from memory. 

The performance review is strategic, but if there's some behavior the employee is doing well or poorly, address it sooner. This is your chance to provide feedback to an employee. Make certain to ask them about their career goals both long term and in the coming year and find ways you can help them grow even if it's not an area you might prioritize.

You can also think about incorporating performance review software into the process that allows you and your employees to track progress consistently and on a regular basis. Typically, performance review suites incorporate “journal” spaces in which employees and managers can record successes and challenges throughout the year. When regularly updated, journals like this will give you something more concrete to discuss during the actual review meeting, and it will help you and your employees bypass the dreaded task of trying to remember the details of something they did two quarters ago.

4. Make The Review More Than A Yearly Thing.

Is there anything worse than finishing up a big project, feeling good about the outcome, and then being told you should have been doing things differently from the start? That’s how it can feel when employees only get feedback once a year. Even if their job doesn’t entail completing large tasks or long-range projects, it can be demoralizing and frustrating to know that they could have been doing some aspect of their job differently or better for up to a year, but they just didn’t know.

It is much easier to make adjustments and improvements early and often, which is why performance reviews should ideally be conducted more than once a year.

The timing and frequency will definitely depend on the individual needs of your employees and the nature of your business. Quarterly, monthly, or even weekly check-ups can help to identify any issues early and correct them before they become bigger problems. More frequent reviews can also help employees feel more confident that they’re on the right track.

Some employees might resent reviews that are happening too frequently, or employers might not have time to conduct reviews very often. If you can only swing one big annual review, consider incorporating other options throughout the year such as regular check-in meetings. As you both learn that performance can be discussed in a lower-key, lower-stakes setting, communication becomes easier and these meetings become more useful and immediate for making needed course corrections. 

5. Focus on Employee Development.

No matter how or when you conduct your review, your primary purpose should be employee development. Reviews should be used as an opportunity to enable everyone in your organization to be their absolute best. Use this time to identify strengths, get insight into employees’ direction in the company, and set goals. As Timothy G. Wiedman, PHR Emeritus and Retired Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources of Doane University says,

Since work-related changes of some sort are often necessary, an important part of the discussion should be about improvement strategies that might be used to help ensure developmental progress. This segment of the feedback session should be a frank and honest conversation about the *future*. 

This must be a true two-way dialog -- not the boss merely lecturing to the employee. Thus, any constructive criticism that's provided should also include a developmental suggestion to get employees thinking about how they might improve their performance. And if employees have their own ideas to contribute, their suggestions should definitely be considered as a part of the discussion.

Take advantage of employee reviews to find out more about what your employee hopes to achieve with your company and how your company can help them reach that point. Both parties should leave the review with a better idea of how to improve and what will be covered in the next review.

Make your takeaway measurable! For example, by the next performance review, we should have X new accounts and Y fewer customer service call escalations.  Then, outline the steps together the employee will need to succeed and incorporate those into the performance review. After all, reviews are all about taking a look at what’s been done to make plans for the future. 

Creating a performance review program from scratch isn’t easy, but it is worth it! Keeping these steps in mind will help you avoid the old “checking-off-a-box way” of doing things and instead create a program that benefits everyone involved as it helps your company grow. For more ways to keep help your employees improve and keep growth in mind, check out the benefits of using ProSky's pathways to track performance.

Laura Hudgens is a writer for TechnologyAdvice.com. She is a communications instructor and freelance writer who studies and writes about technology, media, science, and health.