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Rethink Your Review Process

Annual reviews don’t cut it. It’s time to think about delivering feedback differently—having two-way, forward-looking conversations on a continual basis.

Almost everyone does them, and almost no one likes them. 

Only 1 of 5 employees feel strongly that the reviews they receive are fair, and a mere 14% strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve, according to Gallup. 

Maybe you’re going about it wrong. There are more effective ways to evaluate your employees’ performance.

Replace the one-way lecture with a two-way conversation. 

No one has all the answers, and that includes managers, says Samuel Culbert, professor of management at UCLA Anderson School of Management. So instead of telling employees, “Here’s what you did right and wrong,” managers should ask, “What can I do for you?” The manager and employee then work not as a higher-up and a subordinate, but as a team collaborating toward a common goal. That dynamic makes the manager as accountable as the employee. 

Ditch the annual review. 

Reviews should have no surprises or gotcha moments, Culbert says. The way to ensure that is by getting rid of the time lapse between performance and review—between problems and solutions. In place of annual one-off reviews, make reviews a standard part of regular meetings between managers and team members. 

Be aware of power dynamics. 

Formal reviews place the manager in the position of the know-it-all faultfinder, warns Culbert, which forces the employee into the position of having to agree with whatever the boss says. Instead, think of reviews as a way to start open, productive dialogue.

Forget anonymity.

No reviews should be anonymous—it’s a pointless fad, Culbert says. When reviewers hide behind their anonymity, they make remarks that can be self-interested, personal and political—and not at all objective.

Reward behavior that’s good for the group, not the individual.

Too often, companies focus narrowly on individual achievements such as who has the most sales. They tend to do that at the expense of collaboration, says Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup. For instance, organizations should consider whether they are cultivating an environment where everyone supports business growth, or one where teammates compete or are oblivious to profit. Instead of only incentivizing individual outcomes, reviews should reward teamwork and the impact employees have on the customer or business objective.

Lead with wins.

Don’t start a review by telling employees what went wrong. Begin by celebrating wins, and point out how their work helped fuel those wins, Wigert says. That will help people think about what they do best and why. Then, when managers point out areas for improvement, they help employees apply their already identified strengths so they can do even better in the future.

Don’t review. Preview.

Instead of only looking back at what employees did, discuss the present and the future: what needs to be achieved, what the employee needs to do to achieve it, and how the employee and manager can work together to deliver it, Culbert advises. So rather than defending past work, employees can speak honestly and realistically about how best to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Illustration by Dan Page