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Will performance reviews still have a place in the new normal?

Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer - Degreed

Performance reviews have been a mainstay of performance management since World War I. However, with the workplace going through drastic changes, it’s time to take a fresh look at employee performance. Indeed, I’d completely move away from looking at performance as something to be ‘managed’, and instead, organizations need to shift towards performance enablement. 

Workers want regular feedback

Workplace studies back this approach up. Many employees feel disengaged with traditional performance review processes and only 14% of workers feel that they inspire them to perform better. Over half of workers want more regular performance check-ins — at least once a month. Real-time feedback, during and after projects, is favored by 94% of employees. And this aligns with the agile workflow now adopted by many organizations. Having frequent check-in sessions ensures feedback is timely and relevant, helping to build greater agility and responsiveness. There are some strong backers of this approach, including IBM, Juniper Systems, Microsoft, Deloitte, PwC, and Microsoft

That’s not to say that performance reviews don’t play a part in the modern workplace. Instead, they should be part of a portfolio of tools that HR professionals use to equip and motivate their workforces.

Introducing the performance preview

Performance previews are another key element of an engaged workforce. This turns the focus forward, instead of the hindsight approach used in performance reviews. Managers and workers look at the performance needed by the business in the future, and the skills that individuals need to meet expectations. It also considers a worker’s career goals and interests, and in this way, becomes a much more collaborative approach where value is gained on both sides. 

The ideal performance preview should look something like this:

  • A kick-off with a conversation between a people leader and their employees that’s ongoing. 
  • As projects start and finish, milestones are reached, challenges pop up, and aspirations evolve, the sessions act as a way for managers to remain updated with their teams and to solve problems, and offer opportunities in real-time. 
  • Workers drive their career conversations throughout the year, with managers supporting them in setting short-term goals. 

The key here is to understand what workers need in order to do their jobs well and to keep advancing on their individual career journeys. 

Taking a skill-driven approach

Of course, to achieve this, organizations must also invest in their skill data and analytics. Understanding the current skills in a workforce will help managers and HR leaders know a baseline for any upskilling efforts and also spot skills gaps that will hinder the business strategy. From this, managers can give proactive feedback to their teams on the skills they should focus on when upskilling in order to grow their careers and do their current jobs better. 

It’s important to also see careers as something that is more task and project-based. People may work on a portfolio of different projects and build different skills and experiences through this. Careers are no longer solely job-based, they are more fluid. Performance enablement must reflect this by tracking and growing skills throughout a career (and across the year). 

When an HR or people leader takes a skill-based perspective, an exciting and dynamic process emerges. People feel empowered to take control of their career growth by building new skills, developing their current ones, and actively seeking out new internal work and learning opportunities. Simultaneously, their managers can offer assignments and learning content that aligns with their interests and aspirations. 

How to get started

The performance preview can be started at any point during the year. To get started, it’s worth sticking to the following best practices:

  1. Align employee performance and expectations with the skills required for the business to achieve its goals.
  2. Separate skills from behaviors. Both are critical to overall performance. Yet, skills can be easily identified, measured, activated, and developed. Behaviors, on the other hand, are tied to preferences, willingness, and habits and much harder to measure, let alone manage.
  3. Be transparent on expectations on both sides. Having open conversations about employee performance, alongside company performance, career goals, and manager performance, will help to identify opportunities and pain points. All performance-related discussions need to consider the win-win scenario that’s being developed.
  4. Separate performance preview initiatives from compensation so people don’t feel pressured to accept certain opportunities or punished for not performing as predicted. All pay and perks discussions should fall under your compensation or total rewards team. Performance enablement activities (career development, performance previews, mentoring, etc.) will fall under your people leaders and learning/talent teams. 

By proactively enabling performance, employers will take a positive step in preparing their people for the future and engaging them with career opportunities. Instead of solely looking at past performance, people will feel empowered to shape their career futures — to benefit their personal career journeys as well as the success of their employer. 

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