How to turn your performance review process into a performance experience

Your employee performance management process is one of the main processes that drive retention and the likelihood to stay with your organisation. It also creates a sense of connection and commitment to achieving the employee's and the organisation's shared goals. Team members want regular communication and feedback. They want to feel valued and they want to know where they're heading. A well-executed performance process will provide that for your employees.

In this article we will focus on the elements of a modern performance experience:

  • What is a performance experience for employees?
  • Align your performance experience with your purpose, brand and culture
  • The core building blocks of a great performance experience
  • A great performance experience starts with clear goals
  • Regular performance check-ins
  • Frequent performance feedback
  • Fair and transparent performance reviews
  • Past or future-focused reviews - what's the best approach?
  • Reducing bias in performance reviews
  • Tools to create a fair and transparent review process

What is a performance experience for employees?

Designing a performance experience has five main goals:

  • Support team members to form a stronger connection and commitment to the organisation's purpose, goals and culture
  • Enable employees to see how their work is valued, why it has meaning and how they are having an impact
  • Connect the employee's personal work goals and growth plans to a sense of purpose within the organisation
  • Enable people leaders to simply and easily support their people
  • Lift the performance of the team to meet and exceed the organisation's goals

Reflection Activity

If you had to rank these goals in order of importance what would matter most to you?

  • Rank them in order of importance for your organisation.
  • Is there anything else you need to achieve?

What is the scope of a Performance Experience?

The performance experience moves beyond just a performance appraisal. The performance appraisal is a process that happens once a year and is used to assess an employee's performance over the previous 12 months. In the traditional model, this activity happens in isolation. Creating a modern performance experience is when we design an ongoing process that can repeatedly and positively influence and engage employees.

As performance experts, we know that creating a performance experience for our team lifts the impact of our organisation. The performance experience seeks to identify what talented leaders do intuitively and make it easy for others to replicate.

Our role as performance experience designers is to look beyond the individual manager or a one-off annual process. We look more broadly at the system design to create a simple intuitive experience that connects leaders and team members with organisation’s goals.

Reflection Activity

It’s important we capture the actual problems you need to solve at the start of the design process. Let’s download where you are up to. Just put it out there in your own words.

  • We are trying to …
  • If you had to say now what your current performance experience strengths are, what would they be?
  • What areas do you most want to improve?

Align Your Performance Experience With Your Purpose, Brand and Culture

The performance experience should connect your team with your company's goals, your reason for being and the culture you are building.

For example, if your values include "love your customer" we look to see how this value shows up in goal setting, regular catch-ups, feedback and performance reviews. By strengthening these connections we reinforce the culture you are creating and lift the importance of the customer in the regular interactions the team have. Much of the performance experience design approach is building these connections into activities that are already happening.

The habits we create through performance feedback are another powerful way we connect employees with organisation values. Team members are keen observers - if we have a regular shoutout on Slack or Teams, we can reinforce and recognise the behaviours that support our values. When we connect these elements in a well-designed performance experience we impact culture and help align team members to our mission.

Reflection Activity:

  • Thinking about what your team already does in the performance space and list the elements that you have in place. Include regular meetings with leaders and employees, performance discussions, goal-setting sessions and feedback mechanisms.
  • Thinking about your teams, what are the environmental factors you need to take into account? Where will people be doing these activities? What differences do you have in your internal culture that need to be reflected in the way things are done?

Based on the way things work now:

  • What could you stop doing?
  • What should you continue?
  • What should you start doing?
  • What are your top 3 performance experience design priorities?

Reflection Activity:

Building a unique and powerful experience means creating new and impactful ways to reinforce these cultural connections.

Map out your organisation's values and identify how you intentionally reinforce your company's values. Reflect on team traditions, awards and common practices.

  • What could you stop, start continue?
  • What are your top 3 cultural opportunities to connect your performance experience?

The core building blocks of great performance experience

The core building blocks of a quality performance experience are quite simple. They provide the foundation for a relationship between an individual and their leader that is based on trust, mutual respect and a shared understanding of what good performance looks like:

  • Goal Setting
  • Check-Ins or 1-on-1's
  • Feedback
  • Fair and Transparent Reviews
  • The performance management software you use to connect these elements into a cohesive experience

A great performance experience starts with clear goals

One of the most important aspects of creating an employee performance experience is goal setting. Without goals, it can be difficult to make a fair assessment in a performance review.

Additionally, goals give employees something to strive for and help to motivate them to do their best work. When setting goals, leaders must be clear on the goal-setting approach they are using and how to use it. Additionally, goals should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that they are still relevant and achievable.

Reflection Activity:

  • What is your organisation's goal-setting process?
  • Does your organisation have clear performance goals that employees are aware of?
  • Do you cascade performance goals down or do employees set their own goals for their performance?
  • How do you keep track of and manage those goals?

Regular Performance Check-Ins

It's no secret that one of the most important aspects of aligning your staff's performance is maintaining regular communication. Whether it's a weekly one-on-one or a simple check-in, making sure that you're regularly touching base with your employees is crucial. This provides an opportunity for coaching, for reinforcement of the team members' performance progress. Consistent and regular check-ins are powerful ways to lift performance and ensure a successful employee experience.

But what exactly makes for a good check-in?

Here are a few key elements:

Check-ins should be held regularly

Depending on the size of your team and the nature of your business, this could be weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. The important thing is that they happen consistently so that everyone knows when to expect them. You can either leave this up to the team to schedule or give leaders an expectation of what they need to deliver. Either way, you should be able to measure the frequency of these meetings as a key health measure of your performance experience in your organisation.

Check-ins should be structured but flexible, based on a two-way conversation

This is an opportunity for both you and your employees to share information, so make sure that you're listening as well as talking. Having a set agenda for each check-in will help to ensure that they are productive, but leave room for spontaneity and new ideas. Both participants should be able to update the agenda to ensure an open and equitable relationship. These agendas should be trackable by both employees and the performance team. This helps employees to stay clear what was agreed and what their priorities are.

Reflection Activity:

Thinking about the way your organisation structures check-ins:

  • Do you provide managers with guidance for their regular check-ins?
  • How do you measure the frequency of those conversations?
  • Do your teams need flexibility in the way they structure those check-ins?

Note these down, providing this flexibility is critical to building employee engagement with your performance tools. Don’t forget to consider teams that might be regularly overlooked for instance contractors.

  • What tools and templates do you provide to improve the quality of those conversations?
  • What changes could be made to improve this experience for managers?
  • What changes could be made for team members?

Frequent Performance Feedback

Giving employees regular feedback is one of the most important things you can do to help them improve their performance. Feedback provides employees with information about their strengths and development areas, and it gives them a chance to reflect on their own performance. It also helps to motivate employees and keep them engaged in their work.

When it comes to employee performance, we know feedback is essential. It helps individuals understand where they need to improve and what they're doing well. However, a lot of people don't get the feedback they need. This can be for a variety of reasons, including a lack of time or resources.

Our performance experience needs to enable feedback by:

Making it easy

Building a feedback mechanism into existing activities is the easiest way to enable feedback. For instance, including a feedback section in regular 1-on-1 templates helps leaders give feedback without having an extra activity pop up in their diary or to-do list. The prompt is usually enough to remind leaders to include feedback in their discussions.

Giving feedback a framework

It's important to remember that feedback doesn't always have to be negative. It's just as important to give positive feedback as it is to give constructive criticism. Using simple feedback frameworks can empower your managers to have better and more engaging performance discussions. Linking feedback to your values can also create opportunities for the feedback discussion to open up.

Making it easy to deal with conflict

Some people avoid giving feedback because they're afraid of conflict. However, if you handle it the right way, conflict can actually be beneficial. It can help to create a more open and honest relationship between leaders and their teams. Providing links to materials that pop up in the flow of work, when a manager is preparing for a discussion can reduce this as a barrier. This a core requirement for most performance management software platforms.

Opening up feedback channels beyond the manager

As social media has inspired us to give feedback in all sorts of ways, modern HR tech provides the opportunity for employees to give feedback to each other online. Often oriented toward positive feedback, like shout-outs or Kudos, teams can gain a great deal of cohesion by making it easy for online feedback to be shared among the team.

Reflection Activity: Thinking about the way your organisation manages feedback

  • Do you have a mechanism to provide peer-to-peer feedback?
  • If you did, would feedback be provided anonymously or openly and transparently?
  • How could you link feedback to your organisation's values?
  • What touchpoints do you have that feedback could be linked to?
  • How could positive feedback be woven into more experiences?
  • How well equipped are your leaders at giving positive and constructive feedback?

Fair and Transparent Performance Reviews

Performance reviews help to improve work quality and productivity. They should be an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate your team while landing on a fair and accurate assessment of individual contribution and performance. They're also a great way to identify areas in which your team can be strengthened, gaining a shared understanding of development goals for the next performance cycle.

Past or future-focused reviews - what's the best approach?

When it comes to thinking about the purpose of performance reviews, there are two camps: those who believe that performance reviews should be focused on the past, and those who think they should be looking toward the future. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each approach.

Looking back: The case for focusing on the past

When performance reviews are focused on the past, it allows for an objective assessment of an employee's work. This can be helpful in identifying patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent. Additionally, this approach can help to identify any areas in which an employee may need additional support or development.

However, some argue that focusing on the past can be constricting, and may not provide the most accurate picture of an employee's current abilities. Additionally, this approach may cause some employees to feel like they are being unfairly judged on things that happened a while ago and are out of their control.

Forward Leaning Performance Reviews: The case for focusing on the future

When performance reviews are focused on the future, it allows for a more proactive approach to employee development. This can help employees to identify growth opportunities and set goals for themselves accordingly. Additionally, this approach may help to motivate employees and encourage them to move forward in their careers.

However, some argue that focusing on the future can be difficult, as it can be hard to predict what an employee will need to work on in the future. Additionally, this approach may cause some employees to feel like they are being pressured to meet unrealistic expectations.

Reducing bias in performance reviews

Having bias in the performance review process is one of the main ways people become disconnected from their leader and the performance process itself. It's helpful to educate leaders on these biases so that they can actively avoid them. We all have our own biases, so it's important to be aware of them when giving feedback.

Recency bias

Recency bias is the tendency to give more weight to recent information when making decisions. This can be a problem in the performance review process, as it may lead to an inaccurate picture of an employee's work.

To avoid this, it is important to consider all of the available information when making decisions about an employee's performance. Modern performance review tools, like Crewmojo, bring together all of the information you need from the whole review period to help managers and leaders avoid this bias.

The halo bias

Halo bias is the tendency to let one positive trait influence our overall opinion of someone. For example, if we know that an employee is always punctual, we may be more likely to overlook other areas of their performance.

To avoid this, it is important to try to remain objective when giving feedback. This means looking at the whole picture, and not letting one positive trait overshadow everything else. A quick review of items completed in 1-on-1s could be a helpful counterpoint.

The horns bias

The horns bias is the tendency to focus on one negative trait when making judgments about someone. For example, if we know that an employee is often late, we may be more likely to overlook other areas of their performance. Again looking at more data points, like peer and customer feedback could provide rich insights into a team member's strengths.

Leniency bias

Leniency bias is the tendency to be too lenient when assessing someone's performance. This can lead to employees being given inflated ratings, which may not accurately reflect their true performance. To avoid this, it is important to be evidence-based when judging an employee's performance. This means looking at all aspects of their work, and not just the positive areas.

Contrast Bias

Contrast bias is the tendency to compare someone's current performance to their past performance, rather than to others' current performance. This can lead to employees being given unfair ratings, as their current performance may not be accurately reflected.

To avoid this, it is important to compare an employee's current performance based on their work during the review period.

Share simple guidelines for managers to follow

Giving feedback is an important part of the performance review process. However, it can be difficult to give effective feedback that is both meaningful and helpful. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when giving feedback:

Be prepared

Performance reviews should be well planned and structured. Otherwise, they can quickly become a waste of time. It’s almost impossible to remember the detail of 6 or 12 months of work of up to 7 people., accurately and fairly. Your performance system should provide prompts that help create a fairer discussion.

Focus on quality of work & performance metrics

While it's important to track performance metrics, performance reviews should also be about the quality of work, not just the quantity. Most often this shows up in peer or leader feedback. Great performance systems integrate this into the review process.

Focusing on the positive:

It's important to give constructive feedback, but performance reviews should also focus on the positive aspects of an employee's work.

Follow-up with a plan

Performance reviews should be followed up with a plan of action. Otherwise, they're just a waste of time. Feeding this information into the ongoing work plan between the leader and the team member brings the performance action plan to life. A real plan that’s being worked on and implemented.

Be specific & objective

It is important to be specific when giving feedback. This will help the person receiving the feedback to understand what they need to work on. It is important to be objective when giving feedback. This means avoiding personal bias and focusing on the facts. When giving feedback, try to stick to objective facts and avoid making any assumptions.

Get input from others:

If possible, try to get input from other people who have interacted with the employee. This can help to provide a more well-rounded picture of their work.

Reflection Activity:

  • When do performance reviews happen?
  • When should performance reviews happen?
  • How do you currently track your performance review process?
  • What tools do we give our leaders to conduct a fair and transparent review process?
  • What is missing from the toolset?
  • What tools do we give our teams to prepare for a performance review?
  • What is missing from the toolset?
  • What are the high-impact changes that need to be made?

Performance Review Software platforms

Technology can help you to create a fair and transparent performance review process. It can also help you to capture data that can be used to improve the employee experience. When used correctly, technology can help to improve the performance experience for everyone involved.

You might think of it as the glue that connects this experience together, holds that data to make the process fair and powers the tools that leaders and employees need to keep focused on the right activities.

Hybrid work is impacting the experience of employees more than ever. To understand the importance of technology in this process explore this video from Breckon Jones, the former head of talent experience at Deloitte.

Reflection Activity

  • How does your performance review system capture and store data?
  • Is the data easily accessible by all parties involved in the performance review?
  • Can employees easily update their performance goals and objectives?
  • Can you give employees real-time feedback?
  • Do you have a mechanism in place to address performance issues as they happen?
  • Do you use data from your performance review system to improve your overall employee experience? If not, why not?

Consider your current performance review system and ask yourself if it is helping or hindering your team's performance. If it is not helping, then it may be time to consider a change. The right performance review system can help you to improve the performance of your team and the overall employee experience. Choose wisely.

Bolstering Leadership Skills

Invest in the coaching skills of your managers

As a manager, coaching is one of the most important skills you can develop. When you coach your team members, you help them to improve their performance and reach their goals.

There are many benefits of training managers in coaching for the performance review period, including:

Improved morale & greater engagement

Performance reviews are a significant event for many employees. Working with managers who take a coaching-oriented approach can help to improve employee morale & engagement as they feel supported in their development.

Improved retention and a sense of being valued

Coaching can help to improve employee retention as they feel invested in their development. A coaching approach can also help to increase employee satisfaction and a sense of being valued as they feel supported in their career.

Conclusion

The performance experience is an ongoing journey that team members take with your organisation. When the right building blocks are in place, people feel valued and motivated to do their best work. They know that their performance is being regularly reviewed and that they have the opportunity to provide feedback to their manager about how they are feeling and what they think could be improved.

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