Do you hate annual review time? I ask because tomorrow is the start of September, which means that there are only 30 days left until fourth quarter, which is when most companies do the dreaded performance-review process. From a personal standpoint, I hate performance reviews. I hate writing them. I hate getting them.

From an HR standpoint, I love having documented evidence (always got to think of the legal side of things!) about someone's performance. But as someone who used to have the responsibility of ensuring that everyone in a 30,000 person company had a proper performance rating, the paperwork behind that is staggering and awful. (Even when everything is electronic "paperwork," it's still awful.)

I have never in my entire existence encountered someone who said, "I am so looking forward to annual review time!" unless that person thinks a raise is coming. In that case, he's not excited about the review he's excited about the raise. There's a big difference.

So, what would be better? Kill the annual review and do bimonthly reviews!

Now this seems a little bit like, "the beating will continue until morale increases!" but I swear it's not.

Take, for example, Adobe. They implemented this policy and found it to be hugely successful. Why? Because it stopped being about getting your paperwork done and started being about making sure everyone was exactly where they needed to be.

Here's the difference. When you have an annual performance review, managers who are not good at giving constructive feedback will do the annual review and that's it. This leaves employees never quite knowing how they are doing. Things change throughout the year as well, so sometimes those goals agreed to in December are completely obsolete by March, but without regular changes and feedback, no one acknowledges this.

Here's how to do successful regular performance assessments.

Give managers some freedom.

Adobe expressly leaves HR out of their process. Managers choose their own matrix. While I think a bit of guidance is always a good thing, it's also critical to understand that no HR manager understands the exact needs of a department the way the manager does. Some companies make everyone rate everyone else on certain skills. This makes no sense, as sometimes those skills aren't even needed and sometimes skills that are tremendously important in one department are nice but not necessary in others. Why weight them the same way?

Schedule regular meetings.

I found it useful to put meetings on the calendar at the beginning of the year. Yes, changes had to happen, but your regular checkups are much more likely to happen if they're already scheduled.

Encourage goal changes.

When someone's primary goal is to manage the new software implementation and then that software gets canceled, it makes no sense to leave that on someone's record. Yet it happens all the time. When things change, managers need to change how things work.

Train your managers.

Don't just throw them to the wolves. Explain exactly what you expect. Senior leadership should set the example by holding these meetings with their own direct reports. One of their goals should be to train their direct reports on how to do this effectively.

Real-time feedback means real-time results.

When you only hold an annual review, it does no good to give feedback in December about an event that occurred in March. Having these meetings closer together makes this less likely to happen. (You should still correct errors as they happen, instead of waiting for the next meeting.) Employees know where they stand all the time. They should know what they are supposed to be working on all the time. There should be no guessing.

By removing the annual process and replacing it with something that is actually productive, everyone is happier. And more productive.

Published on: Aug 31, 2015
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