When performance reviews are done right, everybody wins. The problem is, it can be challenging to get it right. It’s tough for managers to give feedback and even harder for employees to receive it. 

Successful companies have become obsessed with finding innovative ways to improve the performance review process. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, some changes, such as more frequent reviews (monthly or quarterly instead of annual) and a focus on future goals instead of past mistakes, are gaining popularity. These are quick wins that are easy for any company to implement. 

If any of these seven signs ring true for your company’s performance review process, something needs to change.

1. The vibe around the office becomes stressful during performance review season

Employees shouldn’t have to wait until review season to find out if their manager is happy or not. If people around the office seem on edge, it might be because they don’t have a clear idea of where they stand.

2. People are stunned by the feedback they receive

Employees should never feel blindsided by feedback. A healthy relationship between managers and team members requires an open line of communication. If the only honest conversation between a manager and team member occurs when performance review time rolls around, it’s a clear sign that something is broken. 

3. Managers bring up problems from months ago

For feedback to be useful, it has to be relevant and timely. When people receive frequent feedback, they understand what gaps exist and what to do to improve. Empower managers to offer concrete feedback at the moment instead of waiting to bring it up during a formal review.

4. Performance reviews feel one-sided 

Not only should performance reviews happen more frequently—they should also be more engaging. Questions should be open-ended to allow managers and employees to contribute to the discussion equally. 

Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What goals do you have for the next quarter?
  • What obstacles are standing in your way?
  • How can I improve as your manager?

Turning the review into a conversation shows employees that you’re here to listen and to understand how to help them in their role best.

5. Managers want everyone to be winners

Giving feedback is never easy. Managers may try to avoid conflict and gloss over improvement areas, but that’s doing a disservice to both the employee and the team. Nobody is perfect. Even your company’s CEO has areas for improvement. 

For teams to perform at a high level, honest and concrete feedback is essential. Useful feedback lets employees understand their strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint areas for improvement. It falls on HR to empower managers with the tools they need to provide honest feedback and encourage positive change.

6. The company isn’t leading by example.

If the top people in your organization think they’re immune from performance evaluations, why should anyone else take the review process seriously? Your executives set the pace. They need to model the behaviors they expect of others. Encourage feedback in all directions, not just top-down. If your company’s review process comes after completing a project, ask for input from all stakeholders and not only managers or directors.

7. People don’t seem to be improving.

Does the data show that your people aren’t developing from one review to the next? If employees keep getting the same evaluations from their managers, there’s no way they can grow. In-depth, thoughtful feedback is crucial for professional development. If employees keep getting average grades, it might be a sign that feedback is unclear and ineffective.  

Performance reviews are most effective when employees can use them as opportunities for growth and improvement. HR has the power to help managers develop their skills and become better at giving feedback all year long. Within this positive reinforcement framework, managers and employees can build strong bonds, engage in constructive conversations, work together to set goals, and raise work performance.


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From Annie Lubin

Annie grew up in Brooklyn, New York. On a Saturday afternoon, you'll likely find her curled up with her cats reading a magazine profile about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.