Kazoo’s Ultimate Guide to Employee Performance Reviews

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As today’s top workplaces become more open, engaging, and employee-focused than ever before, companies are evolving past old-school approaches to employee performance reviews — and with good reason.

The traditional annual performance review — a historical snapshot of the employee’s performance in the last year — is a model with great intentions.

However, studies show that employees who engage in real-time coaching conversations are up to 67% more likely to feel their performance reviews lead to better work, as compared to those who only receive annual reviews.

So, as we continue to evolve the way we think about performance reviews, we’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we want to teach you how to keep the best, leave the rest, and harness the power of continuous performance management for your organization.

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What is a performance review?

Fundamentally, a performance review or performance appraisal is an opportunity to evaluate employee performance in the context of:

  • Progress towards agreed-upon goals.
  • Working styles and efficiencies, such as time management and communication skills.
  • Workplace behavior, such as attendance, productivity, and how the employee handles setbacks.
  • Growth opportunities, both skill-based and about the employee’s short and long-term career goals.

Types of employee performance reviews

In the past, traditional performance reviews consisted mostly of a manager’s evaluation of their employee’s work. And though top-down feedback is certainly part of the equation, one-sided conversations can make employees feel judged, silenced, and ultimately, disengaged. And the cost of disengagement? Well, it may be higher than businesses think:

the costs of disengaged employees to account for in your employee performance reviews

Modern HR practices encourage businesses to improve the experience by getting a better sense of the whole picture using 360-degree feedback (aka, feedback from all levels of the organization). Here are a few review styles you can incorporate to build a more holistic review process.

1. Self-evaluation

As Socrates said, “Know thyself” — nobody does it better. In self-evaluations, employees have the opportunity to reflect on their own strengths, weaknesses, and progress to goals. Making space for self-evaluations communicates to employees that their voice is recognized and valued while instilling a sense of agency and ownership in their performance.

Worth noting: Failure to check in on performance between reviews creates a disconnect. Often, employees and managers have entirely different views of why an individual is succeeding or failing in their role. If leaders and direct reports are communicating regularly, self-evaluations should be more aligned with top-down reviews from a manager. After all, if there’s one thing that does not belong in employee performance reviews, it’s a surprise.

If there’s one thing that does not belong in a performance review, it’s a surprise.

2. Peer-to-peer feedback

Who are you more afraid of, your boss or your desk-mate? Review anxiety can plague the formal evaluation process. But Kazoo’s research shows that companies can drastically reduce such dread by incorporating peer-to-peer feedback into their performance reviews.

Not convinced? When surveyed, only 18% of employees at organizations with peer reviews report review-related anxiety. For companies that don’t opt for peer-to-peer feedback, that number doubles to 36%.

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3. Bottom-up feedback

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Companies get the most out of employee performance reviews when feedback flows in all directions. Yes, that means inviting employee feedback on your leadership team. Bottom-up reviews not only help identify and correct managerial blind spots, but they give employees a much-needed voice in the review process.

If you’re looking to incorporate bottom-up feedback into your reviews, psychological safety is a MUST. At the bare minimum, this means:

  • Employees must feel their feedback will not be used against them
  • Managers need to react to feedback in a way that encourages honesty and authentic criticism moving forward

Learn how to give feedback with Kazoo →

How often should companies give performance reviews?

The numbers don’t lie: annual reviews are out, and quarterly reviews are in. After all, the pitfalls of a yearly check-in — timeliness, anxiety, relevance, specificity, and usefulness — fall to the wayside when companies prioritize a more-regular performance review schedule. (Need more proof? Check out our video below.)

We’ve already covered the benefits of setting quarterly goals, but the act of goal setting is only as powerful as the review process that goes along with it. If businesses truly want to maximize the ROI of their employee appraisals, they need to supplement quarterly reviews with real-time coaching, 360 feedback, and regular 1-on-1s.

This holistic approach to feedback allows managers to touch base with employees, address their needs in real-time, and optimize performance in response to the changing day-to-day landscape of a workplace. Bonus points? Regular check-ins take the teeth out of formal reviews, especially when managers need to address a negative performance issue.

“Carrying an issue without resolution is like carrying debt,” the Harvard Business Review says of difficult-but-important conversations. “The longer you wait, the more interest you’ll pay in anxiety and dread.” And employees steeped in anxiety and dread are employees looking for other jobs.

Learn more in our article, Annual Performance Reviews Don’t Work: Here’s What to Do Instead.

How to give a performance review

Like all crucial conversations, it’s best to go in with a game plan. Here are some things to focus on when writing and giving performance reviews:

Before the review

Revisit feedback from the previous review. Managers should consider the following performance review questions before giving an evaluation:

  • What progress has been made since the employee’s last review?
  • Were goals met or missed, and why?
  • What has the employee done well, and what needs to change?
  • If available, what useful feedback have team members provided that can add context to the review?
  • What should the employee focus on moving forward, based on the previous and current evaluation?

During the review

Put the employee at ease. Ask how they’re doing, and make sure this meeting is at an okay time for them to avoid stress and distraction.

Be as clear as possible. Your employees should have absolute clarity on how they’re excelling, and what needs improvement.

Use concrete examples. Sharpen vague notes like, “You need to work on meeting deadlines” with discrete, real-life evidence: “When you realized you wouldn’t be able to hit deliverable X last week, you proactively reached out to me, and we were able to refocus your priorities, so you met the deadline. That was fantastic. How can I help you keep that going?”

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If an employee needs critical feedback, consider using a (PIP). A performance improvement plan (PIP) is reserved for extreme cases, but it is helpful to put an employee back on track. Performance improvement plans should not be used as a pink slip — instead, they should be treated as a tool to help transform a low-performing employee into a better teammate.

Set expectations. What actions can you and the employee take based on this conversation? What new expectations do you have? Be sure to put any agreed-upon goals in writing or in your performance management software to keep both parties accountable. See how Kazoo makes it easy.

After the review

Keep the conversation going. Performance reviews should encourage employees and managers to learn from the past and pave the way for how they’ll work together in the future. After each evaluation, it’s typical for managers to set new goals with their employees and work together to move both the business and individual forward. And the best way to do that? You guessed it, regular feedback and real-time coaching.

NEW: How to remove bias from employee performance reviews

88% of business leaders feel the time they put into employee reviews serves no real purpose — and with bias steering the ship, they may be correct. Performance reviews are notoriously prone to bias. By shifting from an annual process to continuous performance management, you reduce the influence of recency bias in employee reviews. But even the best manager isn’t immune to personal bias. So as long as an employee’s review depends upon a single person, you’re still not getting the full story.

Enter the talent review.

Talent reviews are conversations that take place before the employee performance review. They occur between management, leadership, and HR about the employee, their performance, and their potential.

This is integral to removing bias from the process in a number of ways:

  • More voices = more objectivity. The manager’s opinion of the employee becomes one of many, rather than the sole judge and jury.
  • Increased accountability. When using the 9-box tool for talent review, the manager is encouraged to justify to the group how they scored the employee on two axes, performance and potential.
  • Calibration across the company. With all managers using the same tools and same process to assess their employees, every employee is reviewed on a level playing field.

New to talent reviews? Read our article:
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Performance review tips for employees and managers

Still nervous about giving or receiving performance feedback? Keep calm and carry on with these tips for both employees and managers.

For employees

Think about what you want to get out of the review. Prepare questions and ideas ahead of time. Especially if you’re interested in a promotion or raise, it’s important to remember how valuable this 1-on-1 time with your manager really is — make the most of it!

Be prepared. Throughout the quarter, keep notes on what you’ve accomplished and the progress you’ve made toward your goals. Bring these notes to share in your review, or use them when writing your self-evaluation to showcase your efforts and impact on the business. For a holistic self-assessment, make sure to identify areas in which you can improve.

Don’t let dread drag you down. If a negative performance issue is on your mind, proactively suggest a meeting with your manager, even if it’s off your typical review cycle. It’s best to nip that anxiety in the bud — and your manager will appreciate your initiative.

Stay positive and keep your eyes on the prize. Remember to assume the best intention, especially if your manager has to deliver critical feedback. Also, think about ways to incorporate that feedback into your long-term goals, and keep leveling up.

For managers

When possible, meet in person. Kazoo’s research shows 69% of employees prefer face-to-face reviews, versus feedback that comes via email, written reports, or instant messenger. (Pro tip: If you’re giving a performance review over Slack, you’re doing it wrong.)

Be specific. Keep notes on your employees throughout the quarter regarding detailed examples where they have excelled or faced challenges. Additionally, make sure to review your notes from the last formal review to remind yourself where they were before and how they’ve grown since.

Get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t let tough news dissuade you from providing actionable feedback that can help your direct reports grow personally and professionally.

Seek feedback on your own performance. No one can tell you how you’re performing as a manager like the people you manage. Request feedback regularly and receive it honestly and openly.

Keep your eye on the big picture. Your employee is a growing, evolving professional being — contextualize feedback in terms of their short-term and long-term professional development.

Ready to streamline your company’s performance review process?

Let’s take your employee performance reviews to the next level. Kazoo’s Employee Experience Platform helps HR leaders streamline their company’s performance review process with easy-to-use tools built for setting goals, soliciting feedback, and documenting check-ins.

Because at Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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