Performance reviews. Are there any words that strike more fear into an employee’s heart? Never fear — Kazoo is here to help you turn things around and create a performance review process employees love. Seriously! Watch the recorded webinar with Kazoo’s Skyler Rogers and Katherine Dougal above, or check out our timestamped transcript below.
00:03 Skyler Rogers: Hi, everybody. Great to be back. This is a topic near and dear to our hearts. I have a feeling a lot of people listening when they hear the term performance reviews, maybe it’s not so near and dear to their hearts. So hopefully they’ll listen in and maybe change some minds today. I’m Skyler, again, like you heard here ’cause we have had quite a few years now, being able to put a lot of research behind things like performance management, employee engagement, the employee experience, and help our product and our platform with that. But Kat who’s with me today is one of the real heroes at the hundreds of organizations where we roll these changes out to and consult with. She’s really on the front lines of that, living and breathing the stuff every day and helping the organizations who want to have better results here actually attain that. So she can’t see me right now, but I’m golf-clapping and giving her applause because I know what goes in her day-to-day, and I’m really excited to have her here today. Hey, Kat.
01:04 Kat Dougal: Hi there. Thank you so much for that introduction. Wow. [laughter]
01:08 Skyler: True, it’s all true.
01:09 Kat: I’m so excited to be here and talking on this topic. It’s something, like you said, it’s very near and dear to my heart. So I’m really excited to chat more.
What is wrong with annual performance reviews?
01:21 Skyler: And speaking of, just a quick overview to frame it before we get into it. We do wanna touch on the overview of performance reviews today, what exactly are they getting wrong? You might have seen in the write-up for this webcast, we’ve all seen that headline that we need to be moving away from the annual or the semi-annual performance reviews, something the whole HR industry has been talking about for the better part of a decade, at least, I’d say. But there are still a lot of companies using it or using parts of it. So let’s really zero in on what it gets wrong, what is damaging about it, why we keep hearing that advice over and over to move away from it. Then we wanna move into what the recent research and successful companies are proving out about what’s working for employees when it comes to this topic. And we don’t wanna stay too high level. We do wanna allow you whether you’re an HR manager involved in people and culture or managing people yourself, what’s an actionable advice we can take, what can we actually do to get started here from the advice that we’re gonna be talking about? And then yeah, time permitting, shoot us some of those questions. We’d love to get to as much Q&A as we can. All that said, let’s jump in. What’s broken besides this pencil on the screen.
02:44 Skyler: And again, really what we’re zeroing in on, it might be a straw man at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us are still using some form of this, the annual and the semi-annual review. This is the process that maybe ties up organizations quite a bit, or organizations you’ve been a part of. But now that we’ve had this wealth of knowledge or wealth of advice in the HR industry about, “It’s wrong, we should be moving away from it,” why exactly is that? What seems to be broken about it? Maybe Kat, if you could give us just a quick overview.
03:18 Kat: Yeah. And I think you’re right, getting at the heart of… A lot of it comes down to that traditional annual performance review process everybody knows but nobody loves. [chuckle] It just doesn’t seem to be working in a lot of situations. I did a quick survey of my connections in my LinkedIn network, and I said, “Does anybody out there know of a performance review process that you love, does anybody love the annual performance review process?” And I got a whole bunch of responses from people saying it’s just that feeling of uncertainty that comes out in that process. You just imagine that you’re walking into a room, you’re facing your manager, you really don’t know what’s about to happen to you. And a lot of that comes down to the fact that the traditional performance review process, particularly that annual performance review process, in a lot of cases, it just drives anxiety. You’re not really sure what’s gonna happen to you when you walk in because you’re not really having this conversation regularly, you’re not really sure what your manager thinks. So you don’t know if it’s gonna be good, if it’s gonna be bad. Even if you’re a superstar employee walking in, there’s still that level of anxiety that just makes people think, “Fuck, performance reviews. That’s not something that I feel great about, it’s not something I’m excited about,” and it’s just something to get through in a lot of cases.
04:48 Skyler: Yeah. And just to interject there real quick, you said something leading up to the webinar that really stuck with me, that’s a great framing for anybody listening. It really feels like the ultimate, “We need to talk” when this time of year is looming. Maybe you’ve given a lot of these yourself and you’re just so used to the process, but that really helped me empathize from the employee’s perspective that this thing coming up, or that calendar invite landing in my inbox, it really does that same sort of sense of dread as the… Like a really bad “We need to talk” message. But that seems to be how a lot of people feel about them.
05:27 Kat: Yeah. And it’s not just from the employee perspective, a lot of managers equally [chuckle] dread the conversation themselves ’cause you’re right. It’s the moment where they feel like, “Oh, I guess I’m finally gonna have to talk about all of these things that I’ve been putting off all this time.” And so the end result is that a lot of times, this kind of performance review process, this interaction can actually lower engagement from your people because they get this sense of dread and anxiety around the idea of even talking about their performance. And that’s really the only way to get people engaged with the work that they’re doing is to make them feel excited about talking about performance. So that’s always something that’s anxious and full of dread. It just doesn’t really reconnect the dots in a healthy way.
06:18 Skyler: Yeah, I don’t think I need to tout or pull out an endless string of research studies here. It’s just common sense from what you can see on the screen, and from what we’ve all experienced. If this is the employee experience around these things, makes total sense that this is having a negative impact on the overall employee experience, which we all know is connected to engagement. And really, again, we just wanna frame up front the problem here, the battle that we’re all facing with the negative association when it comes to these things. But we’ll get into how to turn those around.
06:54 Skyler: Before we do though, again, sort of framing this, I wanna go a level a little bit deeper. Kat, again, I know you work with hundreds of organizations who realize something’s wrong here, realize that they want to effect change when it comes to this. And maybe they come to us from a consulting standpoint or maybe they use Kazoo, but they wanna get started in changing their processes. When they come to you, they’ve obviously realized that there’s a problem. You get a first-hand glimpse into things at their worst before they change themselves for the better. Having done that over and over, what are some red flags that you see that are top of mind for you for organizations who get themselves in this state? Maybe that’s something that people, as they’re listening, can gut-check themselves on today of, “Do we have some of these things ourselves?”
07:46 Kat: Yeah. Absolutely, you’re right. In the work that I do here at Kazoo, we have a lot of companies and organizations that come to us and they say, “What we’re doing right now for performance just isn’t working. We’re not getting the performance we need, but most importantly, our people just aren’t happy. They’re just not enjoying this.” So they come to Kazoo saying, “What can we do better? And what can we do differently?” So when we are working with companies at this point in the process, that moment of realization of, “Hmm, something needs to change,” we do notice some very common things. Biggest one of all that we see universally across the board, they say, “Our engagement scores are really down. People just don’t seem to be motivated, they don’t seem to be excited, and it just continues going down.” We see companies where they’re throwing honestly lots of money at their people saying, “Well, maybe we’ll make them happy with snacks. Maybe we’ll make them happy with a foosball table,” and it’s just not working for them. So they say, “Maybe we need to look a level deeper,” and say, “Well, maybe we need to look at how we’re engaging in our performance culture as well.”
Make performance reviews less scary by providing real-time feedback year-round
09:01 Kat: With a lot of those same companies, the second thing that we’re seeing a lot is they say, “Well, our engagement scores are low, and connected with that, people are leaving. And when people are leaving, in their exit surveys the first thing they tell us is, ‘I’m not getting enough feedback. I’m not getting help growing in my career or growing in my field. I feel stuck. I don’t know how to take those next steps. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to get that promotion or get that bigger project to work on.'” And they’re saying, “HR just keeps giving this feedback of there’s something not connecting the dots when it comes to our performance culture and having people understand and have that great conversation and that great relationship with their manager about how to keep growing.”
09:53 Kat: And then the last thing that we hear quite a bit because I typically work directly with people in human resources who are taking steps to change their performance culture and their performance review process, and one of the things I get from them also is, “We realized we needed to make a change because things are escalating too quickly for us. We in HR, the first thing we hear about there being any kind of issue from a performance perspective, is when the managers are coming to us and they’re saying, ‘You need to create a PIP, you need to create a performance improvement plan for this person. I’m at my wits’ end and I’m done.'” And HR is saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s back things up a little bit. Have you talked with this person? Have you had conversations with them about this?” And they’re finding that it’s difficult for their managers to know how to slow down and have those conversations, so HR is kind of that nuclear button, so to speak, that the managers keep hitting. So these companies are coming to us with all of these different issues going on, and they’re saying, “We realized we needed to take some big steps to change what’s happening from the performance review side of things to get things to a healthier place.”
11:07 Skyler: Yeah, I’m sure a lot of us are nodding along at that last one. We’ve all seen it, maybe we’ve done it ourselves too. I love how you framed it as it being, it should be the nuclear option. “I’ve tried everything and it’s not working,” that’s when I should escalate this. But if you’re seeing that escalation is the first sign of anything instead of us just sort of shrugging it off or saying, “Well, that’s sort of part of how we deal with managers around here,” it was interesting to me talking to you leading up to this webinar that, yeah, that should be a clear sign that something more is going on under the surface where we’re not exhausting at least a few options before escalating, it’s just happening immediately. And you can just start to imagine playing that out, especially at a large organization, how much that’s tying up resources, damaging relationships between managers and direct reports, and damaging the relationships between HR and people and culture and managers. It might seem simple on the surface, but there’s a lot going on underneath there, and some of the stuff we’ll be talking about today seems to be related to that.
Avoid bias-prone employee performance ratings
12:16 Skyler: I wanted to move on to another way that these are broken, while we stay on this topic. And kinda the elephant in the room when we talk about performance reviews is that ratings are still very much a part of the process, and some of those same articles that you’ve seen, “We need to be moving away from the annual performance review,” I’m sure you’ve seen some of the bashing on ratings as well. One of the themes that you’ll hear from Kat is that we don’t necessarily wanna paint ratings as the villain, but we do wanna create some awareness, and maybe some of you have already seen some of this in certain ways of the kinds of things that seem to be polluting ratings data.
12:57 Skyler: It’s not necessarily clean where HR gets it’s hands-on it, right? And there are a lot of different kinds of bias. There a lot of different things that can sort of sway ratings there, but we wanna focus on three real top of mind ones, right now. Some of them might be obvious. Some of them might be things you’re already thinking about. Some of them are a little more unconscious though. Kat, I’d love to hear what you have to say about both the first year recency and culture and gender bias.
13:26 Kat: Yes. So the reason I really wanted to talk a little bit about this is, you’re right, a lot of that, these biases can come out in a very ratings-driven performance review process. A lot of times we have companies come to us and they show us their existing performance review forms, and there’s a lot of rating. And there’s a lot of things tied up when you have a very ratings-driven review process. The first one is the recency bias, and this happens, particularly if you’re looking at an annual review process. What always happens with an annual review process, is you’re trying to get these managers to think about an entire year of performance. Now, pop quiz to everybody on the phone. Can you remember exactly everything you worked on back in January right now? [chuckle] So you ask a manager…
14:21 Skyler: I can’t remember Monday myself.
14:23 Kat: Yeah, I know. Now you’re asking managers to do that for multiple people on their team sometimes. So what inevitably happens is, managers struggle and they’re only really able to bring up things that have happened recently in the last few months. Now, I also bet a lot of people on the phone, have that annual review happen in December or in January. Right around the holiday season. So you’re asking them to pull up performance review information from the time period when people are in and out of the office, they’re distracted, there’s parties going on, they’re taking time off, they’re trying to wrap up end-of-year-projects under a lot of stress. It’s just not a great time to be asking people to think in that very holistic picture, and it can lead to a lot of issues. And I wanna connect that back to the idea of the ratings as well, because one of the things I’ve also seen that comes across with ratings is it can kind of encapsulate other kinds of bias around culture and gender. In past roles, I’ve worked quite a bit with international teams located in India, in Germany, in the UK, in Australia. And one of the things that came up was in looking at ratings, a lot of times companies rely on this because they think it’s a nice, safe way to create an even playing field.
15:53 Kat: You feel like you’re comparing apples to apples, you have these numbers, there’s no ifs, ands or buts around it. But there’s still going to be some bias high up in those numbers. One of the things you’ll find is some cultures are very much more open to giving up perfect scores than other cultures. You may find that some cultures, if you’re doing an okay job, you’re getting the work done, you’ll get that perfect five. If I give you anything less than a perfect five, it’s gonna freak out my people, so I better give them that perfect five. Other cultures, if you’re doing a great job, you’re getting all of your work done, it’s going great, I’m gonna give you a three because that’s acceptable in this culture. And if I give you anything more than a three, it starts to raise eyebrows and people start thinking, “Whoa, why are you giving this person four or a five?” So what you’re finding is, different cultural biases. Even some gender biases can come into play and actually affect those ratings. And if you’re trying to treat them as this unbiased picture, you can create an unrealistic picture of your people. And then Skyler, I know you had some thoughts also about that last type of bias that you see on the screen there.
Your 2020 Anti-Bias Guide:
A Roadmap for Ending Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
17:07 Skyler: Yeah, this is one we talk about a lot here. But in researching it, I don’t know that it’s necessarily top of mind for a lot of people, and unfortunately it’s not one of these very conscious ones that we can just sort of spot and correct easily. But on the screen here, we call it radar bias, but if you wanna look into it more, I really suggest looking up what’s called the idiosyncratic radar bias. Actually, there’s a great article in Harvard Business Review if you wanna look that up afterwards. But basically, what’s going on here is, if you think about it, I’ll take the typical five-point rating scale. When you ask a manager or a peer co-worker to rate someone on a competency on a rating again maybe from zero to five, when they really took that apart and did a lot of studies on it, what you see is, my rating of you on a competency such as productivity or sociability or something like that, is biased by… I don’t really have sort of a standard for that competency, so I’m applying a rating to it.
18:16 Skyler: Sort of based on my definition of it or what I think my competency on that sort of area is. And when they really took it apart, it was influencing about 61% of the ratings of that number, which is some pretty dirty data, right? And we thought we were getting around this by doing 360 reviews, so I’m not only getting a number just from my manager, but I’m turning around and getting it from other people in the department, across departmental, it’s like, “Oh, we solved this.” But with this notion of the idiosyncratic radar bias, you’re just getting more of that every time you turn around and get another number from the next person. You’ve seen that up to 61%, the number influence just from this one factor. So, it kind of compounds itself, and it turns out that we’re not solving it just by getting more reviews and adding to the heap.
19:12 Skyler: That one. Again, quite a bit out there, and I would encourage you to see the Harvard Business Review article on it, look up idiosyncratic rater bias, if you want a little more info but… Trying to create some awareness around that one because really just these three, even though there’s more biases that go into each process, are really easy ones to look up. The extent that they are secluding rating data, and really easy to make that business case internally of, Hey, it feels like we’re putting too much emphasis on these types of biases like this and the data behind them, really easy way to flag that and say, Hey, we need to clean up this data a bit or possibly tweak our process, if we’re relying too much on them. That said, talked a little bit about how it’s broken, we sort of zeroed in on ratings in particular. I wanted throughout a quick poll question that we’ll put up on the screen. But if everyone listening today, if rating is part of the performance review process that you use at your company, we’re still… Depending on who we’re talking to, this number swings quite a bit on day-to-day. So I’d love to throw this out today, we’ll get that poll going and see how the results come in.
Audience poll: Do you use ratings in performance reviews?
20:34 Kat: And I do think it’s important to note that we’re not throwing ratings under the bus, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that are listening and thinking, Ooh, my leadership team would not let me get rid of that rating. They love it, they love that data point. [chuckle] And that’s totally fine, but really what we’re trying to point out is you wanna be very careful and very considerate about not only when you’re using ratings and how you’re using that ratings data because ultimately ratings are part of what creates a very anxious experience for employees. Just think about it, someone gives you a score. How does that really make you feel? And then also, it can create some of that misleading information that Skyler and I were just talking about. So I’m not saying you have to toss ratings out the window and go into your leadership team and say, Hey, I got this great new idea. Let’s get rid of all our data. [laughter] But being more careful and considerate about thinking, Okay, what’s the real value behind having ratings here or there, and how can we grow our process beyond and around just the core ratings that we need.
21:51 Skyler: Yeah, we can see quite a bit of ratings still involved with the people listening today. And again, we don’t want this to turn into a ratings fashion session, but like Kat’s saying, just a gut check for ourselves. Currently, the data we get for branding, is that a crutch for the company to bypass a lot of things that should be going into performance reviews? Just sort of some soul searching there, but not that they have to go away entirely, we’re just looking for a little bit of balance so that they’re not the entire process. Great. So I wanna move on to the next section here. Close the poll real quick, which is given that set up, given a little bit of framing and top of mind and recent research on what’s broken about the traditional process, well, what works then? What’s the antithesis to that? And I’ll put this phrase on the screen. [chuckle] Kat, you were using it when we were talking. And I know we use it internally here, and I hope that it’s something that maybe a lot of people in culture teams bring up internally.
23:04 Skyler: But if I was looking for a top-level goal for solving this or moving to a system that I know is working for a company, I love this summation, If we could end up with a no-surprises culture. I love this anecdote. Kat, I don’t remember if you’re the one that said it or not but putting myself in that six months to end of year performance review, if I’m relying only on those for the information about performance and what went right and what we need to change, what we need to improve and focus on, if I’m only getting it from there, from those… Today, if it’s solely relying on that, we might as well be considering those performance review meetings exit interviews, right? [chuckle]
23:52 Kat: Yeah.
23:52 Skyler: ‘Cause think about how much is happening day-to-day in the course of six months, or possibly even a full year, so that when we do have that face-to-face conversation and really start zeroing in on the good and the bad, you’re probably gonna get one of these kinds of surprises where things have just been terrible for me as an employee for three months, and now I’m using this opportunity to tell you that it’s over, it’s been terrible for a while.
24:18 Kat: Right.
24:18 Skyler: I’d love you to elaborate a little more, what do we mean by no-surprises culture here?
Create a no-surprises culture for performance reviews
24:24 Kat: Yeah, and I mentioned that because I think this is very tried and true advice from HR departments all over the place. I guarantee you people on the phone, any time you are offering training to your people leaders and your managers about, Okay, how do we make this process go well, this phrase comes out, “There should be nothing in the performance review that’s a surprise to the employees.” So what you really wanna think about with that is, how do we make that actually happen? It’s one thing to just say, nothing in the performance review should be a surprise, but how do you make that actually happen like you said, on a day-to-day, week-to-week scale or schedule? How do you help managers take the surprise, take the uncertainty and anxiety out of the performance review process in a way that makes employees feel confident, it makes them feel comfortable, and it makes them feel able to have these open and honest and growth-focused conversations with their managers about what they need to do to improve and to move forward. So, there are a couple of things that I think… [chuckle] Can really help with that beyond just the advice to managers to say, Make sure nothing is a surprise. [chuckle]
25:46 Kat: So the first one, very obviously, is to talk more often, encourage managers to have more frequent performance conversations where it’s not just happening once at the end of the year or maybe bi-annually, and the annual one at the end. A lot of the people that we work with here at Kazoo decide to encourage their people to have these conversations quarterly. I even have some that have their managers have this conversation monthly, which, that’s a little intense for most organizations, especially if you’re going straight from the annual review. But empowering your managers, empowering the people to feel like performance is something you need to talk about frequently throughout the year. And I think a lot of times that some people say, “Oh well, that’s what they’re… The weekly check-in is for the weekly or the monthly one-on-one, that’s for performance conversations.” But realistically, a lot of times the performance aspect of those conversations get side-tracked.
26:51 Kat: There’s project details to talk about. There’s different clients, you need to talk about this client, what’s going on this client. And the next thing you know, you’ve really spent no time talking about what are your skills, what are your knowledge areas, what do you need to work on, what’s your target for your career path with our organization? So part of it, in addition to having more frequent conversations is also changing what is happening in those conversations, and that’s really where HR could step in and have a really powerful impact to help managers understand if we’re having these performance conversations more frequently, it’s not just the annual review, what do I do during those conversations, how do I actually make them focused on performance and growth and career planning? So providing that kind of support network to them to help them understand, “Well, how I actually have those conversations?”
27:54 Skyler: I think I wanna focus on the middle first because it was particularly eye-opening for me when talking about one-on-ones, because we do consult with companies and we have a training that we’ve used, and the other companies have used to make one-on-ones more efficient, but it’s absolutely true. If we’re just saying, “Well,” putting that on the manager that, “Hey, you have that one-on-one time. This stuff should be coming up.” But it’s true depending on the frequency, especially, it’s so easy for just status updates or really pressing emergencies to take up that time. And so it’s not necessarily enough time reserved for the kinds of conversations you’re talking about. And I think we might get into this later, but I also wanted to mention it here in case anyone’s eyebrows, are going up on that first bullet.
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3 Frameworks for Effective 1-on-1s
28:42 Skyler: We’re not necessarily advocating for repeating the annual review process 12 times, like taking it and doing it monthly, but by more frequently if all three things Kat just talked about are working in tandem, if all three of these bullets you see on the screen are happening together, you’ll be able to have more frequent check-ins that are accomplished, especially after you do them the first few times, a lot more quickly, and you’re not just replicating and living in the performance review process year round and never doing any more work rated. That’s a little bit of a straw mat in there. It’s not necessarily fair. But sometimes when we’re training managers, that’s one of the first push-backs you get like, “I’m swamped as it is. Are you really asking me to get coaching in how I coach?” Or be like, “Guide my meetings for me or quintuple the amount of work and meetings that I already have,” and the answer is, no. These three things can work together to get the good out of what happens every six months and spread that out evenly throughout the year and frequently.
29:50 Kat: I’m so glad you brought that up, Skyler, ’cause you’re right. We’re absolutely not advocating to having performance reviews monthly. Oh my gosh, nobody would want that. What we are talking about though, is changing the culture of those performance conversations, because what you’re gonna find is when you’re talking more frequently about performance and when you’re making it less about ratings and looking backwards at what have you done for me lately, when you’re moving it more into a conversation that’s growth-focused and it’s looking forward, how can we empower you, how can we get you to success in the near future and the long-term future, what you’re gonna find is you’re changing that culture and you’re actually opening it up into being more of a conversation with the employee. The employee is able to actually participate in their own performance conversations, in their own career planning and growth planning. And what you’re gonna find is that when it’s a conversation that flows both ways, when it is a change in the culture of the conversations that is growth-focused, that is future-focused and forward-focused and it’s happening much more frequently and on a much more regular basis, guess what’s gonna happen?
31:12 Kat: Your people feel more excited to talk about performance. It feels more natural, it feels more comfortable to them, and suddenly they feel more empowered and they feel more engaged in thinking about their own performance and planning for their future with your company, and you’re gonna suddenly see… Just by, in having this conversation more frequently, by making it more growth-focused, and by making it something the employee can also participate in, you solve some of those issues with your engagement, you solve some of those issues with your turnover, and you’ve actually solved a lot of situations where managers have been avoiding a performance conversation and then just dump it on HR, just by having it happen much more frequently. By changing that culture, by opening it up, suddenly you’re talking about a whole different experience for everyone.
The role of HR in employee performance reviews
32:04 Skyler: Totally. We’ve boiled a lot down to these top level two or three bullet points. And I hope if nothing else, these bullet points stick out amongst that advice. These are some core tenets behind what’s referred to as continuous performance management. I don’t think that’s a phrase that we coined or anything. There’s a lot out there. But to me, that’s the starting place if people do want to move away from this possibly very ratings heavy or annual or semi-annual process. What would swing the pendulum on the other way, is this notion of continuous performance management, and that word frequency is gonna be all over everything you read about when you learn about Kay’s performance management because of that. Real quick Kat, there’s a lot of advice in there that seems to fall on the shoulders of managers. Are we necessarily heaping that, this all, on them? I’m thinking of the people in the audience who are maybe on the people and culture teams or HR and compliance involved. What power do they have here? How much of this is on HR, how much of this is on managers, and how much of this is maybe on the employees themselves? Because some of us might just be rolling our eyes and saying, “My managers are never gonna go for that.”
33:20 Kat: That’s a fair point. I personally wish, and I know a lot of the people that I work with, wish that you could just wave a magic wand and have everybody behave exactly like you see on screen, but probably everyone on the phone, realistically knows it is not that easy. [laughter] So it does take a little bit of effort from everybody to make this work and to make this happen. I think from the manager standpoint, you have to really support them. You have to really give them the tools they need, give them the structure that they need, and help them understand what it means to be a performance coach versus just rating and reviewing someone. So then it does become necessary for HR to step in and help them see what does performance coaching actually look like? And to give them the tools and the resources they need to make that happen.
34:19 Kat: And what you’re gonna find is, by having both parties chip in, and help drive this change, employees are gonna fall into that because it’s something they’ve been asking for, it’s something they’ve been wanting. But seeing those changes happen and hearing it happen in a very vocal very visible way to tell employees, “Hey, we’ve been hearing what you need, we’ve been hearing what you want, and we’re making some changes.” I think by distributing some of the effort involved in that change management across the different levels, what you’re gonna find is it’s not just telling managers, “Hey, do something different.” [laughter] You’re changing it at every single level all along the way, and it does take everybody chipping in all together to make a change like this really happen.
35:10 Skyler: Yeah. And again, in lack of that magic wand, it becomes… Managers are aware of these problems as well, and it’s also easy to remind them how much… If you don’t necessarily wanna change the way you’re handling your one-on-ones, or open yourself up to these more frequent check-ins, do you wanna be doing more onboarding on your team or things like that, because it’s really easy, again, to draw a direct line between some of these problems associated with these traditional processes and the employee experience, employee engagement. When those bottom out, we know about all the different kinds of culture changes, KPIs, turn-over, all sorts of stuff. So really easy to frame it that way as well as this being here, something that they can help with. From an employee’s perspective, we titled this, “How to Create a Process Employees Love”. And we’re just not throwing that phrase out there. Kat keeps saying that’s something employees want, that’s something employees want.
36:12 Skyler: But if you’re switching to something that prescribes to the bullets we’ve just had on the screen, here’s what the literature says about all that. A pretty often passed-around Forbes article that looked at a lot of research and started saying that, or pointing out that 65%… When they look at a pretty broad spectrum of employees, 65% of them are saying they want more feedback. Now that’s not 95%, but it is the majority. This is bubbling right under the surface, the fact that… It’s ironic, I was telling Kat. As much as we dread the traditional annual process, under the surface, we really do want more feedback as employees. So a more continuous, ongoing frequent process is solving that. Also when you’re having these more frequent conversations and the performance reviews aren’t just focused on the extremes, what have you done for me lately, what were the incredible things we did this year, what are the really bad horrible things that we failed at this year? Those conversations tend to be more in-the-moment focused and therefore we can really zero in on, “Hey, that was great this week. Let’s do more of that,” or, “Hey, this thing wasn’t as good. Let’s course-correct.” When those kinds of conversations are happening, again, the effect of one-on-ones, the more frequent check-ins, we tend to be more strengths-focused with it.
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How to Create a Feedback Culture
Performance reviews can build trust between employee and manager
37:25 Skyler: And that’s a super accelerator in boosting that relationship between the direct-report and the manager. Galt found that when those kinds of conversations are happening and we’re able to focus more on the strengths and the smaller wins, engagement on those teams is about nearly double the average that you would expect on a team that’s being managed by somebody. And the last one here, I talk about trust building. Again, a natural outcome if you’re having a process that relates back to the bullets we just had on the screen. We’re following up and we’re following through on a lot of the conversations that we have as managers and direct-report. And that’s naturally just an easy way to build trust, to strengthen that relationship, which is critical because Galt found that the manager alone, just managers, was the one in fact that was swinging engagement scores by 70%. There’s a lot that goes into that relationship, obviously. But if engagement scores are one of the reasons that we’re circling and realizing something is wrong here, managers are that crucial to it. So why keep them apart for six months to a year time? We’re having these kinds of opportunities to, again, follow up, follow-through, build trust. We’ve re-packaged this all-together.
38:46 Skyler: We haven’t created more work for managers, we’ve hopefully made their jobs easier, but again, the end result is that these are things that employees really want, and this is a process that delivers it. You can just start to empathize with how positive association employees might start having with these conversations and with these check-ins when they’re delivering these kinds of results.
39:10 Kat: And I think you bring up some great points, Skyler, we’re not necessarily asking managers to do more work, we’re asking them to transform the things that they’re already doing into a more effective purpose, a more effective approach.
39:25 Skyler: Absolutely. Like I said up top, we don’t wanna stay too high level. Sometimes companies have this problem and they buy direct consulting with leadership and management through a huge investment, maybe they do learning and development programs. But we wanna talk about things we can do to get started that don’t necessarily involve a major switch or a huge budget reallocation and things like that. Kat, just given… Again, your direct work with companies who are trying to affect change with this, and starting down the path, do you have a few tips we could throw on the screen here for how we can get started?
40:03 Kat: Absolutely, yeah. A lot of the companies that we work with that are seeking to make this transformation have usually taken a couple of initial steps to prepare. One is they will reach out to their peers, they reach out to their network, that’s similar companies, folks with similar goals, and they’ll say, “Hey, is anyone else doing this? Has anybody tried this? What kind of success have you seen? What kind of tips and advice do you have for me?” And you can start to capture some of those lessons, start to capture some of those ideas to make sure that you’re approaching this in a really good way that works for you and works for your people. And speaking of your people, [chuckle] taking the time to slow down and actually talk with them.
40:56 Kat: I think there’s a lot of times where from an operation standpoint, from an administrative standpoint, we’re trying to diagnose the problem without actually understanding the root cause of the problem. So even if you’ve looked at those red flags and you’re like, “Yep, yep, yep. That describes us,” taking the time to slow down, talk to your people. I know you maybe are doing some engagement surveys. Go to those departments or those teams that have the lower scores and take the time to talk with them, ask them what’s driving it, ask them would an improved performance culture, would an improved performance process make you feel more excited about all of this. And really understand what are their wants and needs before we go about all of this.
41:46 Kat: And then lastly, when you kinda know what you need to do to make this kind of change happen and to make it successful, talk to your managers. Make sure they’re on board, make sure they also understand what’s going on and make sure you understand, “What do they need? What support do they need? What resources do they need to actually make this successful?” So by slowing down, doing some of that initial research and ground work, what you’re gonna find is you’re coming into making a change like this in a much more informed way and in a way that avoids the common pitfalls that a lot of organizations see.
42:24 Skyler: Yeah, just to add to a couple of these. And also shout out to HCI. I just got back from their employee engagement conference in Denver, and I was thrilled that these things were sort of happening naturally at the table. We all have networking opportunities, we all know people in the industry or maybe we attend conferences like that, but especially this first one, in a world where performance reviews are so ingrained in our process and it drives so much what happens over the course of 12 months at our organization, how do we even get started? What was that path? And they were getting that kind of advice, taking some of the shock off of, what do the others do? What was sort of piecemeal? The plan that they had, and where are they today because of it? Stuff like…
43:08 Skyler: Those conversations were just happening naturally. I loved it. And that last one there too. It really is this simple. We’ve worked with organizations who, coming in just before they launched with our platform they just started adding that as a survey question that they did to managers only. Just asking directly, yes or no, “I have the ability to recognize, reward and assess the performance of my team. I feel empowered to do that as a manager.” Like one company for instance, added that and as a baseline, their managers were saying about 65… Only about 65% of them said yes. And then year over year, after making this change, that number shot up into the high 80s. Suddenly managers felt sort of empowered that… So really easy way to just get that baseline, if you’re looking for a place to start. Like what’s the temperature of the room, do our managers feel like they’re empowered to do this right now? And if not, that’s a clear indicator and an easy way to make a business case for starting down the path.
A checklist for improving employee performance reviews
44:12 Skyler: To zero in on these a little more we also wanted to give you a quick checklist of items. These are things that maybe if you’re assessing the current situation at your company or as you start to put what you think is a solution in place, these are the easy things to check for. Do we need to change? Or is a positive change happening? What’s the source on, Kat?
44:39 Kat: Yeah, I think as you’re looking to implement some of these changes to really transform your performance review process, probably the one that you’re like, “Okay, that’s an easy one, we can do that. Let’s have more frequent feedback and conversations that are happening.” So as you’re looking to drive this in your organization, look for opportunities to have more of those two-way feedback conversations, again that are for forward-looking, that are growth-focused. I think in implementing this a common pitfall that I see are organizations that they tell managers, “You need to be having those conversations” but again, they don’t teach them how to make them coaching conversation. ‘Cause again, what you really don’t want are monthly conversations where they’re just delivering criticism, they’re just delivering ratings. They’re just saying, “Here’s where you screwed up last time.” We wanna make sure that if you are increasing the number of conversations that they are gonna be healthy, productive, growth-focused conversations.
45:46 Skyler: Yep. So really, it should be to sort of take that lay of the land, given the process we currently have or the way our management training is currently set up, is this happening or not? Are we setting ourselves up for this common mistake or not? And if we’re solving for it, you start to solve for that first problem, the sort of timeliness factor when it comes to annual or semi-annual performance reviews, which as you said, really overcomes that feeling that these things are just sort of happening to us. This is overcoming that dread, the We Need to Talk conversation, right, if we can check this one off the list.
46:20 Kat: Right.
46:21 Skyler: How about number two?
46:25 Kat: So this is probably starting to sound very familiar to you, it’s things we’ve been talking about the whole webinar, but starting to build that support network, you’ve done your interviews with your managers, you’ve asked when you need to feel successful, they’ll actually go again and building out those tools, whether it’s training, whether it’s forms, whether it’s software, making sure that your managers actually feel empowered and equipped to have these new more frequent kinds of conversations. And I will say, one of the pitfalls with this stage of a transformation like this that I see a lot of HR departments fall into, is they start to micro-manage those conversations. They think, “Well, I wanna make sure this really, really works, so I’m gonna design every single inch and every single second of this process down to the last microscopic piece,” and what you find is you completely disempower managers and that they get very disengaged from the process.
47:28 Kat: So as you’re building that support network, hold it in, feel that restraint, [chuckle] you wanna step in and you wanna make sure that they’re successful but you need to give them a little wiggle room, you need to give them a little bit of leeway to use those tools, to use that support network in appropriate ways. You have to trust them to do the right thing and use the right tool at the right moment, because not every employee is the same, not every manager is the same and they’re going to need to take that support network you’re building and apply it in the right ways and in the appropriate way, so it’s a careful balance between giving them a lot to use, but again, not micro-managing them through building that support network.
48:17 Skyler: Yeah, this is a delicate one to carry out correctly, right, it’s… Think about just kicking down the door and saying, “Engagement’s low, and the research says it’s because of managers so shape up everybody and use the new process that we’re gonna be requiring you to do sort of step by step.” You can imagine immediately sort of the effect of the message that gets through to a manager who’s been managing for 10, 20, 40 years, right, that suddenly you’re gonna tell me how to do this by step by step. Totally sends the wrong message, but I can say one thing we’ve done here that we’ve recommended and seen success with at other companies is literally trying to create the support network internally. So about once a month, we set up internal trainings for managers only that raised feedback that we were getting across the company, and what that did is it created a forum where very experienced managers were in the room at the same time as sort of new or first-time managers, as well as the teams that that feedback was affecting pretty harshly.
49:20 Skyler: And again, by creating that forum at the requirement of what, an hour a month, those sort of easy, low-cost trainings were ways to create that support network internally and allow less experienced managers to take some great lessons from more experienced managers just as, again, as an example of a sort of low-cost thing we can start doing immediately. I wanna get to the third one now on our checklist for, again, what should we be watching out for with what’s going on now? Or what should we be on the look out for for things that are actually working if we choose a solution to…
50:01 Kat: Yeah. And ultimately at the end of the day, as you’re evaluating your current performance review process, asking yourself, “Is this going to be a fair data-driven process that will allow us to make the decisions that we need?” Getting back to that, that sticky wicket [chuckle] of the ratings again. Again, we’re not advocating you toss all your ratings of the window, we know you need them, we know that you need them in a lot of different contexts, but just being careful and being very considerate about when and how those are coming into play. So, understanding how can we create some of these changes that still get the data that we need, for the things that we need it for?
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5 Steps to Change Your Performance Management Process
50:48 Kat: And one last pitfall I will emphasize, if you are holding on to the ratings, if they are still going to be a big cornerstone of your process, remind your people, remind your managers, and remind your leaders who are looking at this data, sometimes with ratings you do again, you fall into that backwards looking evaluation process, and you really have to ask yourself, when we’re looking at these ratings in this way, are we just saying that this person who’s a low-performer today is gonna be a low performer forever? One of the reasons why I love expanding the process beyond just the ratings is you can capture things like, are there changes we could make to make this person a high performer down the road to empower them to suddenly transform their performance if only we made some slight adjustments? So allowing an opening of that conversation to reach these employees with a high level of potential, ’cause you’re gonna be able to find these diamonds in the rough that way, in a way that just quantitative data, just the ratings really sometimes struggles to capture.
52:02 Skyler: Yep, big takeaway from me on this one is, this is that just top of mind awareness of again, sometimes when we have ratings or other processes like that the data can be dirty so do we have that assurance that we’re making decisions based on good data? Real quick again, a big thing for us is that we don’t want to stay too high level and if you’re looking at your notes from today’s webinar and saying, oh, a lot of research, there’s a lot to throw at managers in particular, one message we reinforce constantly even though yeah, we’re probably pretty biased that technology can help, if this sounds like a lot of things that we’re asking managers to mentally keep track of is because it is but again, whether it’s a platform like Kazoo which we work for and I know some of our customers are on the line as well or something as low tech as a calendar plug-in that you might use or a switch up into the process and training you use.
53:01 Skyler: Technology can help give us that context, we are lucky enough that we have a platform that helps us again, have employees request that feedback from managers or managers request check-ins with their employees, it’s cataloging and keeping track of the goals that we said we would all be accountable for at the beginning of the quarter and bringing that context into the one-on-ones and the frequent check-ins that we’re having and at the end of the year it’s still showing me a top level picture of like what recognition is this person getting, how did our goals end up across all quarters across the year, what are our notes from our check-ins that we had again, bringing that context to the managers they don’t have to constantly be aware of that every time you go into a conversation because if we lose track of that mental juggling a lot about this process sort of falls by the way side so again, if we’re asking a lot from managers we are but our overall message is kind of technology can help. That’s all I know we didn’t leave a ton of time for questions but Helena you might have some wrap-up things for us.
54:10 Helena: Yeah, Skyler thanks so we do have about three or four minutes left, we’ll definitely get in one question, maybe two we’ll see how it goes so with that let’s get to a question from Angela. She says that often companies are linking ratings to drive compensation decisions, what best practices have you seen from organizations as they eliminate ratings in terms of their compensation processes?
54:38 Kat: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think a lot of times again, the ratings only tell part of the story so one of the things that we’ve seen happen a lot is changing it less from how does this person perform on something and how do we compensate them for that and instead making it more about what is the impact that this employee has on our business, on their team and looking at it in a much more holistic approach by capturing more of the holistic picture that way to see that conversations and things like that and tracking trends over time what you’re able to find is that you do get a more holistic picture of who you really need to be focusing on for those compensation decisions and who maybe doesn’t need quite as much attention, yeah.
55:32 Skyler: I would just add real quick that I know it’s very scary to move away from this ’cause so much is tied to those numbers but what people might not realize is you can do this piecemeal, you can integrate just a piece of continuous performance management, start getting data from that and over time you sort of wean yourself off of only relying on the ratings and as those pieces come in and as that data looks clean to you, you have total assurance internally that okay, we’re getting data from enough places now to make these decisions we don’t need the zero to five point scale anymore and we’re ready to move away completely because we have a system that’s working and that everyone is using now.
56:12 Helena: Alright, thanks guys. I think we’ll try to squeeze in just one more question here, this one comes from Darcy, do you recommend distinguishing between manager employee check-ins, performance conversations and performance reviews and if so what would you consider best practice on frequency and the agenda and content for each?
56:34 Kat: That’s a really, really great question. I think generally the difference you’re seeing between the more informal, frequent feedback conversations and the more official performance review-focused check-ins is with those first kind, you need to make it more about the coaching. I think one of the hardest part of being a manager is not just trying to solve everyone’s problem saying, oh, you have a problem, you gotta fix it, now go do it, [chuckle] part of coaching is allowing people to solve their own problems and you’re guiding them to figure out how to solve their own problems, so for those more frequent informal conversations that you wanna be coaching-driven, building forms or encouraging managers to say, maybe it’s not solving all the problems, maybe it’s teaching people how to solve their own problems or giving them some guidance on how do you start having conversations about career path planning and things like that, whereas the more official performance review-focused check-ins you can make those much more about evaluating the employees as a whole, offering concrete suggestions, offering concrete action items and making it a little bit more of a to-do list for the employee and with those more frequent conversations. Yeah.
58:06 Helena: Alright, Kat thanks so much for that information and guys we’ve reached the bottom of the hour, folks, if you asked a question we’ll make sure those are passed on…
Improving performance reviews with technology
We hope this webinar helped open your eyes to the common pitfalls of traditional performance reviews, and gave you some ideas about how to fix them. And if you need a little more help, well, that’s where we come in.
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