Leadership Strategy

13 Ways HR Teams Can Improve The State Of Their Annual Reviews

When the time rolls around for annual reviews, it should be a chance for human resources teams to transform their review process for the better. The traditional reviews have their place in business, but after some time, it becomes evident that these assessments aren’t always getting the job done.

Changing the reviews fundamentally might require drastic measures that may not sit well with the rest of the team. How does an HR team seek to replace the old paradigm of annual reviews and make something more viable for the 21st century?

Below, 13 members of Forbes Human Resources Council introduce some practical methods for HR teams to change the typical annual review into something more modern and functional.

Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. Infuse Meaningful Conversation

Treat people like adults, and they will generally act like adults. Traditional ratings are an antiquated practice, used by management to avoid nuanced and sometimes difficult conversations. Ratings are steeped in bias, unless based on objective metrics, which they rarely are. Infuse meaningful conversation into your process to make it transparent, with a focus on individual and business outcomes. – Tracy Cote, Zenefits

2. Assess To Support Desired Culture

We revised our annual review to align with an engaged employee culture. Previous reviews focused on job skills but neglected key components of culture like collegiality, initiative and a service approach with members and coworkers. Employees being good citizens of our company community is as important as job performance. Our new review aligns the review/coaching conversation around these values. – Courtney Pace, FedEx Employees Credit Assoc.

3. Create A Culture Of Growth And Development

An organization that has a culture of growth and development can create a fruitful atmosphere to transform annual reviews for the better. Employees can dread the annual review process because it’s not always enlightening. If the organization has a culture of growth and development then the annual review would just roll in as another opportunity to foster employee success in the organization. – Tania White, Canary HR Consulting

4. Make Your Company’s Intentions Clear

If you are using performance reviews to drive a culture of learning or succession planning, focus the review on reflection and development plans. If this is a tool to drive compensation, ensure there is clarity there. We recently introduced check-ins where we have built out user-friendly, focused templates to guide conversations around goals and development plans. – Jeff Miller, Cornerstone OnDemand

5. Don’t Separate Life Goals From Performance Goals

While annual reviews can talk about how someone did in the year, they also need to connect to their long-term goals. Unless people see the link between what they strive for in the future and why they wake up for work everyday, it will not bring “intrinsic” behavioral change. People want assurance for the future and want to bring their whole self to work and not just come to a job. – Hafiza Gujaran, AlixPartners

6. Simplify Your Review Process

Most annual reviews are cumbersome. Ease the process by simplifying your tools. Smart review systems include a balance of metrics and open-ended questions, and should be no more than two pages. Ideally you can employ a digital form allowing someone to easily complete their self-review, which is automatically sent to the manager to incorporate into the employee’s review. Ease the burden with smart tools. – Cat Graham, Cheer Partners

7. Encourage Ongoing Feedback

Ensure that the annual review isn’t the first time managers and employees are meeting to discuss career development and goals. Today’s employees want ongoing feedback. Encouraging frequent one-on-one conversations — quarterly is OK, monthly or weekly is even better — strengthens an employee’s relationship with their manager and allows formal reviews to be more impactful. – Jeff Weber, Instructure

8. Create Leadership Circles

Start a leadership circle with your leadership teams to encourage real-time feedback through the year. Leaders are able to uncover common performance conversations and practice real-time examples they can bring to their employee one-on-one meetings. By giving your leaders a forum to learn from one another, they will be more accountable every day at sharing feedback consistently with employees. – Betsy Johnson, Cludo

9. Make It Focused On Professional Development

HR professionals are like caretakers. We care for everyone else, often not taking care of ourselves. This means that we often work on reviews and development for the organization but not for HR. To transform HR reviews, make it focused around professional development for the team as a whole and dive into each member’s development, as well. Transform by learning as a group and as contributors. – Kelly Loudermilk, BuildHR, Inc.

10. Let Employees Own Their Performance Story

Fluidity is important. Your best employees want to know — in real time — how they are doing. Implement a program like “Feedback Friday,” which encourages employees to solicit feedback on themselves or to leave feedback for those they worked with throughout the week, all in the spirit of getting better. This gives employees ownership and management of their own performance story. – Tia Smith, Collaborative Solutions

11. Provide Manager Review Training

One problem that can occur with annual performance reviews is a lack of consistency between managers’ review standards. Where one may give a high score to reward hard work and effort, another may feel a lower score will provide motivation for future improvement. HR departments should provide training on administering performance reviews to ensure ratings are consistent between managers and teams. – John Feldmann, Insperity

12. Leave Them Motivated And Inspired

We use our general comments section at the end to share only positive thoughts. For example, “I really enjoy working with Sally. She is a loyal employee and is a trusted confidant for many employees. She has accomplished many objectives this year. Thank you, Sally, for your effort! I am looking forward to your accomplishments in the new year.” No need to restate improvement areas at the end. – Kerri Johnson, Foam Supplies, Inc.

13. Stop Reviewing And Judging People

HR teams must start by creating a framework for performance that includes the time, space (virtual or in person) and tools for leaders to guide their teams to better performance. This is achieved by building trust, asking questions that help people self-discover solutions to challenges, sharing appreciation for the right behaviors, acknowledging great outcomes and focusing on future development. – Keri Higgins Bigelow, LivingHR, Inc.

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