What’s best: Lock-step or anniversary based employee performance reviews

We are often asked whether PerformanceHub supports anniversary based performance reviews. The short answer no. PerformanceHub only supports ‘lock-step’ reviews (sometimes referred to as “focal performance reviews”).

If you are thinking about this for your organisation, here is some of our thinking as to why we went down the ‘lock-step’ route. Maybe it will help you decide. 

 

Arguments in favour of lock-step reviews :

  1. Gives you a view across all your employees at the same time. If you have anniversary-based reviews, then some people may have a recent review, with others being as much as 11 months out of date, making performance comparisons unfair.
  2. Makes it easier to change your process, as you’ll have clear water during the year when no-one is doing reviews. So you can make the change and train / inform people as needed.
  3. Better completion rate: everyone else is going through the same process at the same time, so people are more focussed on getting it done. HR and managers know exactly where everyone should be in the process and can chase accordingly.
  4. Encourages the manager to consider the performance of individuals in the context of team and organisation performance. Managers can benchmark across their team, and with other managers, and HR can benchmark / calibrate across the whole company.
  5. If pay reviews are also anniversary-based, then some people may get unfair pay changes compared to their colleagues, particularly if part of bonuses and/or raises are tied to company performance. Eg a company goes through a lean period, then lands a big customer and is feeling more flush. Depending on when your review was, you may have got a small or large bump. It may be that reviews held later in the financial year are more likely to get a good raise/bonus, if the company is feeling confident of meeting the budget.
  6. Easier to keep people aligned to company objectives, and to know how much work is going on that’s not aligned to current company objectives. Also easier to build momentum for the start and end of the review periods, eg with all-hands meetings.
  7. Because people are out of step, it can make succession planning harder.
  8. Overall it’s less effort for HR and managers.
  9. You can do lightweight refresher training, but doesn’t make sense to do when it’s spread throughout the year

 

Arguments in favour of anniversary reviews:

  1. You can guarantee performance data for the first performance review of new starters.
  2. It spreads the load of doing performance reviews through the year; with lock-step reviews there’s one time every year when managers have to spend a lot of time doing reviews.
  3. If performance is measured against some standard or fixed criteria, then the benchmarking benefit of lock-step may not be so important.

 

So, there are some good arguments to go with anniversary based reviews, but not so many as the ‘lock-step’ method. Also, the arguments aren’t particularly strong, particularly if you have probation reviews or regular one-to-one meetings (both supported by PerformanceHub). When using these features, employees starting shortly before your organisation’s ‘appraisal time’ won’t cause any problems.

We’re not too convinced about the ‘spreading the load’ argument either. Sure, it might be less disruptive to not have to review your whole team at once, particularly if your review period ends at a busy time for you (end of year accounts for instance), but we feel that the amount of effort is increased if you have a constant trickle of reviews going on over the year rather than planning to do them all at the same time.

Effort can always be reduced by having regular one-to-ones, and by reviewing objectives as they’re completed. Also, by keeping the appraisal form as short as you can. Our tip here – for every section you want to add to an appraisal, consider asking yourself:

  1. Will filling in this section help either the manager or employee improve the employee’s performance (either by helping them form concrete plans or by getting them to think about something they wouldn’t normally)?
  2. Will filling in this section help the organisation improve performance (e.g. by analysing the data centrally and then acting on what you find)?
  3. Do we have a process and resources to analyse the data, i.e. will we do anything with the information once it’s collected?

 

Tips for starting a performance management process

 

Good performance management can transform the culture of your organisation. It can:

  • Improve overall organisational performance using existing resources
  • Foster an environment for more open collaboration
  • Transform employee attitudes towards work
  • Create a more accountable system of working
  • Provide a framework to review and reward your employees’ work

From boosting employee morale to delivering bottom line benefits, performance management can be a game-changer in an organisation of any type or scale. But where do you start?

 

4 Key Areas To Focus On

 

1) Communication

Central to any performance management  is ensuring that everyone knows why you are doing it and what’s in it for them.  This will mean different things to different people; senior management team vs managers vs employees. But where it really counts is with your employees. If they see the benefits for them personally, you will get much better buy-in.

 

2) Education

It’s all very well having a process, but you must ensure that everyone knows how to actually do good performance reviews and act on the output from them, especially managers. Simple things like how to give constructive feedback, how to write good objectives or how to make development plans can make all the difference.

 

3) Consistency

Once you have the process in place, make sure it’s followed. Not just the reviews, but actions that come from them.

 

4) Leading by example

The performance management process is an inclusive one that the CEO and senior management must buy into to. They are not immune to the process and must follow it themselves. When developed and applied properly, it will become a component of organisational management that every employee takes seriously and follows diligently.

 

 

In more detail

 

Get employees excited about the process

You can do this by letting employees know what is in it for them, for instance:

  • It helps them with career development
  • It can identify parts of the job employees find difficult, frustrating or stressful and help them overcome those difficulties through training, support or finding better ways of working
  • Clearly defines what’s expected and can show them how they fit with the bigger picture. Well-defined objectives make it clear what is expected from employees. A clear understanding of shared goals will reinforce to employees the role they play towards driving organisational success
  • A performance review is as an opportunity for broader feedback, giving employees a platform for upward feedback or to share feedback on others, ensuring that no good deed ever gets forgotten
  • It’s a standardised procedure that helps ensure equitable treatment of employees

 

Create a solid performance review process

There is no magic formula for developing a performance management process. However, all good processes incorporate some common elements such as objective setting and quantifiable performance measurement.

Effective processes allow for a 360 degree feedback that gives employees a clear understanding about the impact of their performance not just at the project or process level, but also at the organisational level.

Good performance goes beyond effective application of skills. Softer factors like attitudes and behaviours play an important role in nurturing a positive and productive working environment. Disney and Ritz Carlton assess attitudinal issues to keep their workforce motivated and happy. Include such issues in your wider performance management framework to get a complete sense of just how valuable or toxic every employee is to your organisation.

Along with a comprehensive set of criteria for measuring performance, the process should also include identifying areas for development and a plan for improving in those areas.

 

Ensure that reviews are conducted properly

Managers responsible for performance reviews must follow best practices that allow the process to be effectively utilised and deliver the desired impact. These include establishing an environment that encourages two-way communication and open discussions. A consensus should be reached, next-cycle objectives must be set to make it clear what will be measured in the future and training/professional development should be identified.

Little and often:Annual performance reviews don’t work. Objectives change and the process must keep up. Also, if development plans are not being followed or are no longer appropriate, acting sooner rather than later is best for everyone.

 

Invest in the right performance management tools

 Lots of organisations stick to annual performance reviews because no one can stomach all the paperwork needed to conduct the reviews more frequently. Robust, easy to use, interactive and flexible performance review software can eliminate the paperwork typically associated with this process. Online software can also provide real-time information, ensuring you always know where you are and what’s going on.

Any tool you use is there to support the process, not be the process or get in its way.

If you really want to align your workforce, improve transparency and get things delivered, and ensure that the performance management software supports cascaded objectives. When objectives are linked together, everyone knows how they will fit with others’ and how they are contributing to the overall success of the organisation – a powerful motivator.

Performance Review Tips – Getting the most out of performance reviews

 

 

Performance reviews are sometimes seen as stressful by employees and managers alike. Or worse, a time vampire with little payback. However, with a simple bit of preparation, performance reviews can go from a dreaded process to a rewarding way to develop and motivate your employees. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of your Performance Reviews:

 

No surprises

Make sure that you have regular meetings with your direct reports during the course of the review period. If something important comes up (good or bad) provide feedback as soon as possible. There should never be any surprises when it comes to the final performance review.

 

Get to know your direct reports

Discuss where your reports wish their careers to go, what they enjoy doing, their expectations, etc. This will allow you to develop and motivate them accordingly. Create a good working relationship with your team members; you will both feel more comfortable in each other’s company. Your role is as much to act as a mentor as it is to manage day-to-day activities.

 

Set clear objectives

Set clear, achievable and time-bound objectives. Make sure that time frames are realistic and discuss the objectives with the employee beforehand, making sure that you both agree on what they are expected to do. Have regular meetings to discuss these objectives. This will enable you to make sure that your direct report is doing the right thing and allow you the coach them in the right direction. This will make their performance much more effective and you will both know how they are doing prior to the performance review, so there won’t be any nasty surprises.

 

Evaluation

Make sure that both you and your direct report agree on how they are to be evaluated prior to the performance review. You must be clear about how you are going to evaluate, and what part they are going to play in the process. This way you will both know what to expect.

 

Preparation

Preparation is key for both you and your direct report. Make sure that you inform them about the upcoming performance review; this will allow them to complete any relevant documentation or finish up any objectives. For you, remember to make notes about their performance during the course of the year and bring along notes from your regular meetings held during the year. This will ensure that you do not focus the meeting solely on recent events, which may not give a fair representation of the entire year.

 

Constructive Feedback

It is important to discuss both negative and positive points during the performance review; do not just focus on one area. Give constructive feedback. Remember that this should be a two way conversation, instead of just giving negative feedback ask your employee how they feel they did on certain objectives and what they feel they could have done differently, in other words, let them self evaluate where appropriate. This is your chance to coach your employee and to give them the opportunity to see where they went wrong and how they could have done better, instead of simply giving negative feedback which could demotivate them instead of encouraging them to do better. Spend time exploring your direct report’s strengths and make plans to capitalise on them in the future.

 

Most importantly, remember that your direct report will respond best when they feel ready and they know what to expect from you. Develop a strong professional relationship with them; this will allow you know how to challenge and motivate them accordingly and, as a result, create a successful working environment.

 

Plan for the future

You know what your direct report’s career aspirations are; you know their strengths and weaknesses. Set objectives or make development opportunities to help them realise their aspirations, building on their strengths and help reduce their weaknesses.

 

 

One final note, some people just aren’t great in some areas. No amount of motivation (positive or negative) will make a difference. If it doesn’t REALLY matter and, in particular, they excel in other areas, don’t dwell on the weaknesses and play to their strengths.