February 27, 2023
People don’t dislike performance reviews; they dislike how they’re done.
Infrequent, one-sided feedback, a lack of transparency, or an overly critical tone can make the review process stressful and uncomfortable. To effectively engage employees and improve the performance review experience, prioritize open and frequent communication, regular feedback, and a focus on individual and team growth rather than just pointing out gaps.
Choose a best practice performance management cycle for everyone, from employees and managers to leadership, and implement a performance management tool to help.
A performance management cycle is the framework HR leaders use to give employees and their managers a clear measure of success. They typically run over 12 months and use goal-setting and checkpoints to track progress.
How performance management plays out in the real world are two very different experiences. Traditional performance management cycles align with financial years. With infrequent evaluations, the employee’s success rests firmly on the manager’s shoulders.
It’s up to the employee to prove their worth. Participation is a key performance indicator (KPI) rather than effectiveness, making it a tick-box exercise rather than a valuable development tool it could be. Performance management is feared, not celebrated.
Progressive companies use a performance management cycle aligned to company strategy and employee journeys. Employees are empowered to take ownership of their development with regular performance check-ins, conversations, and goal updates.
Here, HR is a strategic partner to both managers and employees, not an administrative function. Conversations about performance become part of everyday life. It’s a framework called everyday performance.
Everyday performance puts an end to one-way reviews, evaluations, and appraisals. It instead makes progress and performance part of constant communication.
Updates are no longer reserved for 1:1s or quarterly reviews. Instead, they’re part of regular check-ins that encourage personal reflection and development through incremental change, not a step change.
Employees demand a fundamental change in the way their development is led. There are three parts to having a world-class performance management cycle that contributes to business success: process, conversations, and alignment.
Get this new approach right, and you’ll see a considerable reduction in the time, cost, and stress involved in running performance management cycles. You’ll also directly impact your people’s engagement, performance, and well-being and clearly identify managers whose skills need developing.
A typical performance management cycle is an administrative, fractured process led by HR, not by employees. That’s the first downfall of traditional performance management cycles. The people at the heart of the process have no control over it.
Participation is more important than impact. And often, there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to the process, with performance evaluations based on company financial quarters rather than employee journeys.
Performance is often evaluated in a vacuum and is subjective based on a manager’s view of an employee’s success (or not). This opens the employee to bias because the feedback is a single source. It relies on a manager’s ability to interpret a year’s contributions into a rating in a one-hour meeting.
Instead, a more progressive performance management approach involves switching to everyday performance. The everyday performance framework means making performance tracking part of your day-to-day conversations, feedback, and contributions, not something you avoid until your next scheduled performance review.
Employees share information with their managers through structured digital updates. They regularly reflect on their progress and can realign targets and goals. They get specific feedback from their manager, which helps employees make incremental improvements rather than New Year’s resolution style transformation.
Typical performance management cycles rely on one-way evaluations of an employee’s past performance. These are rife with recency bias and subjectivity. Employees gather evidence that they achieved goals and bring them to a manager's meeting.
Once in that meeting, a manager can dig deeper to understand how and why something was done. But unless it happened in the last seven days, details are fuzzy. This process doesn’t test an employee’s performance; it tests their memory. It’s no wonder that only 14% of employees say that performance reviews inspire them to improve.
Quarterly – or worse annual – reviews also allow bad managers to hide. That’s because the review is all about the employee. It doesn’t consider how effectively the manager supported the employee during the last few months.
Did the manager provide timely feedback to enable employees to succeed and remove major blockers? Did they deliver feedback well or use the highly ineffective feedback sandwich? And did they set clear goals to help their people prioritize?
Everyday performance management moves people away from annual one-way evaluations to structured, regular two-way conversations. These can happen asynchronously or face-to-face. Either way, regular conversations mean your people get timely feedback, which helps them make management changes to their work to influence its success.
Think about the 1% rule: what begins as a small advantage gets bigger over time. Scientists refer to this as accumulative advantage. Each piece of timely, specific feedback means people can improve and change a task’s outcome rather than after the fact.
Employees are given KPIs or goals at the start of a financial year, which are promptly forgotten until performance reviews are mentioned. That’s because these goals don’t stay top of mind.
They’re set by a manager and hidden away in a static document. There’s often no line of sight to how an individual’s goals directly impact the team, department, or company’s overall objectives.
Everyday performance demands that employee goals are aligned with company objectives. This gives your people autonomy because they can prioritize workload based on their goals and see their contribution's direct impact.
This keeps engagement levels high because people understand the purpose of their role. It also means that every person is moving toward the same destination and can be agile if the end goal changes.
But having aligned goals isn’t enough. Each employee must keep goals top of mind by updating their progress. Ideally, every week or two. If progress toward a goal falters, employees can quickly see that they’re going off track and realign their focus.
What’s more, allowing employees and managers to tweak or iterate goals during the year ensures they work on the most important things rather than just the goals they set six months ago.
The most effective performance management cycle layers different cadences and types of conversations. Each conversation has a different purpose and becomes more strategic and forward-focused.
The terminology we use when talking about performance management is critical. Moving away from performance reviews, appraisals, and evaluations to performance conversations is important. This encourages employees to take ownership of their development, not leave it to the manager to dictate their success.
A 10-minute weekly employee check-in gives the employee dedicated time and framework to reflect on their day-to-day successes, challenges, and progress. It’s a structured way to get the week's highlights and keep goal progress in mind. Check-ins open the conversation for further discussion and incremental change when managers give timely, specific feedback.
Employee check-ins don’t replace face-to-face meetings. Instead, they make them more effective because issues are raised and resolved before they escalate. They help managers remove blockers before they impact performance.
And lastly, asynchronous communication is crucial when we work in different locations and with different schedules and time zones. For example, let your people complete check-ins even if their manager is on holiday. That way, no success or challenge is missed. Their managers can catch up quickly when they’re back online.
The next conversation cadence is the 1:1 meeting between the employee and their line manager. It’s often done in person – if geographies allow – to build rapport and trust. Otherwise, video calling is a great backup.
As weekly employee check-ins become habitual, 1:1s are less past- and task-obsessed and more future-focused. A monthly cadence for these meetings is ideal.
1:1s are an opportunity for employees to lead the discussion around self-development. They can use their check-ins to inform the agenda for their 1:1 meeting. Managers can use the time to give more high-level feedback if they notice patterns emerging that need addressing. For example, they’re persistently missing deadlines (rather than a one-off) or how to manage the employee if they’re consistently over-performing.
Goals also form part of the conversation. But rather than a simple progress update, the discussion becomes about how to reach its full potential.
Some performance conversations naturally align with financial calendars, especially around goal-setting. A company strategy will likely mostly stay the same because macroeconomic factors affect all businesses.
That’s why a quarterly cadence for objective setting works. And rather than adding another meeting to the calendar, it’s possible to include this conversation in end-of-quarter 1:1s.
For peak performance, employees must understand the company objectives and what is measured. In turn, managers must clearly communicate the team’s role in meeting those objectives.
Employees should be encouraged to set goals and align them with the teams. This encourages ownership and accountability rather than having something pushed down on them.
Set-and-forget goals become obsolete because employees use weekly check-ins to track their progress using the everyday performance framework. They reflect and realign their activities back to goals where necessary and get regular support from their manager.
Annual evaluations, reviews, and performance appraisals are replaced with retrospectives. These meetings become reflective rather than an information-gathering exercise. There are no nasty surprises like laundry lists of gripes or unexpected underperformance because weekly check-ins deal with these as they crop up.
This performance management cycle conversation is partly reflective, but the focus should be on plans based on what we have learned during the year. It discusses long-term career development, skills development, and aspirations.
Performance management is, in its simplest form, a feedback process. But giving and receiving feedback won’t automatically make your people perform better. Employees crave feedback that’s higher quality and more regular. Seventy-nine percent of employees feel they don’t get enough feedback.
Feedback must be delivered appropriately. That means within an acceptable time frame, in a positive way, and through the right channels. It’s also important to use a named source to make it credible.
But most importantly, the employee must be willing to do something with that feedback.
The optimal window for receiving feedback is shorter than you think. Seventy-two hours is the optimum period; anything later than two weeks is a waste of time. That’s why weekly check-ins and subsequent feedback managers provide are fundamental to everyday performance.
It’s also why annual reviews are not reliable feedback mechanisms. They focus too much on recent events and miss feedback opportunities throughout the year. Instead, feedback delivered regularly achieves better, quicker, and stickier results because it encourages incremental change.
There’s no one-size-fits-all type of feedback. So, managers and employees must adapt to what suits them, the organizational culture, and business needs.
Weekly check-ins are the most useful type of employee-to-manager feedback. It tells the manager how the employee is doing and signals where an employee might need support. Even if they haven’t directly asked for it, managers start to form a complete picture of their employees and can detect when something feels off.
These regular, structured updates are easy for the manager and employee to refer to in future conversations. And they keep employees focused on what matters because employees choose the highlights rather than task-by-task detail.
Managers respond to employee check-ins with direct, specific feedback. They can give guidance, tell the employee how they’ve removed blockers, or encourage them to re-align their focus if they’ve waivered from their goals.
This feedback can be delivered with a simple acknowledgment or a detailed comment. It may even want an ad hoc 1:1 to discuss the feedback.
Self-reflection can be tough; that’s where 360° feedback helps. It’s the process of gathering people’s opinions to build a holistic, unbiased view of an individual. It’s one of the most misused feedback types because it’s about how a person performed their role rather than the outcome.
360° feedback is a way for employees to understand their strengths and weaknesses using input from those who work with them the most. You could ask managers, teammates, subordinates, or one-off project peers for feedback.
External suppliers or partners are also valuable feedback sources. It gives employees and their managers a more rounded and complete view, highlighting positives or areas for improvement that managers may overlook or miss.
Seventy-eight percent of employees would work harder if they had more recognition. Feedback from an employee’s peers helps managers see things they or their employees may have missed. These are informal snippets of feedback that can be used to unearth your rough diamonds – especially important when it comes to succession planning and talent mapping.
Peer feedback is better received, too, because it feels more genuine. Your manager has to give you feedback; your peers don’t.
Feedback from mentors and coaches outside the usual team or peer connections is designed to help people develop new ways of working or grow their skillset. Layer this on top of manager and 360° feedback, plus peer recognition, and you’ve got a great set of sources and types to develop and grow.
Feedback underpins every part of the performance management cycle. But your people and their managers will become disenfranchised if they provide feedback that gets lost, misused, or doesn’t lead to change.
It’s important to collect any type of feedback in a way that’s structured, accessible, and meaningful. Employees and managers are more likely to give feedback when asked for it and be receptive when they expect it.
Using specific feedback platforms will keep all your different types and cadences of feedback in one place and readily accessible to the people it impacts. Emails, documents, and DMs just aren’t appropriate for giving or receiving feedback. They get lost, go out of date quickly, and aren’t secure.
Feedback must also be used for the purpose for which it’s intended. Check-in feedback should be private between managers and their employees. This encourages both to be open and honest during the conversation.
If a manager wants to share some feedback further up the organization, it would be respectful to ask the employee first, particularly if the feedback is negative. This is another reason to use a proper HR platform: emails and messages can easily be sent to the wrong people.
Goals set expectations. They mean everyone knows where to go, by when, and what they will be measured by along the way. There are several frameworks, including the traditional SMART goal-setting framework.
However, progressive companies use objectives and key results (OKR) to set agile, transparent, and ambitious goals. This goal-setting framework encourages total transparency; everyone can see their work's direct impact on company success.
A performance management cycle based on everyday performance will help you move from set-and-forget goals to work that makes the biggest impact. That’s because OKRs are set quarterly and tracked weekly. It’s a mindset shift. And that’s a tough ask, but it helps employees focus more on outcomes rather than inputs.
OKRs break down company strategy into manageable chunks, bridging the gap between strategy and execution. They organize employees and the work they do around achieving common objectives. OKRs also create alignment and engagement around measurable but ambitious goals.
The Objective is a short but inspiring description of your goal. It needs to motivate and challenge the team. An aspirational objective is: Create an awesome customer experience.
But what defines awesome? And how do your people know if they’ve achieved it? Remember, without measurement, you don’t have a goal. That’s where key Results come into play.
The key results (KRs) define success and help your people measure their progress toward the objective. Each objective should have no more than 4 KRs and be quantitative.
Choosing what to measure is as important as the objective itself. They must encourage the right behaviors. KRs for our "create an awesome customer experience" objective could be:
NPS and RR would be two good options. But measuring NPS and RR might encourage employees to make customers happy at any cost. Therefore, we include CAC as a countermeasure. We want to make the right type of customers happy.
KRs might look like this because they measure tasks rather than outcomes.
Multiple people and teams can have KRs that feed into an objective. That’s how they create alignment. For example, the product development team could have KRs around product stickiness and usability. That’s how we use OKRs to align purpose across the company.
Team and individual OKRs correlate to financial quarters, whereas company OKRs are set annually. This means high-level business strategy remains the same, but how you get there can be more tactical.
Think of it like a pyramid. There will be three top-level OKRs that allow departments and teams to align their objectives, keeping the focus on what matters for the organization.
Employees can then set their OKRs more tactically to help the team, department, or organization reach the wider objective. This means everyone works toward the same outcome. If an OKR changes, everyone knows and can re-align.
OKRs are a mindset shift. But having every person work toward a common objective has many advantages. Employees have autonomy over their roles. They know what’s expected and can prioritize without constantly checking in with their manager.
Managers know how their people perform against expectations and can better support struggling or excelling employees. Everyone knows the business goals and how their work contributes.
People who see how their work contributes to the team are more motivated to perform. They develop a deeper sense of belonging and purpose, which increases engagement. This empowers employees to be more self-sufficient and take responsibility for their development.
Fully transparent OKRs may be too far for some traditional workplace cultures, but they’re the most effective way to create high-performing teams. Employees with strong levels of transparency at work feel 76% more engaged. And high engagement underpins high performance.
Each team member’s OKRs and progress are visible to each other. This encourages collaboration from complementary roles and healthy competition for others.
There are four key roles in a best practice performance management cycle: employees, managers, human resources, and the senior leadership team. Each has a different responsibility.
HR should own the overall process and technology and be responsible for continuous improvements. But the outcomes need to be employee-led.
The CEO and leadership team are responsible for the overall direction. They agree on company strategy and set OKRs to which the rest of the business can align.
This needs to be done promptly so that teams have appropriate time to review and create their goals. Announcing OKRs during the first week of a new quarter is too late and not mindful of your people’s time, especially in larger companies.
Senior leaders need to lead by example by modeling expected behaviors consistently and transparently. Employee recognition is often overlooked or only used near the end of a quarter.
Given that companies with effective recognition programs have 31% lower staff turnover, an appropriately timed thank you or well done goes a long way to boost morale, engagement, and performance. Doing this publicly through a Microsoft Teams channel or All-Hands meeting makes this even more effective.
HR is the conductor. They shape and own the strategy to support employee-led performance. HR manages the performance management cycle framework, technology, and templates. They don’t own the outcomes but influence them because they support manager development.
They’re responsible for seeking out best practices internally or in other companies and sharing this with managers. This includes supporting managers with learning and development. Employees with effective managers perform 45% better than those with poor managers. So, it’s in HR’s interest to step in with corrective action.
HR also provides impartial guidance around succession planning and talent mapping, as they have a view of the whole organization. They’re there to champion business success with the best and most engaged employees.
Managers significantly influence an employee’s engagement. They, like senior leaders, must lead by example and with transparency. The everyday performance approach underpins this when they prioritize 1:1 and check-ins with their people. Managers should deliver feedback in a way that best supports their people’s development and performance.
Line managers set team goals that align with the business objectives and set expectations around priorities. Managers should clearly communicate the goals to give employees autonomy and remove blockers.
Managers keep their people accountable by giving constructive feedback privately and praising publicly through recognition. The focus is on impact, not tasks.
Great managers step in to support underachievers. Weekly check-ins help managers build a reliable picture of what normal looks like for each person. They can spot when something’s not quite right. This helps them dig deeper to understand the root cause before it affects performance.
They can also recognize when employees overperform or outgrow a role. Setting bigger goals or giving additional responsibilities can motivate and drive employees. But a quick win is raising their profile with senior leaders, something called employee visibility. Performance review is a good time to flag your employee to HR for succession planning.
Employees must take responsibility for their performance, not leave it in the hands of their manager. This works best when employees set their own team-aligned goals.
Autonomy gives employees ownership and promotes collaboration to hit team targets. Tracking them regularly through check-ins helps your people understand how they’re doing and keeps them focused.
Being open and honest with the line manager builds trust and rapport. It’s important that employees feel comfortable sharing successes and challenges and asking for help from their manager when they hit blockers. Weekly check-ins reinforce this.
Employees should escalate to HR or their manager's manager if they don’t rely on their manager to give feedback. This keeps them in control of their success.
Giving feedback to peers supports their performance. Taking part in 360° feedback facilitates their personal development and is typically a mix of positive and constructive feedback. Sharing peer recognition shows that they see and value their colleagues’ contributions.
Much like the performance management cycle, everyday performance is more likely to stick than big transformation. Start with small changes. You could start by changing the language you use internally to talk about performance: move from reviews to conversations to make it more accessible.
Like a road trip, you need to know your start and end points. Plot these and the key markers that tell you how you’re progressing. If this sounds like goal-setting, then you’re on the right track.
Talk to your managers and employees to understand their current experiences. Learn from overperforming teams to see their already used feedback types and cadences. Talk to your HR peers about industry best practices.
Next, set clear OKRs that measure what a successful transition looks like for your organization. This will take time. So, break down big strategic change into smaller, more tactical chunks.
Get a few advocates and detractors on board early. They’ll quickly tell you the two extremes you’re likely to face and help you to overcome any objections early on.
Much like the everyday performance approach, don’t attempt overnight transformation. Instead, work out which type of performance conversation cadence will give you the quickest win and roll this out to a pilot group.
Get feedback, adjust, re-test, and then roll out to the whole company. Show people this is how it’s done now, and these are the results and benefits the pilot group saw.
If managers already use 1:1s, a weekly check-in is the logical first step. Be obvious about the link between the two. Employee check-ins don’t replace 1:1s. Instead, they help managers address concerns before they escalate and make 1-on-1s more effective.
Employee check-ins underpin the other performance conversations. And doing them weekly builds muscle memory. Add a recurring calendar reminder for employees to complete it. This shows it’s built into their working week, not an additional task.
HR must ensure that managers review their team’s check-in and provide feedback. Nothing is worse than plucking up the courage to ask for help and being ignored.
Remember, exceptional performance comes from knowing what’s expected of you and how it’ll be measured. And how that work contributes to team and company success: What difference am I making?
The mere act of setting goals means you’re more likely to achieve them. But going one step further by aligning them to company goals keeps everyone focused on the metrics that matter most.
For large companies, start small by setting OKRs for one team. But beware; don’t try to set OKRs for every single KPI or objective you have. Set three OKRs per level (organization, department, team, or personal). And focus on the highest priority objectives. This ensures employees organize their work and OKRs in an informed way.
Secondly, encourage people to set OKRs based on outcomes, not inputs. So, for sales, use KRs such as the number of sales meetings booked rather than the number of outbound calls made. This focuses employees on outcomes, not the effort put into a task.
For companies with 50 or fewer employees, it’s simpler to set top-level OKRs and have the rest of the business align with them.
Managers are the single biggest influence on an employee’s likelihood of succeeding. Managers get a bad reputation in traditional performance management, seen as implementing top-down directives rather than driving change.
Managers must be brought into the benefits of frequent feedback. They must know how to deliver it and have the authority to act on the feedback they receive. Everyday performance demands that managers support their people to improve and develop often, not once a quarter or year.
When you do something regularly, it makes that thing easier. Ninety-six percent of managers say frequency makes giving feedback easier. That’s because it breaks down the traditional barriers to performance conversations. If underperformance is addressed sooner, it’s less likely to escalate into a larger performance issue that requires a difficult end-of-year conversation.
Having frequent conversations also normalizes the practice for both managers and employees. This changes the organization's culture, where feedback is expected and valued.
Involve your IT team from the very start. They’ll be a close ally for getting new software up and running, and their in-depth knowledge means they can help you choose the best tools for the job.
For Microsoft users, plenty of apps plug directly into Microsoft Teams. Ideally, choose a platform that integrates with tools you already use – so employees don’t need to learn a new software platform or tool.
Choose performance management software that eliminates administration. That way, you and your people can focus on their performance conversations, not the performance management process.
Remember, performance is just a feedback process. So, look for tools that combine all your feedback processes: check-ins, employee engagement, performance conversations, 360° feedback, and goal-setting.
People naturally resist change, so you’re more likely to succeed by transition, not transformation. Introduce transformation in a low-impact way.
Remember, the 1% rule will get you better, quicker, stickier results through incremental change rather than New Year’s Resolution-style transformation. The same is true for delivering feedback; it should be light-touch and, often, not reserved for formal performance meetings like quarterly or annual reviews.
Introduce subtle changes to the language used around performance management. Reviews, evaluations, and appraisals become performance conversations. This puts employees in control of their development rather than relying on managers to elevate them.
Managers become more effective. Their role is less administrative and more about coaching employees through self-learning. Weekly check-ins underpin this approach and feed into all your other performance-related conversations.
The best performance management cycles layer different types of feedback. Each cadence is used for different purposes, getting more strategic.
Weekly check-ins celebrate day-to-day successes and unblock challenges. They build trust and encourage self-reflection, a core part of personal development. They also keep employees focused and aligned on goals and help managers understand their people’s performance in real time.
Monthly 1-on-1s become future-focused, not past-obsessed. They build rapport through honest and open communication. Quarterly conversations align fresh OKRs with team objectives. And annual conversations are reflective rather than an information-gathering exercise. Key action points are agreed upon because there are no missing details.
Line managers have the biggest influence on an employee’s engagement, motivation, and performance. They must be competent. They must have the trust of their employees. They must champion their people.
Your managers determine a performance management cycle's success (or failure) based on the everyday performance framework. Managers are responsible for employee feedback quality, quantity, and frequency. They communicate top-level goals downwards.
Determine how each team member’s performance is measured through OKRs and is a filter for 360° feedback. Without their buy-in, quite frankly, you’re destined to fail. Get them trained, motivated, and invested.
When people know what’s expected, they know what needs to be done. Goals keep everyone aligned and heading in the same direction. Set top-level company goals, explain why they have been chosen, and align your employee and team goals. Additionally, measure your people against outcomes and impact, not task-based inputs.
Goals give people autonomy, responsibility, and purpose. They enable people to prioritize their workload, focus on what matters, and understand the contribution they’re making. Goals keep people engaged and motivated and give managers an evidence-based way to see who needs more support and who can be driven.
Performance reviews are a great way to understand performance gaps, but filling them can be tricky. Learn how to effectively put employees on a performance improvement plan and better align them with their goals.
Streamline your performance review process, track goals and objectives, and give your employees the tools to thrive using performance management systems.
Andy Roberts is the CEO and Founder of Weekly10. He created the weekly employee check-in so employees could take control of their personal and professional development, making conversations about goals and performance part of everyday life. That’s what makes Weekly10 different. It’s built for employees, not just HR.
Streamline your performance review process, track goals and objectives, and give your employees the tools to thrive using performance management systems.
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