It’s the first quarter of the calendar year. And for many, that means getting back to old traditions: shaking off the winter vacation and returning to the office. But not this year, not with so many still at home. And yet, one thing remains the same: the annual performance review is coming. And it’s as unpopular as ever.
Some companies have opted to change how they do their employee reviews: replacing live one-on-one check-ins with Zoom meetings, or removing ratings to keep employees from feeling further pressure.
But even as the world changes, the performance management process remains intrinsically tied to the idea of a one- or two-time review that many organizations are struggling to adapt. And, yet, employees want feedback more than ever, especially the newer generations.
Getting Started With Continuous Performance Management
As we move past January, into our first year in the post-COVID world, organizations will see the folly of one-time annual performance reviews and kickstart the trend of continuous performance management.
And once that trend starts, it’ll spread rapidly. Companies like Accenture are already ditching annual reviews and looking forward. Because continuous performance management is not just what your employees, team members, and managers crave, it’s what your business needs.
What Are “Talent Pipelines”?
When I work with HR professionals in the talent space (mainly in Learning & Development), we talk at length about “talent pipelines”. The purpose of a talent pipeline is to figure out who is ready to fill crucial leadership and skill gaps.
For some, it’s hard to know where to even start. Others rely on the data they’re given: a hodgepodge of subjective inputs from the latest annual review process. And with that, they are asked how to deliver the right training, mentorship, or challenges to the right employees in their organization.
If you can’t tell, this isn’t easy for a centralized human resources function which may be far away from frontline managers. This puts the large, high-level talent pipeline strategy at risk.
The Cycle Of Continuous Performance Management
The talent pipeline strategy is a risk for HR teams, but the change to a continuous performance management system starts at the manager level. I’ll say that more clearly: the foundation of a successful continuous performance management strategy is with managers.
And, more specifically, usually at the manager check-in process. Whether it’s a 1-on-1 meeting or a small team meeting in a sprint, this is the baseline.
It’s the closest vehicle for each employee to hear the most vital feedback and the regular check-in is the best opportunity to start. If you’re already doing this at a cadence, it’s a set framework for constant and recurring employee performance evaluation.
As a manager, changing the structure of frequent check-ins to deliver feedback may seem like a move your direct reports aren’t ready for. You may already have your systems set up. But I promised you that your employees are not just ready, they’re hungry for feedback.
The Continuous Performance Management Process
The process, like so many other moving things, needs fuel. The fuel in this process is feedback.
The best lesson I’ve gotten in my own career is that feedback is a gift. Literally, it’s something given to you, even if it’s not always the most pleasant.
In order to get feedback though, someone else had to do the work. Sometimes that work is lazy (“this could have been better”). But sometimes it’s dynamic, timely, and transformative—and the only way to make it that way is to actually deliver it (or request that it be delivered).
Where Should Feedback Come From?
If you’re a manager, feedback for your team doesn’t have to come from you. In fact, the more places it comes from the better. Have your team get feedback from customers, internal stakeholders, or, even better, those that can deliver that feedback “upward” (meaning they may be lower in the organizational chart) to create a feedback loop in which your employees are constantly getting feedback..
The potential of true 360-degree, real-time feedback for employees is the master key to employee development. It has to happen for someone to progress and know they’re progressing. Humans need to see progress or accomplishment to acknowledge it’s happened, it’s just how we’re built.
And for decades, we’ve wanted for our annual reviews to deliver that kind of diagnostic. But the world is moving too fast to be waiting 364 days for the next review. Feedback needs to be timely, helpful, multi-faceted, diverse, and much more.
Building a culture of continuous performance management—where folks are measured and measuring, goal-setting, and focused on excellence—gives teams the power to deliver feedback as they see it.
The value of this has been apparent at my time at LinkedIn, where one corporate value is “be open, honest, and constructive”. We are asked to deliver feedback and when we evaluate ourselves and our peers, we keep this mantra in mind.
Continuous Performance Management Best Practices
Companies and thought leaders are already sharing the steps they’re taking to get started with ongoing talent management. Here are some best practices.
Using OKRs As Part Of Your Performance Management Strategy
Objectives and key results (OKRs) is just one framework that’s been popularized in the corporate world of the 21st century. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve asked everyone I’ve managed to do the same.
The reason? It provides a tactical and metrics-driven set of goals that we’re all working toward. And that’s very helpful at the end of a quarter, half, or year for an employee’s performance appraisal. But its real value is in the weeks and months leading up to it.
Because key results provide an expected output, it gives a framed goal line to work toward. You can coach on achievement, tactical progress, and clearing the way of obstacles. And as you do that repeatedly over your one-on-one meetings, you can deliver the kind of feedback that makes those key results achievable.
This goes into the growing idea of shifting your team toward individual achievement that rolls into team results. This is the difference between saying you want your team to have a great quarter and saying you want each individual to hit three of their own, self-made key results.
If you want any help on building OKRs for yourself or your team, you can visit the Measure What Matters site, led by the creator of OKRs himself. There are great examples for employees and managers alike.
Leveraging Data In The Early Era Of People Analytics
Deloitte wrote in 2017 that the new deluge of performance-related data would change employee reviews and that’s already beginning. The rise of KPI and OKR tracking has seen employers ask knowledge workers to set their own goals and grade against those metrics.
Employee survey tools are on the rise, too, to gather qualitative feedback. But this is just phase 1 of performance data. The future holds benchmarks on hitting defined KPIs, growth against previous production and, eventually, a real-time look into skill competency.
The further we push into skills and service economy, the more diverse goals will get across an organization, and the more we’ll want consistent and comprehensive employee data.
The question is: how will you adapt as data continues to pour in?
Ultimately, the data is there for leaders to be better coaches, stewards, and drive top-down excellence. But many are still figuring out how to do this. Even today, as we look at qualitative employee sentiment data, managers struggle to re-steer their small ships.
In the employee engagement space, survey companies like Glint and CultureAmp are using smarter metrics than ever to uncover deep insights into what employees are feeling to help managers more tactically. The sooner they connect their results to company bottom lines, the sooner this data becomes a corporate gold rush.
In the learning and development space, algorithms are already powering specific and individualized learning paths, with better and better tests to infer a learner’s immediate knowledge transfer. This is the next step toward empowering wide cultures of learning and the benefits therein.
Kickstarting Your Continuous Performance Management Process Today
As author Zig Ziglar once said, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.”
Employee retention is a wonderful thing, almost universally desired amongst the best organizations. But holding on to wasted talent is dead weight. And the talent world is changing too fast—and getting too competitive—to hold dead weight.
COVID has moved millions of people to and from different jobs, hyper-accelerating the trend of knowledge workers changing companies faster than ever. But COVID has also changed internal traditions like the performance management process.
Take this time of reinvention and settle into the positive changes for the long-term. If you only do an annual appraisal of your team once or twice a year, consider how you can track performance more regularly.
And if you can do that, you can coach, give feedback, and manage performance continuously. It’s not an easy change but it’s the most effective thing you can do as a people leader right now.