We’ve all heard the performance review horror stories. The boss that has no idea what his employee does, so he rates him as a mid-performer and moves on with his day. The manager that wants to justify a compensation decision for one of her employees, so she adjusts performance ratings accordingly. The male employee who gets consistently higher performance scores followed by a promotion, more reflective of his history of playing golf with his supervisor than his history of productivity relative to his female peers. Some of us have even lived these horror stories. In fact, this is one of the big arguments coming out of the “get rid of ratings” movement—performance reviews are loaded with non-truths, bias, and potential landmines to the manager-employee relationship. So we just shouldn’t do them.
But we know the flaws in this argument as well. Having accurate knowledge of the performance, strengths, and weaknesses of your workforce is paramount to achieving company goals. Without an understanding of who your top performers are, your decisions around pay, promotions, and job assignments are largely left to the whims of managers who may or may not have the tools they need to appropriately make these decisions. Without a baseline understanding of performance before and after a training initiative, you may be lacking a full understanding of how the millions you’ve invested in training and developing your workforce impacted their activities on the job. An employee’s own knowledge of where he or she stands relative to performance expectations is an important first step in developing and improving. And knowing where the gaps are at a workforce level can help inform workforce planning initiatives that focus on development and workforce growth. Providing concrete performance data to supply these kinds of insights is the major strength of the performance review—in its absence, manager bias, employee misunderstandings of expectations, and inefficiency may replace it. But of course, if the review is based on things other than actual, true employee performance, these benefits quickly fall apart.
We have two options here. First, we can admit defeat, and agree that the dangers of inaccurate performance reviews are too great to risk. But I would encourage companies to explore the second option, which is to provide HR professionals, managers, and employees with the tools they need to ensure that performance reviews accurately assess employee performance. Some level of bias and error in these evaluations may be inevitable, but if we can enable stakeholders to get as close as possible to measuring true employee performance, the impact on well-founded employment and workforce decisions will be enormous.
It starts with a solid understanding of what an employee’s job entails, and knowledge of how to measure against those elements. It’s perpetuated by ongoing, open dialogue between employees and managers in which performance review decisions are discussed, justified, and understood. And HR professionals, managers, and employees all play an active role in ensuring that this happens.
We have put together these short 3-minute videos with simple, actionable tips for how to ensure more accurate performance reviews. If you are an HR professional, please feel free to share these with your company’s employees and managers.
Accurate performance reviews: Simple Tips for HR Professionals
Accurate performance reviews: Simple Tips for Managers
Accurate performance reviews: Simple Tips for Employees
Ongoing discussion around performance is key to having accurate performance reviews that contain no surprises and essentially continue the conversation of where an employee is relative to where they could be. Learn more about our new Continuous Performance Management capabilities here, which provide a solution to support these ongoing discussions.