By: Helios on January 16th, 2015

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3 Easy Steps to Fix Common Performance Review Problems

Total Rewards | Best Practices | Employee Relations

Performance reviews often get such a bad rap – and yet, we HR Professionals know how critical they are in terms of managing organizational effectiveness.  At Helios, we work with many of our clients to revise their performance review process and we’ve learned many lessons along the way. With these 3 easy adjustments, you can start improving your performance review process today.

1.) Ratings Matter, Choose Them Carefully!

One thing we often find when working with new clients is that ratings are chosen with little thought to organizational competencies and values.  And then they’re reused year after year with no thought given to the results.  As a best practice, your company should review both the criteria and the ratings scale on an annual basis to make sure that it’s relevant.  Here a few ways to tweak ratings for maximum impact:

  • Make your criteria company specific and situational. Most reviews focus on job competencies and then organizational competencies.  You want to know how the employee performs their individual work and also how they function within the larger company.  But companies evolve and the criteria should as well.  Let’s say that the organization has been rebranded.  Performance criteria should focus on how employees are adapting to and hopefully championing these efforts.  If the company has experienced a financial downtown, the performance criteria and especially the go forward goals should focus on the kind of behavior needed to right the ship.
  • Rating scales can be flexible! Just because you established a five point scale years ago, doesn’t mean that you have to use it in perpetuity!  One very common problem we see with performance ratings is a tendency on the part of managers to rate everyone at the median or higher.  Some companies enforce performance curves to help address these ratings errors but that process can be complicated and controversial.  One simple way to make the ratings more meaningful is to add a sixth category or go down to just four categories.  Without a central number, managers will have to be more discerning.

2.) Train Your Managers

As HR Professionals, we are old hand at understanding and completing performance reviews.  We know all the ins and outs and we’re adept at expressing appropriate feedback.  But you cannot make the same assumption about your managers.  While performance management is an essential function of their job, they need your help in order to make the performance review process effective.  Training is especially critical any time you’re changing your process.  Ideally, the training should be interactive and memorable so a 30 minute meeting where you simply read the new review form is not sufficient.  Let’s say that you want your managers to be better at differentiating between performance levels.  You could create fake employee files for employees at all different performance levels and use the made up profiles to help managers understand the difference between someone who frequently exceeds expectations and someone whose performance simply meets expectations.  If your managers need to understand appropriate feedback, give them a list of phrases to use and have them act out a conversation.  Better yet, find real life situations or case studies where performance feedback created legal risk for the organization and explain why it happened – this technique is sure to be memorable.

3.) Use Technology Wisely

Today’s marketplace has abundant options available for those who want to automate performance reviews through software or cloud based technology.  But keep in mind your workforce profile before you make these decisions.  While technology can save time, it’s not right in every environment.  Performance Management software works best when you have a computer literate employee population with frequent access to individual computer work stations.  Don’t be afraid to stick with the paper form if it makes sense for your workplace.  Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to invest in a software package in order to utilize technology.  GoogleDocs can be a great and free tool to use for performance management as it’s easily accessible and can be password secured.  As a bonus, it even integrates with a calendar function so you can send out automated reminders of important due dates.

In the end, you should keep in mind that the most important part of any performance review process is the conversation.  Whatever format or rating scale your company uses is really just a prompt to make sure that employees and managers have frank dialogue about achievements and challenges.