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5 ways to revamp performance reviews during the pandemic

Employees are facing new stressors. Leaders need new approaches to inspire and fairly measure performance.

5 ways to revamp performance reviews during the pandemic
[Photo: iStock]
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Everyone seems to have an opinion about performance reviews and whether they work. But most employees want feedback, according to a recent survey by employee visibility software company Prodoscore. The survey found that roughly half of respondents don’t find performance reviews helpful in measuring employee performance. On the employee side, two-thirds aren’t excited about participating in the process and about one in three said the process made them feel anxious.

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Now, add in a pandemic where employees are facing additional stressors such as full-time remote work, possible infection, fear, and additional caregiving responsibilities. It can be tough to ensure you’re measuring performance appropriately and keeping employees engaged, says Mike Goldman, founder of Performance Breakthrough, a performance consulting firm.

“There needs to be a performance plan where you’re looking at what did you do a great job of, what are your natural talents and strengths that we need to leverage?” he says. That requires more than just checklists and rankings—especially with all of the mitigating factors the pandemic has introduced.

As you think about how to evaluate your teams during this time, here are five ways you can improve the performance review process in an ongoing way:

Be clear about expectations—in advance

For many people, work has changed. Recognizing exactly how the workplace has shifted and identifying new expectations is the first step in crafting an appropriate pandemic performance review, says Deborah Brouwer, a partner with employment law firm Nemeth Law. “Right now, it’s time to be talking with employees. ‘We’re setting up our performance criteria for the end of the year. Here are the things I’m going to be looking at. What do you think about those goals, those criteria?’ Have conversations now,” she says.

You need to be more interactive with employees now, Brouwer says. Check in more frequently. Be sure you have systems of communication to stay on top of work status and how they’re managing their jobs. But, also be mindful that you’re not creating too many distractions with the additional check-ins. Having a regularly scheduled way to do so will help avoid catching them off guard and time to prepare. This can be an important way to support the performance you want to encourage with the review, she says.

Understand the employee’s situation

Now, more than ever, you need to understand what your employees are dealing with in addition to their work, says Traci Wilk, senior vice president of people at The Learning Experience, a nationwide child-care and education franchise. Wilk has also held HR leadership roles at Starbucks and Coach, among others. She recommends asking employees questions like:

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  • How are you coping?
  • What support do you need?
  • What new responsibilities do you find yourself taking on?
  • What adjustments have you made?
  • What strengths are proving useful now?
  • What are your suggestions on how your work can be done more effectively?

For leaders, those questions help “provide “a bird’s eye view of pockets of organizational effectiveness that may not have that may not be so apparent,” she says. You can see if the employee needs additional flexibility in hours to get work done or if child-care or other issues may be affecting how and when they do their jobs. By starting with the employee’s feelings and challenges, you can get a sense of whether you need to adapt your expectations or goals.

Brouwer issues a caution, however. Tread carefully when asking employees about personal issues. While you want to get a sense of any challenges they’re having, asking too-specific questions about family, medical issues, or other personal matters may violate employment regulations or law. If you’re unsure of what you can ask, consult counsel.

Give specific feedback

This is also a time when specific feedback about performance is important, too, Goldman says. Ongoing, specific feedback about what the employee did well and corrections when needed are the most effective way to build the behaviors you want. In terms of formal evaluation, quarterly sessions are more effective than annual or semi-annual reviews, he says. When you give specifics, both formally and informally, employees are clear about what it takes to excel in the role.

“I’m not just going to tell you, ‘You did a great job in these three areas.’ We’re going to talk about how to leverage those moving forward, maybe set some goals as to how you do that. We’re certainly going to talk about the things that are core to your job, and the skills you need to develop,” he says.

Focus on outcomes

Employees need to know what you value in terms of outcomes and results, Goldman says. When you focus on outcomes—including what will happen if those outcomes are not met—instead of process, you typically give employees more flexibility to exhibit their strengths, he says. “What are the two or three outcomes that you get paid for? Let’s agree on what those outcomes are,” he says. Then, check in, but if the employee is on track to deliver, don’t micromanage the process.

Take off your superhero cape

It’s a challenging time for many people, and when you show that you’re not immune to that, you build rapport and trust, Goldman says. “We feel as coaches, as leaders, we’ve got to put our superhero cape on and be perfect and strong. We’re getting through this fine,” he says. But when you don’t show vulnerability, your employees may not be comfortable being honest with their struggles.

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“If someone is really overwhelmed by what’s going on [or] going through some level of depression or stress or frustration or whatever it is, as a leader, we need to hear what’s really going on, so that we can help them through it,” he says. So, be honest about your own challenges to foster a sense of safety and trust, he says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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