Workplace Culture

Avoid putting performance reviews on temporary hiatus

By Rick Bell

Apr. 7, 2020

I wish I could tell you that quarterly performance reviews with my internal staff went off without a hitch.performance review, performance appraisal

I’d love to brag that everyone is on task, on point, performing above expectations and focused on the goals for the next three months and beyond. I want to spread all this good news far and wide as we head into Q2 2020.

Unfortunately, I can’t.

There were no Q1 performance reviews in my department. We did not gather for our quarterly appraisal, which we actually call a check-in and not a performance review.

As with so many things these days both at work and at home, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted our conventional workplace processes. Among the casualties were the quarterly staff check-ins and performance reviews.

Rick Bell WorkforceI will be the first to say that’s not fair. Employees deserve their evals.

Good or bad — and since our staff excels at their work, our appraisals are overwhelmingly positive — check-ins are an opportunity to put the office distractions aside and catch up on work. Yes, I have daily chats and drive-by meetings with staff members as well as frequent conversations throughout the week. Still,  what I’m seeing and hearing isn’t necessarily what a staff member may see, think or feel. The quarterlies are a great opportunity for both sides to recalibrate.

We save the term “performance review” for our annual appraisal. To be honest, the annual review is not radically different from our quarterly confabs. They often run a full hour or more, and we do a deeper dive into the past year’s accomplishments and examine goals and expectations for the coming 12 months. We also use a brief five-item, single-sided paper questionnaire during the annual performance review, which is signed and dated by the employee and supervisor and placed in the worker’s personnel file.

I know what you are thinking: a paper form for a performance appraisal! Yes, the horror. I’m sure a simple paper-based performance review may seem tremendously archaic to many of you progressives touting your HR management job appraisal tools. For the record, we do not fax it back and forth to one another.

But why make a performance review any more complex than it needs to be? It is well documented that neither management nor employee relishes the performance review process. The perceived value of traditional performance reviews remains a hot HR topic that reaches the C-suite.

In my book, the performance review has immense value and remains an important tool to assess an employee’s ongoing performance. In our workplace, an annual review is typically tied to a compensation increase, and it can also serve as a benchmark for disciplinary action.

But again, the annual appraisal is a benchmark. Appraisals should be constant, continuous and consistent. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

I firmly disagree with the notion that annual performance appraisals are lackadaisical and don’t work. I do agree with employees needing ongoing communication with team leaders and managers. And no, that’s not a millennial trait!

Call your continuous process a 360-degree feedback, apply psychological appraisals or implement the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale. Accurately and fairly assessing your employees comes down to your ability to continuously communicate with your team. Ask yourself, are these tools truly helping you evaluate your employees or are they a crutch so you don’t have to regularly deal with your staff?

I admit it. I miss things. Our check-ins and annual performance reviews provide defined times to talk through concerns and issues.

This year, however … well, a lot has changed since early February. The coronavirus pandemic has separated us far and wide. We are largely working remotely to adhere to social distancing and stave off unnecessary gatherings.

While few things are normal these days, it’s still possible to maintain our check-ins and performance reviews. That will take discipline on my part along with strong, consistent internal communication.

We have a wide range of communication tools available. Driving employee performance is a challenge with so many distractions.

Yet we can still do our check-ins and performance reviews. Communication doesn’t come as organically when we work remotely so our individual and small-group meetings need to be prioritized. It’s a chance to re-set expectations and make employees feel heard and valued.

As we enter Q2 2020 and a vastly different workplace landscape, going back to the basics is a good thing.

It’s time to schedule some quarterly check-ins. I’ve put it off for too long.

A great way to motivate your staff is through ongoing communication and keeping them involved. Utilize the tools available to help employees improve their performance. Remember, front-line staff are the first to experience potential problems. Let them be part of the solution through feedback. has a tool that can help improve your process on exactly that. Learn more about our Shift Feedback feature today. Don’t put it off.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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