Let’s All Get on the Same Page about Performance Reviews

August 4, 2015

We all want to do great work. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want to succeed at work. Performance review time is that time when we hope those around us see the value of the work we do and recognize us for doing it. However, those of us involved in reviews have very different views on what’s actually happening during them, depending on whether we’re giving or receiving them. Even though we’re in the same room sometimes!

In our most recent study, we wanted to find out where our differences and similarities lie. So we surveyed 1,933 employees over the age of 21 and learned that 42 percent of respondents’ companies aren’t doing performance reviews at all. Of the other 58 percent, we broke down the results into three categories: employees, management and HR. We wanted to see how they each perceive performance reviews—where there are similarities and differences.

Are performance reviews valuable, necessary and effective?

It’s a little alarming how wide the spread is between the three groups when it comes to how valuable performance reviews are:

· 34 percent of employees find them valuable
· 58 percent of managers find them valuable
· 70 percent of HR finds them valuable

Perhaps employees feel such a disconnect because they don’t get to see the results the reviews have on an organization, like management and HR do.

However, when pinning down how necessary performance reviews are, management and HR see eye-to-eye with a respective 42 percent and 41 percent; however, only 32 percent of employees think so. A small split occurs on performance reviews’ effectiveness: 26 percent of employees think they’re effective; 34 percent of managers think they’re effective; and 42 percent of HR find them effective.

Do performance reviews reflect our true value?

Performance reviews could be more positive if employees were recognized for the value they bring to the company. The problem is that an alarming amount of employees think the performance reviews don’t accurately reflect the value they bring to their companies: 34 percent of employees say their companies don’t do a good job showing it. Even 16 percent of managers don’t feel performance reviews accurately reflect their own value. People leave performance reviews feeling undervalued, and we all know what that does for morale and motivation.

What we’re saying and who’s listening in our performance reviews.

Employees aren’t feeling they can be completely open and honest (only 38 percent say they’re comfortable giving the truth in reviews) and aren’t feeling like they’re heard when they do try to (34 percent of employees don’t feel you’re really listening to them). This may be because over half of employees don’t feel their feedback will remain anonymous. It’s also very possible that part of the reason employees don’t feel they can be open is because only one in five employees regularly see changes occur that comes from their feedback.

On the flip side, HR feels that they’re heard (70 percent), are comfortable being honest in their reviews (65 percent) and trust their feedback to be anonymous (79 percent). And maybe it’s because they’re HR or it’s easier to see suggestions implemented when you’re the implementer, but 64 percent of HR often or always sees changes happen as a result of performance reviews.

Managers stayed right in the middle between employees and HR, although (like HR) they’re probably conducting more performance reviews than they’re receiving. Fifty-eight percent of managers feel they’re heard during performance reviews, 52 percent are comfortable being honest and 68 percent trust their identities are protected. As far as seeing results, managers weigh in right in the middle with 14 percent rarely or never seeing changes occur and 43 percent often seeing changes made as a result of performance reviews.

Simply put, those who feel heard and can be honest during performance reviews are those who see changes come from them. So, we’ve got to get employees comfortable enough to speak openly during performance reviews, and then you need to really listen. We also must work on making changes come about because of that trust and honesty. Because let’s face it, you need your employees to know they can count on you to do something about what they have the courage to say.

Who’s investing the most in performance reviews?

Clearly, HR puts the most time preparing and administering reviews: 54 percent state they spend more than 10 hours every six months dedicated just to performance reviews, while 34 percent of managers and only 7 percent of employees spend more than 10 hours on them. Of course we’re going to put time into places where we see value so it makes sense that HR—who finds them most valuable—will be spending the most time on them.

Who wants feedback in a performance review?

Apparently nobody. Although surprisingly more employees (18 percent) as opposed to management and HR (both at 16 percent) prefer to receive feedback during their scheduled performance reviews. Most employees prefer to receive feedback (by a large margin at 39 percent) in informal one-on-ones with their manager. Management agrees that informal one-on-ones are preferable (36 percent); however, another 31 percent of managers also like to receive feedback as projects are completed. Thirty-nine percent of HR wanted feedback as projects are completed as well.

Should you recognize great work during performance reviews?

Frankly, it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone where you give recognition as long as you’re doing it! However, when asked about it, employees and management say they much prefer monetary recognition (although employees found it most appealing at 39 percent), while everyone prefers being appreciated with a good old-fashioned “thank you” (which consistently hovered around one-fourth of all types of employees).

Do companies ask for suggestions to improve performance reviews?

Half of your employees say yes. However, 70 percent of managers and 86 percent of HR are asked regularly for their ideas on how to improve performance reviews. I can’t help but wonder if the reason companies ask for suggestions from managers and HR is because performance reviews have long since been for helping companies—and not the employees.

However, we all know there’s always room for improvement. Employees’ top criticism is that performance reviews create unnecessary politics. They want to go to work, do a good job and feel valued for their contribution; they don’t want to deal with the drama that performance reviews create. Managers and HR agree that their biggest criticism is that performance reviews create competition instead of collaboration. They want to see their teams working together because they know the value of teamwork, and performance reviews tend to work against that.

We’re all starting to realize that to make performance management work for ALL of us, we need to focus more on helping employees (and all of us are just that—employees). Let’s work together to make performance reviews valuable to all—and it will be a stepping stone for all of to do even better, more productive work!

Jeana Quigley