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Phasing Out Annual Performance Reviews

Is the jury really still out on the merits of the traditional annual review? Is your organization still doing this? We know it doesn’t add value, right?

Managers and subordinates alike find annual performance reviews stressful, time-consuming and apparently, counterproductive. The notion that performance should be managed continuously and not just reviewed once a year has been around for some time, yet it is still met with resistance. Are we still stuck doing the annual appraisal because we don’t want to change, we don’t know “how” to do it differently, or our managers don’t want to be faced with uncomfortable conversations?

As a manager, you need to communicate continuously with your employees, so why not structure these interactions to drive performance.

Lance Secretan distinguishes between two forms of ongoing communication, or as he puts it, “checking in.” One is regular, planned discussions, usually about sixty to ninety minutes long, and the other, focused feedback. Focused feedback can be any time, is ongoing and happens as needed. Both of these check-ins center around organizational goals, so the natural first step is to clarify goals and establish expectations. It is essential to agree upon the deliverables, behavior and contributions expected at the beginning of the year. These provide the structure for the regular, planned discussions. Revisit objectives throughout the year and keep employees informed if goals are adjusted.

Regular, Planned Discussions

Focused Feedback

  • Inform employees about their performance.
  • Allows them to plan actionable goals in terms of modification, learning, experience and driving their career forward.
  • Continuous focused two-way feedback ensures that team members know how they are progressing toward meeting expectations.
  • These conversations help identify tools that could improve performance results and/or highlight interferences that may need to be addressed on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

All of this sounds great, but to successfully conduct these conversations, we need the following:

  • Honesty

    Honest, yet compassionate feedback builds strong teams.

  • Trust and Safety

    Employees need to feel safe to communicate problems as soon as they arise. Research among 51,896 managers showed a strong correlation between a tendency to seek feedback and leadership effectiveness. Asking for feedback, listening and being fully engaged when an employee provides feedback or discusses problems, builds trust and encourages transparency. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Ed Batista quotes neurologist Judy Willis on the correlation between positive emotion and performance, “safety, trust, understanding colleagues as individuals, and sharing emotions, provide a safe culture that can handle both positive and corrective feedback, and is conducive to higher levels of performance.”

  • Solution-Oriented Collaboration

    Be aware that to point out a problem is hardly ever constructive; struggling employees usually know that there is a problem. Acknowledge the problem and investigate causes and possible solutions in collaboration with the employee or team.

  • Morale

    Sarah Green Carmichael suggests that star performers need tender loving care after messing up. Extra affirmation of their value to the company and a short break from work can rebuild self-esteem after they have bungled. Do not allow them to redefine themselves in terms of their mistake(s).

  • Your Self-Esteem

    Do not withhold corrective feedback. According to a research study led by Carla Jefferies, we usually withhold corrective feedback to protect ourselves. We often don’t realize that we are afraid and lack the self-esteem and/or communication skills to give corrective feedback. According to a research study among 900 global employees, 57% agreed that they appreciate corrective feedback.

  • Praise Effort, Not Ability

    Recognizing effort and contributions build determination and resilience.


Higher levels of consistent communication and transparent feedback among all report levels will support a culture of trust, learning and striving for excellence, making the anxiety-provoking annual performance review obsolete. Try this; it may not be so time-consuming after all; you may even find that, at last, you are managing performance effectively.

Want to know more about this topic? Check out the recent Fast Company article featuring OneDigital HR Expert Anne Gilson on the 5 Common Worst Practices Bosses Need to Abandon Now.


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