Sometimes it can feel like we’re forced to choose; between a tightly managed stack and rank annual review system, or thoughtful in-the-moment feedback from manager coaches. Popular headlines are often about “Dropping the Performance Review” in favor of feedback, or “Why X Company is Going Back to Performance Reviews.”
The reality is that most organizations choose to land somewhere in the middle. HR finds ways to provide the right amount of structure to achieve the organization’s goals, while still giving managers and employees the flexibility to engage in one-to-one feedback.
With this in mind we asked 4 practicing HR influencers, from 4 very different organizations, to tell us how they think about structure and flexibility when setting up a performance management program.
Nicole A. Roberts, SHRM-CP, PHR
Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals
It depends on your culture and needs. It’s not so much the structure as it is the comfort level of the people delivering the feedback and the utilization of the tools available that makes the difference. Prior to implementing any new system or tool, talk to your managers and find out what they are currently doing, and what is a pain point for them. If your shiny new system or process can address a pain point, that’s a win for everyone. What works for one organization may not work for another. No system will solve world peace – or even organizational peace, so have realistic expectations. Any new system or tool must be accessible, easy to use, and be perceived to make the manager’s job easier – not harder. HR can’t be the sole driver of the process. Your most influential people can be your greatest adopters and champions of your system if you utilize them as your pilot testers. Then HR isn’t telling others about this great new tool we love. Of course we love it, we’re HR. This is cool to us. If other managers love it, tell their peers, and adoption spreads, you will have more guaranteed long-term utilization.
Nicole is currently holding down her dream job, combining her love of animals and passion for HR, as Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, a family of more than 30 emergency and specialty veterinary practices with locations across the country. Drawing upon more than 14 years of proven experience throughout Human Resources, specifically in the manufacturing, telecommunications, and veterinary medicine industries, Nicole has a proven record of establishing HR as a vital business partner with an earned reputation as an intuitive, wide-ranging HR Generalist. Nicole is a proud member of the SHRM A-Team, and she is on the Board of her local SHRM Chapter, GCHRA. Nicole has a blog, HR Without Ego, where her faithful sidekick, Maximus the Minimus – her 10 lb Shih Tzu serves as mascot.
Keith Biggs, MBA, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
Senior HR Business Partner at Otak Inc.
I recently joined a firm that is implementing a formal performance review system. It’s given me a great chance to reflect on the best way to give feedback.
As large corporations like GE, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix have ditched their annual performance reviews for a more fluid system, many HR professionals have been wondering whether unstructured feedback systems will result in decreased performance. How do we decide annual pay increases without a stack and rank system?
I prefer a performance management program that is a little of both structured and unstructured feedback. I suggest that managers have a casual goal-setting discussion once a quarter, with biweekly or monthly casual conversations. Then once a year, they can evaluate the year and progress toward goals. I’ve found that most employees still want a structured review, just not all the time.
This structure gives employees an opportunity to manage their time and create their own goals. Knowing they have an annual structured review helps motivate them to meet their goals.
This system provides the right balance of unstructured and structured feedback and has allowed our firm to grow and become more consistent while preparing for the future.
Keith works at Otak Inc., an architecture and civil engineering design firm that is headquartered in Portland, OR where he is a senior HR business partner. Keith obtained his bachelor’s degree at Portland State University and his MBA from the University of Phoenix. Keith is recognized as a leader in the HR industry and participates in the Portland Human Resources Management Society and SHRM and has SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications.
Craig H. Frazier
Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies
Having a structured program in place to cover all the bases doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still engage in ongoing informal feedback. It is easy to fall into a trap of either setting up too many structured meetings that it becomes unrealistic or going the other way and making it so informal that nothing gets done. Having a baseline of structured meetings that incorporate ongoing informal feedback can be a good balance and creates a realistic expectation that both sides can manage.
Getting the managers on the same page early on and communicating the expectation for the performance review program and its delivery is key.
I would recommend just maintaining a good balance and defining the expectation for both managers and employees up front so that the process and delivery is consistent between departments and across the organization.
Craig Frazier is a lucky husband, proud dad, culture leader and small business advocate and works as the Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies. @craig_frazier
VP of Human Resources for Berner Food & Beverage
It is important to understand that a formal system is used for a certain purposes and frequent coaching is useful for other purposes. Sure there is a link but when you consider the reasons for both you will see that we are talking apples and oranges. A formal process is usually used to document and justify annual merit increases, satisfy some arcane need rank everyone and/or to continue a process that the ownership feels is how things should be done “because we’ve always done it that way” (yeah….that last one is fun). Frequent coaching feedback sessions are for improving the employee’s performance, growth, goals and engagement. We easily see which of those things are more impactful to both the employee and the organization, but reality is that most of the companies in this country are stuck in doing some type of formalized review process.
One creative way to accomplish both is to design your formal system that summarizes the frequent coaching sessions. If you have quarterly coaching sessions, the “annual” review form could be used to just summarize those coaching sessions. So rather than ranking on the five or ten qualities that represent performance, you can grade employees on progress toward their goals or just categorize them into groupings as needed. Be creative. It may not look like the old standard review form, but it can satisfy the need for both performance management concepts.
Ed Wood has been active in Human Resources for over 30 years. After receiving his degree from the University of Wisconsin Ed began his career as an officer in the U.S. Army. Over the years, he has held several positions in Human Resources in a variety of industries including manufacturing, hospitality, and media. With over 30+ years of a wide variety of HR and operational experience in numerous industries, I have found that regardless of the company or industry, it still comes down to leadership and people.