WorkTango’s Ultimate Guide to Employee Performance Reviews

WorkTango’s Ultimate Guide to Employee Performance Reviews

Table of Contents

As today’s top workplaces become more open, engaging, and employee-focused than ever before, companies are evolving past old-school approaches to employee performance reviews — and with good reason.

The traditional annual performance review — a historical snapshot of the employee’s performance in the last year — is a model with great intentions. But it belongs to an old company-first regime of performance management. Today we know that adopting an Employee Success model yields far better results.

Studies show that employees who engage in real-time coaching conversations are up to 67% more likely to feel their performance reviews lead to better work, as compared to those who only receive annual reviews. That’s why we suggest a rhythm of weekly 1-on-1 Sync-Ups and quarterly performance Check-Ins.

So, as we continue to evolve the way we think about performance reviews- or Check-Ins, we’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we want to teach you how to keep the best, leave the rest, and harness the power of continuous Employee Success practices for your organization.

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What is a performance review?

Fundamentally, a performance review or Check-In is an opportunity to evaluate a person’s success in the context of:

  • Progress towards agreed-upon goals.
  • Working styles and efficiencies, such as time management and communication skills.
  • Workplace conduct, such as attendance, productivity, and how the person handles setbacks.
  • Growth opportunities, both skill-based and about the person’s short and long-term career goals.

Types of employee performance reviews

In the past, traditional performance reviews consisted mostly of a manager’s annual evaluation of their employee’s work. And though top-down feedback is certainly part of the equation, one-sided conversations can make people feel judged, silenced, and ultimately, disengaged. And the cost of disengagement? Well, it may be higher than businesses think:

the costs of disengaged employees to account for in your employee performance reviews

Modern HR practices encourage organizations to improve the experience by getting a better sense of the whole picture using multi-directional feedback (aka, feedback from all levels of the organization). Here are a few review styles you can incorporate to create a more holistic performance Check-In process.

1. Self-evaluation

As Socrates said, “Know thyself” — nobody does it better. In self-evaluations, people have the opportunity to reflect on their own strengths, weaknesses, and progress toward goals. Making space for self-evaluations communicates to employees that their voice is valued while instilling a sense of agency and ownership in their own success.

Worth noting: Failure to hold performance conversations between reviews creates a disconnect. That’s why you need weekly Sync-Ups. Often, employees and managers have entirely different views of why an individual is succeeding or struggling in their role. If leaders and direct reports are communicating regularly, self-evaluations should be more closely aligned with reviews from a manager. After all, if there’s one thing that does not belong in employee performance Check-Ins, it’s a surprise.

2. Peer-to-peer feedback

Review anxiety often plagued the old formal evaluation process. But WorkTango’s research shows that companies can drastically reduce such dread by incorporating peer-to-peer feedback into their Check-Ins.

Not convinced? When surveyed, only 18% of individuals at organizations with peer reviews report review-related anxiety. For companies that don’t opt for peer-to-peer feedback, that number doubles to 36%. Gathering peer insight doesn’t have to be complicated. WorkTango’s Goals & Feedback solution allows any person to request feedback from anyone in the organization, any time. 

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3. Employee-to-manager (or leader) feedback

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Organizations get the most out of performance reviews when feedback flows in all directions. Yes, that means inviting employee feedback even on your leadership team. Upward reviews not only help identify and correct managerial blind spots, but they give employees a much-needed voice in the review process. Our Surveys & Insights solution allows managers and leaders to get a snapshot of their own performance by regularly pulsing their teams or the organization. Goals & Feedback provides a way for them to get any individual’s specific feedback– instantly.  Recognition & Rewards provide a forum for all levels to publicly acknowledge or receive appreciative performance reviews.

If you’re looking to incorporate upward feedback into your reviews, psychological safety is a MUST. At the bare minimum, this means:

  • Employees must feel their feedback will not be used against them
  • Managers need to react to feedback in a way that encourages honesty and authentic criticism moving forward

Learn how to give feedback with WorkTango →

How often should companies conduct performance reviews?

The numbers don’t lie: annual reviews are out, and quarterly Check-Ins are in. After all, the pitfalls of a yearly evaluation — poor timeliness, increased anxiety, relevance, specificity, and usefulness — are solved when organizations prioritize a more-regular performance Check-In schedule.

We’ve already covered the benefits of setting quarterly goals, but the act of goal setting is only as powerful as the performance review process that goes along with it. If organizations truly want to maximize the ROI of their employee appraisals, they need to supplement quarterly Check-Ins with real-time coaching, constantly-available feedback, and regular Sync-Ups.

This holistic approach to Goals & Feedback allows managers to touch base with employees, address their needs in real-time, and optimize performance in response to the changing day-to-day landscape of a workplace. Bonus points? Ongoing performance conversations take the panic out of formal reviews, especially when managers need to address a negative performance issue.

“Carrying an issue without resolution is like carrying debt,” the Harvard Business Review says of difficult-but-important conversations. “The longer you wait, the more interest you’ll pay in anxiety and dread.” And people steeped in anxiety and dread are people looking for other jobs.

Learn more in our article, Annual Performance Reviews Don’t Work: Here’s What to Do Instead.

How to conduct a performance review

Like all crucial conversations, it’s best to go in with a game plan. Here are some things to focus on when writing and conduction performance Check-Ins:

Before the review

Revisit feedback from the previous Check-Ins. Managers should consider the following employee success questions before giving an evaluation:

  • What progress has been made since this person’s last Check-In?
  • Were goals met or missed, and why?
  • How has this person been successfully? How can they improve?
  • If available, what useful feedback have team members provided that can add context to the Check-In?
  • What should the person focus on moving forward, based on the previous and current evaluation?

During the review

Put the person at ease. Ask how they’re doing, and make sure this meeting is at an okay time for them to avoid stress and distraction.

Be as clear as possible. Your team members should have absolute clarity on how they’re excelling, and what needs improvement.

Use concrete examples. Sharpen vague notes like, “Please work on meeting deadlines” with discrete, real-life evidence: “When you realized you wouldn’t be able to hit deliverable X last week, you proactively reached out to me, and we were able to refocus your priorities, so you met the deadline. That was fantastic. How can I help you keep that going?”

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If an employee needs constructive feedback, consider using a (PIP). A performance improvement plan (PIP) is reserved for extreme cases, but it’s helpful for getting a person back on track. Performance improvement plans should not be used as a pink slip — instead, they should be treated as a tool to help lift a struggling employee back to the status of a reliable contributor.

Set expectations. What actions can you and the employee take based on this conversation? What new expectations do you have? Be sure to put any agreed-upon goals in the Goals& Feedback platform to keep both parties accountable. (And don’t forget to heap on Recognition & Rewards when they succeed.) See how WorkTango makes it easy.

After the review

Keep the conversation going. Performance reviews should encourage employees and managers to learn from the past and pave the way for how they’ll work together in the future. After each Check-In, it’s typical for managers to set new goals with their employees and to move both the individual and the organization forward. And the best way to do that? You guessed it, regular feedback and real-time coaching.

NEW: How to remove bias from employee performance reviews

88% of business leaders feel the time they put into employee reviews serves no real purpose — and if bias is steering the ship, they may be correct. Performance reviews are notoriously prone to bias. By shifting from an annual process to a continuous Employee Success program, you reduce the influence of recency bias in reviews. But even the best manager isn’t immune to personal bias. So as long as an employee’s review depends upon a single person, you’re still not getting the full story.

Enter the 9-box talent review.

Talent reviews are conversations that take place before the employee performance review. They occur between management, leadership, and HR about the employee, their performance, and their potential.

This is integral to removing bias from the process in a number of ways:

  • More voices = more objectivity. The manager’s opinion of the employee becomes one of many, rather than the sole judge and jury.
  • Increased accountability. When using the 9-box tool for talent review, the manager is encouraged to justify to the group how they scored the employee on two axes, performance and potential.
  • Calibration across the company. With all managers using the same tools and same process to assess their employees, every employee is reviewed on a level playing field.

New to talent reviews? Read our article:
Why Talent Review is Key for Unbiased Performance Reviews

Performance review tips for employees and managers

Still not-quite-confident about giving or receiving performance feedback? Keep calm and carry on with these tips for both employees and managers.

For employees

Encourage employees to think about what they want to get out of the performance Check-In. Ask them to prepare questions and ideas ahead of time. Especially if they’re interested in developing their careers, it’s important for them to understand how valuable this 1-on-1 time with their manager really is — and to make the most of it.

To help employees throughout the quarter, keep notes on what they accomplished and the progress they’ve made toward their goals. Use WorkTango’ s Sync-Up or Check-In templates to document achievements and challenges for reference.

Don’t let dread drag employees down. If a negative performance issue is on their mind, it’s best to nip that anxiety in the bud by promoting real time performance conversations.— They’ll appreciate a culture of continuous feedback when they know they can ask for constructive guidance as a learning and development opportunity. Their success is the point.


For managers

When possible, meet in person. WorkTango’s research shows 69% of employees prefer face-to-face Check-Ins, versus feedback that comes via email, written reports, or instant messenger. (Pro tip: If you’re giving a performance review over Slack, you’re doing it wrong.)

Be specific. Keep detailed notes throughout the quarter with examples of employees’ successes and challenges. Additionally, make sure to review your notes from the last Check-In to remind yourself where the person was before and how they’ve grown since.

Get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t let tough news dissuade you from providing actionable feedback that can help people your direct reports grow personally and professionally.

Seek feedback on your own performance. No one can tell you how you’re performing as a manager like the people you manage. Request feedback regularly ( it’s a click away in the Goals & Feedback solution) and receive it honestly and openly.

Keep your eye on the big picture. The person you’re reviewing is a growing, evolving professional being — contextualize feedback in terms of their short-term and long-term career development.

Ready to streamline your company’s performance review process?

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