Performance reviews fail to address their goal of growing a workforce’s performance. As we move away from Industrial Revolution-era ways into a new wave of work, many are realizing that the old tools don’t cut it any longer.

Employees are not resources, they are people. Click To Tweet

The old processes — lengthy, anxiety-provoking, developmentally weak, and siloed — misalign with innate human motivation. Knowing what doesn’t work is helpful for understanding what not to do.

What is the best strategy for performance reviews, then? We’ll explain, by using a common literary device — the protagonist. And who is the protagonist in the performance review tale? The employee.

1. Evaluate the Whole Employee

Employees are often compared to business-centric categories during review processes, but sometimes the talent or intangible value they add doesn’t fit into a category. Employees are not resources; they are people. People are complex beings – they have preferences, things that affect their productivity, things that hurt their feelings, rewards that motivate them, and goals they wish for themselves.

People are complex beings – they have preferences, things that affect their productivity, things that hurt their feelings, rewards that motivate them, and goals that they wish for themselves.

Their work is even more complex – their work does not happen alone. They help others, coach their colleagues, offer advice, and try to find their role within a team setting, regardless of their personality.

For example, some employees might not be the most efficient at their jobs because they spend time helping and coaching others. If that person is always helping the team but maybe coming up last in their sales goals, maybe they need to develop time management skills, but they also need to be recognized for their collaboration aptitude.

Employees want to be seen for their work and value. Click To Tweet

The value they are adding should be highlighted within a performance review, preparing them to sharpen their already-strong skill set, while beginning to tackle their weaker skill set. People want to be seen for their work and value. If performance reviews aim to motivate people, start seeing them for all they offer. Outline how they can be better coupled with a plan of action, while still recognizing all the skills they already bring to the table.

2. Take Learning Styles Into Consideration

People do not all learn in the same way. Assessments should encompass how people learn in order to extract the whole picture. Thus, it is best to eliminate learning curves that are easily mitigated by style.

Train management to ask employees how they prefer to learn and coach them in a way that aligns with their preference.

Learning styles have been made famous by self-tests and science-backed exams, but the process can be much more simple: Train management to ask employees how they prefer to learn and coach them in a way that aligns with their preference.

Some of the most common categories are: visual (learn through seeing), auditory (learn through hearing), kinesthetic/experiential (learn through doing and moving), and verbal (through reading). When people learn in a way that comes most easy to them, they are more likely to be open to the challenge.

When it comes to tough conversations around areas of development, prescriptive advice should align with the employee’s learning needs. Trainings were historically a one-size-fits-all model, but now with technology, managers can give employees a personalized assignment: take a class, shadow someone, listen to a podcast, read a book, write a document, or try the challenge in a stretch assignment. People innately want to learn, but making them feel like it is forced is sure to derail progress.

3. Build Trust and Dialogue

Building employee trust is one of the most difficult issues organizations face. Lack of trust plagues organizations with a disconnect from leadership and employees on the front lines. It hinders everyone’s ability to learn and develop in an authentic manner.
 
“Neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public. Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, so others can learn from them,” Paul J. Zak writes.

Lack of trust plagues organizations with a disconnect from leadership and employees on the front lines and hinders everyone’s ability to learn and develop in an authentic manner.

If companies want to build trust, it is key to create an environment where management and individual contributors alike recognize their colleagues and reports to highlight good behaviors. Moreover, this process ensures development happens in real time, is rewarded in real time, and the learning happens naturally through observation and praise.

4. Create Inspiration and Motivates

Performance reviews have a single business objective: increase performance. In order to do so, we should understand what motivates people to work. Daniel Pink, one of the most famous authors on the topic of human motivation at work, outlines what truly drives people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy

It is key to address the underlying motivators of wanting to feel autonomous – it is not uncommon to hear people say that being ‘micromanaged” is one of the worst feelings at work. It hinders creative ability, concentration, and feelings of self-confidence. The role of a performance review should enable employees to voice their feedback, safely evaluate management styles, and reflect on their current and ideal work styles.

Mastery

People want to better themselves. It is no coincidence that the self-help industry is approximately $10 billion in the US alone – people want to feel as if they are growing at work, and increasing a skill set to keep them desirable to organizations.

In order to do this, performance review programs should combine the skills employees want to increase, how these skills impact the organization, and ensure there is opportunity for the employee to succeed at achieving the desired skills. Google and Atlassian offer a great example with programs that reward employees with time to work on passion projects that align with skills the employee wishes to develop.

Purpose

Purpose is one of the most overlooked, yet crucial components of human motivation. People want to feel as if they are part of something bigger and better. Harvard Business School professor George Serafeim explains that high purpose-focused organizations not only have well-aligned employees, but outperform organizations that ignore the importance of purpose.

This does not mean they need to be addressing environmental or human rights issues, but people do want to understand how their daily tasks impact the business: Why does it matter? Thus, performance check-ins between managers and employees should always leave time for discussing how the work makes a difference, how it interacts with other areas of the company, and how it impacts the end user, whether that be internal or external. Purpose is an understanding of impact – once people see how much they impact others, their perspective can shift.

Once people see how much they impact others, their perspective can shift. Click To Tweet

Performance reviews started as a tool to increase human performance at work – we need to ensure we don’t lose sight of the protagonist of this tale. When creating a performance review strategy, start with foundations that support the employee.