Designing a performance management system that works

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With companies such as General Electric, Adobe Systems and Accenture revamping the way they conduct performance reviews, many other companies are following suit. But how do you make your new process truly work for your unique work environment? The best way is to start by asking your team.

Beginning a new policy with a survey gives employees ownership of the process and ensures you’ll get the information you need to make it successful. The main issue you’ll have to watch out for is how to get answers that you can then use to shape your new process.

This starts with asking the right questions. Rather than offering a simple question — “What do you think about the way we do performance reviews?” — ask questions with a specific goal in mind. To do this, think about the most important components that make up the process for your company and make a list. For example:

Employees: Development & engagement
· Employees should receive sufficient information about what their strengths are and areas for improvement.
· Top performers should receive recognition for their contributions.
· All employees, even top performers, should be encouraged to continue improving and receive support in creating development goals for the next quarter.
· Those who are struggling should be provided with extra coaching by managers or peer mentors.

Managers: Improving their team
· Improving communication and engagement by having discussions with each individual about where they are, where they want to be and how you can help.
· Being able to use the information to plan and delegate more accurately.
· Knowing where and to whom extra coaching should be directed toward.
· Identifying top performers and possible peer coaches.

Company: Having a dynamic workforce
· Having an efficient system that engages and develops your workforce.
· Everyone from the CEO to the new intern should be receiving development advice on different aspects of their performance.
· Having a high learning capacity that enables the team to quickly meet new industry trends and challenges.

See also: Audit and tax firm ditches annual performance reviews, ratings

Now think about how these objectives can be broken down into solid questions. For example:

· How long does it take, on average, for managers, HR and employees to complete the process?
· Do the results provide them with enough information and insights into their performance?
· Does HR feel the results are accurate?

· Do employees receive regular coaching and follow-ups from managers after the review period?
· Are employees able to translate the information into goals?
· Do they understand how these goals will contribute to their personal development and reaching our company’s objectives?

Your questions can follow two different formats. Multiple choice questions are the most common and allow you to gauge likes and dislikes with a range of responses, such as: strongly agree; agree; sometimes; disagree; strongly disagree. Examples of this type of question include:

· You have sufficient time to prepare for your review.
· I receive actionable information about my performance in my annual review.
· Your manager regularly follows up with you after reviews.

See also: Are performance reviews dead?

Qualitative questions for more detailed information. You should leave space for employees to write in responses to qualitative questions. Examples include:
· Did you feel the results of your annual review reflected your performance?
· Do you feel you get enough coaching to improve?
· How many hours a week do you have to dedicate to your personal goals?

To keep your questions as neutral as possible be conscious of your word choice. Leading questions can sway the reader toward a particular answer. For example, “Why are annual performance reviews burdensome for you?” The word burdensome already denotes a negative connotation for the reader, influencing their response.

A double-barreled, such as one with too many thoughts, can confuse employees. When in doubt, it’s best to split these questions. However, too many questions will make participants weary of filling out the survey, which could lead to fewer or incomplete responses.

Getting started

Send out a first e-mail explaining the importance and impact of the survey. It’s essential that you explain your intention to overhaul the company’s performance management process and would like their feedback to create an effective new strategy. It’s possible that a number of people will not respond if they think it will take up too much valuable time. It’s therefore important to emphasize how this transition will impact them specifically and the opportunity it provides to have more input into the new performance management system.

See also: Getting rid of performance ratings can lead to lack of transparency

Keep in mind that a long e-mail may be ignored. The best strategy is to keep it short and to the point: why they should participate in the survey. Provide links to further optional information to learn more about real-time feedback and case studies. Workshops or talks are a great way to be certain that employees are informed about the changes you want to make before participating in the survey. If not, be sure to spread information about the survey on all of your company’s internal communication channels. Once you’ve sent the survey, be sure to give sufficient time for employees to answer and send reminders. After the survey is completed, share the answers with the rest of the company.

Put your results into action

The most important rule of conducting an employee survey is to never ask a question about an aspect of the workplace that you don’t intend to change. For each question you ask you should already anticipate possible fixes. If your employees don’t feel they get enough follow-up, encourage your managers to implement weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member and provide extra management training. If employees feel the results are not always accurate, consider introducing 360-degree reviews to get a more diverse range of perspectives. If you find many employees get demotivated by what tends to be a long and arduous process, consider adopting a tool that can simplify your review period.

Using an instant feedback tool can help introduce regular employee surveys quickly. The system gives you the option to ask for a comment or a combination of a score and written comment. This can be useful to go deeper into certain questions or get a general idea of the feeling toward a new policy. The data collected during performance reviews, surveys or informal feedback interactions is instantly generated into aggregated data reports, which cuts down on time and resources.

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