Reimagining Performance Management for 2021 and Beyond

By Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, on January 4, 2021

Performance management. What a topic!

I love performance appraisals. I hate performance appraisals. These two things actually fit perfectly well together, depending on my role in an organization.

Proficient young male employee with eyeglasses and checkered shirt, explaining a business analysis displayed on the monitor of a desktop PC to his female colleague, in the interior of a modern office-1As an employee, I find them tedious, and the feedback feels forced (because let’s face it, it often is forced). As a manager, I hate writing them. I have to fit feedback into grids and categories chosen for the entire company, which may or may not work well with my team. All in all, the process, in most cases, is awful.

As an HR person, I love them. Why? Because I have nice documented evidence of where every employee stands. When it comes time to promote someone, I can pull out these reviews to decide who gets moved up. If I’m ever called into court to testify as to why John Doe got the promotion over Jane Roe, I can pull out these reviews and point to them.

If done correctly, the direct manager writes each performance appraisal, and then the boss’s boss and HR look over it. The appraisals and goals should be accurate, fair, and valuable resources for both employees and future company needs.

Why do these two things not fit together? Why is it that I hate them as an employee and a manager but love them from an HR administrative standpoint? Can’t we get something in the middle?

We can, of course, but it’s not necessarily easy to set up, and it requires more work from HR. (We all know what a pain it is to remind managers to turn in their performance reviews!) 

Sounds like time for some reimagined performance management.

Here’s what I recommend.

1. Use of management software that allows managers to take notes about employees throughout the year.

With a few gentle reminders and removal of the entire formal process, managers may be more willing to jot down their thoughts throughout the year. This gives you the same kind of CYA that HR and legal love so much without the considerable hassle. And, it will likely even result in better feedback. Imagine that.

2. For formal appraisals, let different departments adjust the review to fit their needs.

One form doesn’t do a great job for everyone in most companies. Customize for different functions.

3. Allow managers and employees to update and edit goals throughout the year. 

2020 is an excellent example of why your performance system needs this. Did anyone set goals in December of 2019 that were valid in December of 2020? No one? All right. 

This year was dramatic, but the same thing happens to most of us every year. Change is good. Change makes sense. Using HR as an example--you better be giving everyone credit and kudos for learning and applying FFCRA, keeping updated with CDC guidelines and ensuring masks and hand sanitizer everywhere.

4. Explain the "whys" to managers and employees. 

If you have managers jotting down notes throughout the year, explain that they could be used in court, so they need to be accurate notes without discriminatory language. (For instance, “Jane is not productive because she sits at her desk all day doing nothing and her work area is a mess” is fine. “Jane is a lazy pig, who doesn’t give a $#(*&%3 about her job!” is not okay.)

Again, if you’re doing an annual review, explain that this isn’t just for the employee’s benefit, but for the company’s protection.

Generally, when you make things a bit easier and explain why, people are more likely to do an excellent job of a task. When it seems like performance appraisals are written and then stuck in a file, never to be seen again, it’s no wonder that everyone hates them.

So, make it easy, be honest, and make sure to allow for updated goals throughout the year. Maybe, just maybe, Suzanne, the manager, and Suzanne, the employee, will start to like performance appraisals just as much as Suzanne, the HR lady.

Need help empowering your managers to manage employee issues more effectively? Check out managER, a new application from HR Acuity.

Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady
Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.

Don't Miss Our Latest Resources

How-To Guide: Building Your COVID-19 Recovery Action Plan

learn more

Infographic: 5 Key Findings from the Fourth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Study

learn more

Buyer's Guide: Employee Relations Technology Platform

learn more