Cast your mind back to your last high school exams, when you spent the whole year preparing for a single test that could make or break your career. Stressed? You’re not alone. It's how most feel about their annual performance reviews.

Annual performance reviews have been a staple of corporate life for decades. They provide vital insights into the employee experience and help keep teams on track with their goals. But annual reviews are often dreaded by employees and managers alike, and they’re a huge drain on company resources.

The future of work calls for new ways to evaluate performance. To ensure that your review process isn’t creating more problems than it’s solving, it’s crucial to face up to its flaws and find solutions that match your company’s needs.

Rethinking the process of performance reviews

Annual reviews build talent management from the back instead of leading from the front. They’re reactive, not proactive, and they’re not giving employees what they need to do well.

For starters, they’re a cumbersome process laden with paperwork. It can take six weeks to fill in the forms for one annual review, then several more weeks to go over the results. By that time, the information is out of date. It’s no surprise, then, that 66% of employees say the annual performance evaluation process interferes with their productivity (source: SHRM).

Managers can’t always keep track of how team members have been doing for the past 12 months (most of us can’t even remember what we had for breakfast last Tuesday.) As a result, annual reviews tend to have a recency bias, focusing on what happened in just the last few weeks.

They’re stressful, high stake events, all the more so when they’re used to determine pay and promotions. Employees typically view them as a top-down process rather than an opportunity to grow and develop their skills.

Negativity towards annual reviews is reflected in the statistics: 62% of managers agree that performance reviews are an outdated way of managing performance (source: Adobe) and around half of US employees think they’re “a total waste of time” (source: Yet many organizations still rely on evaluation systems that leave employees feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

Fashion multinational, Gap, adopted a new performance management strategy after finding that annual reviews were costing them $3 million a year (source: Gap). Adobe found that the process took up 1.8 million person-hours across the organization and switched to a system based on frequent check-ins (source: Deloitte).

The annual review process moves like a slow, heavy ship. It can’t keep up with fast-moving industries, and it isn’t giving employees the guidance they need. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the business world has changed while performance management strategies lag behind. So, what is the alternative to annual performance reviews?

The future of performance reviews

Rehauling your performance review system may seem like an impossible task. But companies that have switched to new forms of feedback say it’s the key to better employee experience.

Pierre Nanterme, chief executive of Accenture, says that switching from annual reviews to frequent feedback significantly improved the company’s talent management strategy. “People want to know on an ongoing basis, ‘Am I doing right? Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I’m progressing?’ Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback.” (source: Washington Post)

People want to know on an ongoing basis, ‘Am I doing right? Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I’m progressing?’ Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback.
Pierre Nanterme
CEO of Accenture

Rethinking performance evaluations allows employees to feel heard and improve their performance, a crucial step to higher employee engagement. Adobe replaced their annual review system with frequent check-ins in 2012. That change led to 30% less employee turnover and 50% fewer involuntary departures. Other Fortune 500 companies like GE, Microsoft and Eli Lilly also report positive changes (source: Gallup). The big improvement comes from better communication between employees and managers, providing constructive criticism without delay.

Think like an athlete

The secret to better performance management: think like an athlete. Clear goals and frequent catch-ups with coaches help athletes stay on track even when they’re not in competition. Similarly, managers can use regular performance reviews to help employees correct course, stay focused on relevant goals and receive the recognition they deserve.

Workplaces are constantly changing. It’s time for performance reviews to change with them. To be viable, an alternative to annual performance reviews has to be responsive, intuitive, and quick enough to keep up with the fast pace of business.

Zest’s Check-In module was developed to meet the demands of this changing work environment. Built to make performance reviews approachable, tech-friendly and easy to use, they make appraising employee performancefaster than a coffee break.

Check-Inscover four key topics which make up an effective review: Feelings, Skills, Goals and Contribution. Managers choose which topics to review, set the frequency (once a month, four times a year…), and then it’s over to the employee to reflect and respond.

Zest’s Check-in module takes the stress out of performance appraisals. Employees evaluate how they’re doing and get regular reminders of their goals. It gives managers an insight into how each individual employee is doing, plus a holistic view of team performance and engagement levels. And perhaps most important, it’s a chance for employees to be heard and reflect on their recent achievements.

Sharing regular feedback and guidance helps employees feel focused and engaged. Managers can use Check-ins to identify weak signals and areas of disengagement before they become bigger problems, and employees get a chance to reflect on their performance without the pressure of an annual review.

The future of work is efficient, tech-friendly and fast-paced — shouldn’t your performance reviews be too?

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