To grow, companies continuously seek to achieve greater efficiencies. Periodic assessments of people, processes and products are critical to improving performance at all levels of the organization. The people aspect particularly carries one of the highest costs of doing business, making it crucial for business leaders to regularly assess the ROI of their workforce by conducting performance reviews.

Performance reviews were already a fraught issue for many companies before the pandemic, and the widespread move to hybrid and remote work put the way employee performance is assessed further under the microscope. For those reasons, some companies have begun to rethink the way they conduct performance reviews and provide feedback to workers. 

Rethinking Performance Review Processes

Google and Adobe recently announced changes to their performance review structure. Among those changes are more frequent check-ins, timely feedback and a renewed focus on learning and development. Moving away from its employee-derided bi-annual performance review system, Google is charting a new course called Google Reviews and Development (GRAD). This will focus on employee development and learning, regular check-ins and feedback, and a new once-a-year performance rating system.

Meanwhile, Adobe said the new hybrid model, the increased size of its workforce and the broader global footprint of the company require a digital-first performance review and check-in process. The goal, the company said, is to keep the focus on ongoing conversations with a consistent, centralized place for employees to document goals, discuss performance with managers and map career aspirations.

They are, of course, not the only companies rethinking the performance evaluation process. The new ways of working undoubtedly require adjustments. So, it begs the question: Is there a right way to conduct performance reviews in today's digital workplace?

Related Article: What's Next for Performance Management?

Redefined Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are important in business. They support employee engagement and recognition, which, in turn, can lead to improved productivity and growth. But the traditional manager-to-employee talk is no longer suited to today's work dynamics. For the performance evaluation process to be effective, it needs to be meaningful and reciprocal.

Long gone are the days of "company before self," and leaders who succeed at attracting, retaining and motivating employees are the ones who can demonstrate how much they value their contributions. So, while there is no one-size-fits-all as to how reviews are conducted, from regular check-ins, informal conversations and one-on-one meetings, to task tracking and project management boards, leaders should focus on making the process a two-way street.

To achieve this, companies should consider shifting the focus of the performance evaluation toward the employee. Instead of pointing out how employee performance can better support company goals, the conversation should aim to determine how both parties can best work together to achieve shared goals. In the event where an employee is not performing as expected, managers can ask whether the employee has all the tools needed to perform the task efficiently or if there is anything the company can do to help improve the experience. The cause of underperformance may be an issue within the organizational structure rather than a lack of motivation on the part of the employee.

In addition to changing the format of the conversation, a growing number of companies are also adopting a more frequent feedback system. Instead of the traditional annual performance review — one that used to focus on whether the employee's performance has been significant enough to warrant a bonus award or salary increase — many are now opting for regular check-ins to discuss what's going well, or not, and how things can be improved. 

According to Amy Spurling, CEO and founder of Boston-based HR software company Compt, this is long overdue. "Performance should be handled as issues come up, not just once a year," she said. "It doesn't make sense to me to wait for the yearly review if you see someone struggling and in need of help.” 

Related Article: How to Handle Underperformance in the Hybrid Workplace

5 Ways to Drive Engagement with Performance Reviews 

The hybrid and remote workplace has prompted change on many levels of the organization. Performance reviews are no exception. Here are five ways to drive engagement and boost results with the performance evaluation system.

1. Prioritize Employee Growth and Learning

Both Adobe and Google highlighted the importance of employee growth and development in their announcements. With many employees seeking career-building opportunities, this is a change that is aligned to the needs and wants of today's workforce. Most employees want to develop their skills and grow throughout their career. Without this option, many will seek alternative employment. Enabling employee growth and development through continuous learning is therefore vital to fostering high employee satisfaction, loyalty and engagement.

To succeed, however, employee development programs should be continuous rather than centered around performance evaluations. Employees should be encouraged to learn and develop in ways that can help them both improve in their work and grow into new, more desirable roles within the organization. This is why honest and transparent conversations between managers and employees are important: They help understand the goals of an employee and identify career paths that will ultimately benefit both parties.

“Managers should have an ongoing dialogue about what the employee wants out of their career, what the gaps are between their goals and where they are at, and ways to work on them,” Spurling said.

Related Article: Learning and Development Climbs to the Top of the Corporate Agenda

Learning Opportunities

2. Understand Employees’ Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

This is a natural continuation to the above. To engage employees and drive them to perform their best within the organization, it is important for managers to know what they want in the short and long term. If employees' goals align with those of the company, managers and employees can plan mutual strategies to accomplish them. If they don't, managers may need to consider whether a change is warranted.

"Ask your employee if there is anything they would like changed regarding their position, the tasks they are working on, strategies for projects or any part of the company culture," said Ray Blakney, CEO and co-founder of online language-learning company Live Lingua. Doing this helps make employees feel like an integral part of the company by valuing their contribution today and into the future.

3. Provide Continuous Feedback

It is common for employers to conduct performance reviews on an annual basis, but that process may not be as efficient as once thought. Providing continuous feedback has been shown to lead to a better working environment, which is why performance reviews should be done more frequently and regularly. Blakney said frequent check-ins offer greater value than annual or bi-annual reviews.

"If a business just relied on a yearly or twice-a-year performance review, issues with an employee's work output, productivity or overall work ethic would continue and possibly get worse until they are finally addressed in the performance review,” he said.

Continuous performance reviews create a dependable work environment for employees and help them improve their performance in real time. When performance reviews are done as check-ins and one-on-one meetings, it can also boost motivation especially for struggling employees.

Moreover, frequent check-ins foster a sense of togetherness that is common with the traditional and on-site workplace, but not as much with a hybrid and remote setting. Having regular talks can enable remote and hybrid organizations to address and resolve issues before they escalate.

Related Article: Managers Need to Do More One-on-One Meetings

4. Leverage Project-Management and Performance-Tracking Software

Although frequent performance reviews are recommended, they require a greater time and effort investment from managers and organization leaders. Using project management and performance tracking software can help track individual task progress, client satisfaction and group projects without overtaxing management's workload.

“Find the right tools, have your entire team use them for updating projects and communicate as often as possible," said Yauhen Zaremba, director of demand generation at SaaS company PandaDoc. "Together, you’re performing team-wide reviews through the use of these tools." 

5. Facilitate Frequent Video Calls

In the digital workplace, and more specifically when work is done remotely, it's important for leaders to leverage new technologies to replicate the benefits of in-person collaboration. Video calls can help diminish the feeling of isolation many remote workers have reported. But with Zoom fatigue on the rise, the use of video technology needs to be done with the right intention and at the right moment. 

Done right, regular video calls can encourage remote work productivity and improve communication between employers and employees. Using video calls for performance reviews gives leaders an edge, enabling them to see and interpret the employee’s reaction to the feedback and process.