Even with the best of intentions, traditional performance reviews are a big investment in time and effort that interrupt the workflow and bring productivity to a crawl. By some estimates, they can cost companies up to $35 million a year per every 10,000 employees, often with little to show for it. In fact, because of poor structure and inefficiencies, traditional periodic reviews can actually make performance worse in many cases.

That’s a devastating loss for companies that are spending a tremendous amount of time and effort on something that should be helping to improve productivity and performance and drive growth.

Here are three ways to make sure both you and your employees get the most out of the review process.

  1. Think of the people, not just the process.

Too many organizations get caught up in the process of performance reviews — the forms, the deadlines, scheduling meetings, etc. They’re just grinding through the gears. But performance management is about the employees, not the process itself. It’s about setting and reaching goals, both for the organization and for the individual. The purpose of performance reviews isn’t to check boxes but to improve productivity, drive retention and motivate employees. But in reality, a Gallup report shows only 20% of employees feel the process inspires them to do great work.

To be effective, organizations must focus on the people and listen to their needs, goals and desires for growth. Explain the “why” behind the process and the evaluation criteria and be clear about the type of measurements that will be used in the process. And remember that it must be a two-way street: managers will be providing feedback, but also gathering feedback from their team to better understand what’s working and what’s not.

  1. Over-prepare managers.

The pandemic has changed everything about the way we interact. Our encounters are much less frequent, in some cases are totally digital, and we don’t have the informal connections with teammates like we used to. Even if you’re working in-person, wearing a mask makes it harder to read body language and understand how a person is really feeling in the moment.

Because of these issues, and the fact that remote workers are facing challenges at home with childcare and distractions, managers may need to customize the performance conversation based on each employees’ situation. Managers should be prepared to pivot as needed, change or adjust goals and listen carefully for clues that employees may be struggling. Some employees may be afraid to speak up about challenges they have at home or to ask for help or resources they need, so managers need to be extra careful to listen for hints that employees need more support.


  1. Communicate about performance year-round.

Restricting performance conversations to specific times of year can turn them into stressful encounters where employees feel “on the spot” and anxious that their future is riding on this isolated event. Instead, communicate year-round about performance and processes, including coaching and gathering feedback from employees. Encourage and train managers to engage their team members in more frequent performance conversations where they can discuss goals and performance in real time and make incremental adjustments. Train employees how to bring up issues and have productive conversations with their managers, because many may feel intimidated or unsure how to bring up concerns.

This constant communication can take the pressure off both managers and employees and encourage better, more intimate relationships between teams and team leaders, as well as improve productivity across the board. By making these informal check-ins a routine part of the workflow, semi-annual reviews will take up less time, feel less dreadful and will make the entire performance management process smoother, more efficient and effective.

As we conduct performance reviews, we must all remain mindful of how the pandemic has changed the workplace. Not only has our work environment changed from the office to home for many people, but it’s also changed the way we interact and relate to one another. We’re all facing new challenges, and expectations may need to change.

By encouraging transparency about any struggles or challenges, organizations can create a more empathetic culture where employees feel empowered to do their best work all year round without the pressure of meeting unrealistic expectations.