“Even without a global pandemic, performance evals drive tension and apprehension. We’re already feeling uneasy.” - Jamie Resker

As our routines have disappeared, our days and weeks are running together.  Anchorman Todd Meany is doing his part by helping viewers keep track of time with a 70’s style game show called “What day is it?” In a recent NYT article, What Day is It? You’re Not the Only One Asking; psychologists explain the reasons people are mixing up days and losing track of time. “Stress, anxiety, and major changes to our work, social, and family routines are throwing us off.”
So, in the time of “What day is it?”, how can we reasonably expect people to recall, write, and talk about performance twelve months ago?  I’m receiving inquiries like these:

  • Is it practical to ask managers to write and deliver performance reviews?
  • Should we put the performance reviews on hold?
  • Should we use Zoom to deliver performance evals?

The organizations I hear from use versions of the “old school” system:  annual evaluations, goals set, and evaluated 12 months later, and ratings connected to pay increases.  Here’s a classic old-timey process (bonus: bell curve forced rankings included!):

Even without a global pandemic, performance evals drive tension and apprehension. We’re already feeling uneasy. Questions abound: When will this be over? How can I stay healthy? Is my job at risk? How am I expected to manage my kid’s online schooling? How do I manage to work from home and taking care of an infant and a toddler? What will I make for dinner tonight? OMG, another sink-full of dishes awaits, and the worries go on and on.
Why pile on more pressure and apprehension with annual performance reviews?
It’s the ideal time to pause annual performance reviews.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to implement continuous performance management.
We’ve had eight years to transition to continuous performance management. The shift began in 2012 when Adobe declared “Death to the Performance Review.” (PDF)
Hold More Frequent Performance Development Conversations to Drive and Align Performance
Use a system that enables conversations between managers and employees that focus on now and the future. For example, I developed the 10-Minute Questions Conversation framework for short, targeted discussions that go beyond the day-to-day task and project conversations. Here are the basic questions and format:

  1. The Employee starts by highlighting one thing that has gone well recently.

  3. The Manager Asks: What’s one thing you want to get better at, learn about, or be involved in?

  5. The Employee Asks:
    • What’s one thing I’m doing that’s working?
    • What’s one thing I should focus on next?” or “What’s the one thing I should prioritize?”
  6. Manager Asks:
    • What’s one thing I’m doing to support you that’s working?
    • What’s one way I can support you more?
  7. Conclude by identifying action items and schedule your next meeting.

The conversation takes about 10-minutes. The focus is on what’s working now and how to be even more effective in moving forward. No judging and rating the past.
But We Need Performance Reviews to Make Pay Decisions (no, you don’t)
It’s not breaking news that pay and performance conversations need uncoupling. Wage changes are on hold in many organizations. Here’s the opportunity to shift away from annual reviews and ratings without having to solve the “pay married to performance” hurdle. If you’re stuck because ratings drive your organization’s pay process, there are other ways to measure performance without ratings and make pay adjustments.
There’s Never Been A Better Time To Transition Away From Annual Reviews To The Continuous Performance Management Model
Now is the time to:

  • Cut out non-essential activities to free people’s time for new organizational priorities
  • Consider the unprecedented number of stressors your employees are facing
  • Help conserve people’s time and mental energy

As HR pros, we can’t have all the answers, but one thing we can do is help people feel supported and connected. Now, it is not the time to require people to write, deliver, and receive performance reviews. Do set managers and employees up for success with conversations that drive productive discussions and help propel performance.
Kindness and encouragement towards co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers will help us get through the days, weeks, and months ahead. Make people-centered decisions that work towards building connections, with a focus on the present-day and future. Permit yourself to retire annual evaluations.

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