The Not So Annual Review

As discussed in this space a few years back (Coming Round Again: The Annual Review too frequently management doesn’t have the time or resources to effectively perform annual reviews for all employees. Yet, in spite of all the obstacles, a recent HR trend is for employee reviews to take place throughout the year, and predominantly on more of an as-needed basis.


This change seems to be predicated on the recognition that in many circles managers and Human Resources professionals have concluded annual reviews to be ineffective at motivating workers. While the annual review process can provide statistical and evidentiary documentation about employees and their histories with a company, they aren’t the best method for managers, department heads and HR staff to get the best from their staffs.


Of course part of the issue lies in the name: “annual review”! If company leaders and decision makers are only meeting with the folks on the front lines once a year, there is no real way for them to track employee progress and growth, or be effective at pointing out shortcomings and areas needing worker improvement.


Making things harder at the moment is the fact that so many employees are working remotely and managers are unable to monitor worker progress in the same way they had done pre-pandemic. In many cases, it is nearly impossible for management to gauge employee effectiveness under these conditions.


If the trend is ongoing assessment rather than annual review, employers will need to develop and communicate clear cut benchmarks that must be either reached or acted upon. Proficiency measurements or other functional and documentable targets must be established in order for employers to make fair judgements using the same or similar criteria for all employees, or at least all those performing similar tasks. It behooves the employer to create equitable and objective systems for employee performance analysis. If they don’t, it will be like comparing apples to oranges and employees will not be happy being judged by subjective measures only.


Certainly one of the benefits of ongoing assessment could be the improved personal communication between management and workers. Company leaders who check in with their employees regularly (not to be confused with micro-managing!) will have better knowledge of individual worker efforts and effectiveness in their respective roles. This gives employees a better chance to discuss productivity issues sooner after they crop up rather than a long time after the problem was discovered.


But employers may still find it hard doing effective reviews. Reviews and their requisite documentation take time to execute and analyze. If everyone is to receive a fair analysis, it will be incumbent upon management to be quick, thorough and consistent in their assessments. But it will also take additional work on the part of the employee to ensure their work and efforts are properly reviewed.


Employees can help themselves prepare for the review process, whether it comes continually or annually. One method is for staff to keep informal work diaries to document their successes and difficulties. No more than a page per week. In doing so, the worker has notes to support any claims of success or disagreement with management over goals obtained or work effectively achieved. By maintaining a log of accomplishments, completed assignments and achieved goals, employees also have content for their next resumes and cover letters should the need arise to find different work opportunities.


It is also not uncommon these days for employers to encourage their staff to write up their own reviews of what the employee feels are their significant accomplishments, as well as honest admissions of areas in which they fell short or need improvement. Certainly self-assessment is an opportunity for one to toot their own horn, but it is often difficult for workers to be objective or honest enough to admit their shortcomings to management. No one wants to tell their supervisors they can’t do certain tasks, or don’t know enough about a regularly used software package to improve their own productivity.


Some employers manage to avoid doing annual reviews themselves by passing the buck back to the employees, asking for peer reviews. Depending on both the culture of the workplace and camaraderie of the employees, this method for review can be a mine field. No matter how good an individual’s work is, if another person in their department is jealous of the success of the person they are being asked to critique, has been passed over for promotion, doesn’t like the person or is just having a bad day, can they be honest and objective enough to present evidence of another’s successes or failures on the job? Do the people in your department know what is expected of you well enough to fairly assess your effectiveness in your position?


Of course if you’re working with a supportive team, working closely and collaboratively on shared tasks and goals, there is a lower likelihood of a coworker sabotaging your review. Coworkers may certainly say nice things in their assessments, but the reviews might not be objective enough because of how close-knit the group is from working together, not wanting to say negative things about people they like and depend on.


Whatever method an employer uses for review, formal one-on-one, self-analysis, peer review, or collecting any other form of employee performance data, the assessments need to be fair and based on similar or identical criteria across the board for all workers. Employers need to make the process equitable for the entire staff, as well as make it as painless as possible for their workers and department heads. Then and only then will the review process be the effective tool for management to assess productivity and worker effectiveness that it was intended to be, annual or not so annual.


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