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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Case for More Frequent Performance Reviews

Aubrey Daniels, the clinical psychologist who is often called “the father of performance management,” believes the performance appraisal process is flawed and in need of radical change at many organizations today. The biggest problem, he believes, is that reviews happen too infrequently.

He’s right on both counts.

To drive results-oriented performance, we need to change how we conduct reviews, which we’ve written about previously. Please click the images below to read these posts.

We also need to make frequent, one-on-one meetings with employees the backbone of performance management. But this is exactly the challenge for many of the managers we speak with—they have no idea how to squeeze recurring meetings into their already hectic schedules.

In a Forbes article titled, “The Secret To Effective One-On-One Meetings With Direct Reports,” leadership coach and author Kristi Hedges summarizes some of the key roadblocks that keep managers from actually holding more frequent performance-related discussions with their direct reports. These roadblocks include managers’ uncertainty about how to structure such meetings … how to ensure these meetings are productive … and how to avoid turning them into one-way delegation sessions. Another concern is that these meetings will uncover “simmering conflicts or complaints” that will require significant time and effort to resolve.

All are legitimate concerns. However, Hedges offers managers helpful insights on how to implement and make the most of more frequent one-on-one meetings. Her tips include: create an actual schedule and a structure for these meetings; discuss the employee’s needs and issues as well as your own; and be sure to manage accountabilities.

One of the key aspects of frequent performance-oriented meetings is that they should not be heavy-duty critique sessions. Good people don’t need to be micromanaged. (A recent Business Insider article highlights the dangers of micromanagement, for those interested.) These get-togethers should be more about discussing employees’ needs and concerns—for instance, the things that may be getting in the way of carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities

Employees want and need our assistance to achieve their full potential, and this is precisely where more frequent performance-oriented discussions can help.

Of course, this doesn’t mean your people don’t want to speak with you or hear your feedback on a regular basis. In fact, they do. Research has long shown that employees want clear communication from their managers regarding what’s expected of them (responsibilities), what they’re doing right (recognition), what they’re doing wrong (constructive criticism), and what they need to do to advance their careers (development and career guidance).

When you think about it, the “I don’t have time” argument against more frequent performance meetings doesn’t really hold water. The truth is we can’t afford to not make the time.


To read more about the power and potential of sound performance management, click here to download our whitepaper, “Bridge the Gap Between Your Performance Reviews and Employee Development—or Both Are Primed To Fail.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meeting Employees’ Needs: Culture Management, Engagement, and Preventable Turnover of the primary objectives of performance reviews is to ensure that needs are being met—departmental needs, functional needs, organizational needs, and employees’ needs. And there’s the rub. Too often, employees’ needs are overlooked during performance reviews.

Managers focus on other aspects of performance when conducting reviews: whether goals were achieved or not, an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, skill gaps that must be filled, and the like. However, as a recent Harvard Business Review blog post illustrates, it’s a mistake to overlook whether employees’ needs are being met.

In “The Power of Meeting Your Employees’ Needs,” authors Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath reveal the bottom-line benefits of meeting employees’ basic needs, which fall into four categories: 1) renewal (physical); 2) value (emotional); 3) focus (mental); and 4) purpose (spiritual).

Schwartz and Porath write that when any one of these basic needs is being met employees “report a 30% higher capacity to focus, a nearly 50% higher level of engagement, and a 63% greater likelihood to stay at the company.”

(no surprise that #TalentManagement, #EmployeeEngagement, & #Retention are perennial trending topics in HR social media space)

And this positive impact is cumulative, rising with each additional need that gets satisfied. “When all four needs are met, the effect on engagement rises from 50% for one need to 125%.”

The authors conclude: “Rather than trying to forever get more out of their people, companies are far better served by systematically investing in meeting as many of their employees’ core needs as possible, so they’re freed and fueled to bring the best of themselves to work.”

But how do you know what your employees’ needs are? There’s really only one way to be sure. You have to ask them—and the performance review is the perfect time to do so. But this requires managers to engage in a true two-way dialogue with each of their direct reports, not just a one-way discourse on how they’re rating employees. It means being attentive and discussing employees’ needs with respect. It also means managers must be willing to do two key things: first, to give real thought and consideration to what employees are saying; and second, to follow up on these discussions, taking action in a timely manner to get employees’ needs met when appropriate.

Discussing employees’ needs—and what you can do to meet them—not only helps you reap the benefits cited by the authors of the HBR post but it also shows employees that you value them and care about helping them achieve their goals. If you want to create and sustain a high-performance work environment, this kind of open commitment to employees is crucial.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Oh My God! They Killed the Performance Appraisal!

Move over Kenny of South Park. The humble performance appraisal is being killed off more frequently than you ever imagined. At least, that’s what some pundits and bloggers would have us believe.

One recent example—a post on the HRbartender blog, “Here’s What Happens When You Kill the Performance Appraisal.” Despite its misleading headline, the post actually explains how the popular restaurant chain, Texas Roadhouse, transformed its performance review process. Repeat—transformed its performance review process. Not killed.

Texas Roadhouse calls its new performance appraisal process GPS, which stands for Growth, Plan and Support. The purpose of the new process, according to the HRbartender post, “is to be forward-looking instead of backward.” Performance appraisals now take place 30 days before or after an employee’s anniversary date and they focus on three issues: 1) Career opportunities employees would like in the future. 2) How they will prepare for those future opportunities. 3) The resources they need to be successful. Texas Roadhouse also de-coupled the review process from merit increases.

We have one word for Texas Roadhouse: bravo! This is a company that understands one of the fundamental precepts of performance appraisals—that they must be done in a way that best fits their corporate culture.

One of the things we like most about the company’s approach is that it put together a team of managers to develop the new process rather than simply following the lead of an executive or HR director. Involving employees (in this case, managers) in major decisions and organizational change of this kind helps create better, more meaningful results—and it does wonders for engagement levels.

For Texas Roadhouse, it also helped them better address employee development, which is one of the main objectives of any performance appraisal process worth its salt. Clearly, Texas Roadhouse understands the importance of truly sound performance management and how appraisals and employee development are tied to it. Their new appraisal process isn’t the only way to accomplish this but it’s one way to do it, and it’s obviously better suited to its organization’s culture.

Yes, forward-looking performance appraisals like those instituted by Texas Roadhouse are an invaluable component of excellent performance management. But for many employers, a “review” component (in which a manager summarizes what was good and not-so-good about an employee’s performance over the last several months) is equally valuable. Similarly, separating reviews from merit increases makes sense for some employers but not for others. It’s about doing what’s right in the context of your culture.

Once again, bravo to Texas Roadhouse. But we have to give the sensationalistic headline writers at HRbartender a “thumbs down.” They got the story wrong. Like Texas Roadhouse, most employers are not killing performance reviews. They’re transforming them. That’s the real story.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

User Experience—the “New Battleground” for HR Solution Providers

When we launched Reviewsnap one of our main objectives was to deliver one of the easiest-to-use performance management solutions in the entire industry. A June 24 article on reminded
us just how important—and how difficult—this objective can be.

In “Tech Insights: The Trick in Making Easy-to-Use User Interfaces,” author David Creelman asks HR professionals the question: If a 5-year-old can master an iPad, why can’t a 45-year-old Director of Operations figure out the performance management software? The answer, he writes, is that “designers of iPad software have been a lot more concerned with the user experience than have the designers of HR tools.”

Sadly, Creelman’s criticism of the state of HR tools isn’t unjustified. Some HR solutions are downright user-unfriendly. The good news is providers know there’s a problem—and they’re doing something about it.

Last October, HR industry analyst, Josh Bersin, wrote an article for Forbes titled, “The 9 Hottest Trends In HR Technology ... And Many Are Disruptive.” In it, he states that vendors “are focused on building ‘systems of engagement’ rather than ‘systems of record.’ This is not only focused on making software easier to learn: it’s focused on making it possible for employees to use these systems themselves, effectively freeing up hundreds of HR staffers who do administrative work.”

This article shows that providers are indeed working to raise the bar on the user experience. It also shows that companies are shifting to cloud-based HR solutions, in large part, to gain an improved user experience; according to Bersin, 40 percent of companies that want to replace or revamp their HR infrastructure want cloud-based systems. We’ve even seen evidence in the marketplace that non-cloud solutions are being redesigned to mimic the simplicity and intuitiveness of SaaS alternatives.

As Bersin notes, user experience is the “new battleground.” It’s where designers of HR tools are now waging their competitive wars. At Reviewsnap, we know firsthand how challenging it can be to create a user interface that actually is easy-to-use. Every organization has a unique set of needs and goals, along with a different definition of “easy to use.” This is precisely why we built our solution with the simplest possible interface—and why we made it so flexible and easy to tailor. If you read our case studies and testimonials, you’ll see that nearly every one of our clients describe our solution with terms such as “user-friendly,” “easy to understand” and “easy to navigate.” We’re proud of these endorsements. But we know we have to earn them again and again, day in and day out.

User experience isn’t a one-and-done deal—and this is where we believe many solutions providers stumble.

Easy-to-use interfaces are only part of the total user experience. Implementation, customization, ongoing support and a host of other elements make up the user experience. Prior to and during implementation, for example, providers must conduct ample due diligence, making certain their solutions will function exactly the way clients need them to. And after the solution is up and running, the due diligence should continue. Weeks or even months down the road, the client’s definition of “ease of use” may have shifted slightly or morphed into something else entirely based on changing needs or market conditions. In other words, ease-of-use can become a moving target.

Creating a simple user interface and a great user experience is tricky stuff. But it’s absolutely essential for business tools, especially those designed to serve today’s busy, often overburdened HR departments. In our experience, we’ve found that communication and collaboration with clients—both before and after a purchase has been made—are the secrets to delivering on the ease-of-use promise.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stress Test: What Are You Doing To Combat the Number One Workforce Risk?

A 2014 study by Monster found that nearly half of the U.S. workers they surveyed left a job due to an overly stressful environment, according to a worrisome article on

The study discovered that 42 percent of the participants “purposely changed jobs” due to an overly stressful work environment. And another 35 percent have thought about changing jobs for the same reason. The article then poses the million-dollar question: What are U.S. organizations doing to change such stressful work environments?

Actually, that’s not a million-dollar question. It’s a billion-dollar question. Stress is costing America’s employers billions of dollars every year, with some estimates putting the total as high as $300 billion.

In the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health report that stress is the number one workforce risk issue. Despite this, only 15 percent of employers identify lessening the stress and anxiety of their employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs. So the answer to the question, “What are U.S. organizations doing to change such stressful work environments?” seems to be … not nearly enough.

That’s a shame—and it’s self-defeating. Stress has a measurable, bottom-line impact on our employee engagement and productivity levels. And it ravages our revenues in the form of absenteeism, presenteeism and higher health care costs.

We wouldn’t presume to tell employers how to go about reducing stress in their organizations. Truly appropriate and meaningful solutions are unique to each company and highly dependent upon culture, work environment and the specific problems employees are experiencing. However, we are diligent about reminding employers that performance reviews offer them a golden opportunity to create a strategy and action plans that address stress in their organizations.

Of course, this golden opportunity can’t be leveraged if you’re simply going through the motions during your performance appraisals—offering a quick critique of an employee’s performance, doling out new goals and targets, reviewing their salary increase or lack of one, etc. These one-way information dumps simply don’t qualify as genuine performance reviews, and they do nothing to help managers gain insight into how much work-related stress their employees are under, the causes of this stress, and even what they would like the company to do about it.

As we’ve written in the past, it’s unfortunate that a significant number of employers still use an outdated approach for their performance reviews. And with the causes and effects of stress continuing to mount and to erode the wellbeing of our companies, it’s more important than ever that we make performance reviews a two-way discussion and information-gathering tool.

By doing so, we’ll not only better understand how we can combat stress but we’ll also keep our best people from purposely jumping ship to seek a better work life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are You Nurturing Universal Accountability?

If you’re familiar with Reviewsnap you know we’ve enthusiastically championed performance appraisals for nearly 20 years. In our view, performance appraisals are essential to the steady growth and development of your workforce. Handled correctly, appraisals also instill accountability in your people—accountability for reaching specific goals and targets, for developing their knowledge and skill sets, and for proactively advancing their careers.


It’s a core precept of good performance management. It also happens to be one of the distinguishing features of high-performance teams, as highlighted by a May 30 post on the Harvard Business Review blog, “The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable.” The author of the post, Joseph Grenny, pulled no punches when offering this succinct observation regarding the teams he’s studied:

·      In the weakest teams, there is no accountability.

·      In mediocre teams, bosses are the source of accountability.

·      In high performance teams, peers manage the vast majority of performance problems with one another.

Although Grenny refers to accountability in relation to performance problems, the best teams not only hold themselves accountable for resolving their differences but their team members also take personal responsibility for improving innovation, responsiveness, customer service and other key performance indicators valued by their companies.

As Grenny points out, the results these teams deliver include greater innovation, trust and productivity. One of the author’s clients, a successful financial services company with superior peer accountability, enjoyed “an unparalleled return on capital, breathtaking sales growth, and the highest customer renewal rate in the industry.”

In his post, Grenny also offers five insightful tips for creating a culture of universal accountability. Two of these tips are setting expectations and calling out positive examples of behaviors you value—two of the most important things your mangers can do when holding performance appraisals with their direct reports.

This brings us to a rather obvious question: if the best teams hold themselves accountable, why do you have to bother with performance reviews and building cultures of accountability? The answer is equally obvious: even if your best teams hold themselves accountable instinctively, your organization should publicly support this quality and make it an official performance objective. Managers should talk about accountability in team meetings and during reviews. It’s the only way to engender accountability in all of your teams, not just your best teams. And that’s the real goal—superior accountability throughout the organization, from top to bottom.

Obviously, your managers will have to go on acting as the source of accountability for many of your teams, at least for a while. But with patience and dedicated guidance, they’ll gradually sow the seeds of greater accountability. In time, they’ll be able to step away from acting as “accountability cops” and do more of what you want them to do—namely, to manage their functions strategically.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Employee Recognition Should Be Pervasive

Performance Appraisal - Employee RecognitionSixty percent of best-in-class organizations consider employee recognition extremely valuable in driving individual performance. This statement comes from the Aberdeen Group’s recent report, “The Power of Employee Recognition.” Yet the report goes on to say that “only 14% of organizations provide managers with the necessary tools for rewards and recognition.”

This disconnect becomes more alarming when you consider research from Bersin by Deloitte showing “organizations with recognition programs that are highly effective at improving employee engagement had 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than those organizations with ineffective recognition programs.”

As decades of studies have shown, employee recognition is an integral component of effective performance management. In her blog post, “Recognition: A Secret Ingredient in Effective Talent Management,” Bersin by Deloitte analyst, Stacia Garr, noted that the other important elements of performance management include goal setting (and revising), coaching, and development planning. Garr writes: “These elements of performance management work together in concert to ensure employees receive the ongoing feedback and support they need to understand how they are performing and adjust their behavior in real-time.”

Those of us who haven’t given enough attention to employee recognition are missing out on an easy and effective means of letting our employees know—on a continual basis—exactly why they’re valued and appreciated. This means we’re also missing an opportunity to raise employee engagement

According to MIT’s HR function, employees are most satisfied when recognition comes from a blend of sources—with managers offering half of this recognition, peers offering 30 percent of it, and the organization itself offering 20 percent (via formal programs). MIT also offers some useful best practices for designing and maintaining employee recognition programs. These include:

·      Asking employees how they like to be recognized.

·      Using the criteria for recognition to tie the organization’s mission, goals and values to employees’ work and roles.

·      Creating a program that allows for participation at all levels (peer to peer, manager to employee, and employee to manager) and in all areas of the organization.

·      Sharing the decision-making process for developing your program with the entire organization.

·      Building employee feedback mechanisms into your program.

To fill our organizations with great talent—and then achieve and sustain superior engagement and performance levels—we need to make employee recognition a priority. And this recognition shouldn’t come from managers alone. It needs to come from every level and every member of our organizations.

Employee recognition should be pervasive.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Do You Know Who Your "Top Guns" Are?

Not long ago, the TLNT website posted an article titled, “Just What Really Is ‘Top Talent,’ Anyway?” As the author, Crystal Spraggins, noted, the answer to that question is somewhat subjective and depends on an organization’s particular needs, leadership and culture.

“To a larger degree, however, the answer isn’t subjective at all,” Spraggins wrote. “When top talent is in action, most of us have no trouble recognizing it.” She then went on to offer a list of characteristics shared by the top talent she has encountered. Her list includes commitment, creativity, curiosity and emotional maturity, among others.

What’s striking about Spraggins’ topic is how few employers actually bother to define what “top talent” means to them. You think it would be common practice, especially given the fact talent issues are among the most urgent for our nation’s employers. Last year, TLNT itself published research showing that HR professionals’ top three concerns are: 1) engaging and retaining employees, 2) developing leaders and managing skills gaps, and 3) recruiting the best employees.

A big part of solving all of these talent issues is knowing precisely who your top talent is and what sets them apart. Once you have clarity on these matters, you know what to look for when recruiting new talent and developing current employees.

Performance reviews are among the most effective tools we have for identifying our top performers—and for nurturing and reinforcing the qualities that make these individuals so valuable. But, as Spraggins points out in her article, there’s a certain dgree of subjectivity in identifying top performers. For instance, some managers will value particular behaviors and characteristics more highly than their peers. Employers who want to gain greater clarity regarding their top talent—and then hire more individuals like them—will want to strip away some of this subjectivity, perhaps by establishing companywide consensus on a handful of indispensable qualities that are consistent across the organization’s top talent.

Clearly, this isn’t a shoot-from-the-hip initiative. It takes the combined effort and active support of senior leadership, hiring mangers and front-line supervisors. And it requires HR to drive it—gaining buy-in from all of the stakeholders and then leading the process until it becomes engrained in the organization and its talent management practices.

But the work required to instill a process like this is a small price to pay, especially if it helps our organizations evolve from the outdated, shotgun approach of simply attracting job candidates to actually engaging and winning top talent.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Compensation Reigns as the King of Job Satisfaction

According to a new SHRM research report, Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery, employees are citing pay as the top contributor to their overall job satisfaction.

The report flies in the face of a body of research that claims compensation isn’t a significant contributor to job satisfaction. SHRM says that 60 percent of surveyed employees rated compensation/pay as “very important,” while another 36 percent rated it “important.” Just two years
Compensation Management - Reviewsnap
ago, compensation was ranked third among contributors to job satisfaction, eclipsed by job security and opportunities to use skills/abilities.

What’s behind the change? A SHRM representative chalked it up to the recession and the slow growth of incomes over the past several years.

Whatever the reason and whatever its rank, compensation is certainly an essential component of job satisfaction. When employees understand how their achievements are valued and rewarded, their motivation and engagement levels improve. This means it behooves us to continually reinforce their understanding and knowledge of our compensation programs. In fact, we should do more than simply educate employees about our compensation programs: we should take steps to make them active participants in these programs.

For example, employees should be responsible for entering and updating their personal information in our HR systems. Naturally, this would require a bit of training and a system that’s extremely user-friendly—but it’s a small price to pay for raising employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement levels.

The right HR information system/software also offers an array of benefits to our organizations:

·      They streamline the administrative tasks related to compensation management.

·      They improve legal compliance and minimize the risk of errors.

·      They diminish manager bias and improve fairness.

·      They help us collect and maintain more accurate people data, which leads to better decision making.

·      And they enhance our ability to share this data easily with functional heads and senior leaders.

Given the findings of the SHRM report, it’s probably a good time to revisit our compensation programs, practices and systems. It could pay big dividends.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Managers: Want To Increase Employee Engagement? Model the Right Behavior.

Managers often feel responsible for telling employees what’s expected of them in their day-to-day work and how they interact with teammates. It comes with the territory, managers reason. It’s part of my job.

While that’s true to a degree (during onboarding and performance reviews, for example), there’s a better way to drive desired employee performance. Managers should show employees what’s expected through their own behavior.

Modeling ideal employee behavior is certainly not a new concept. But it continues to be underutilized as a management strategy—and as a way to enhance employee engagement. A May 12 post on the Harvard Business Review blog, “The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders,” cited recent Catalyst research illustrating that employees who observe altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers are more likely to report feeling included and engaged in their work and their teams. This is important because, as we’ve all been reading, engagement is the key to greater productivity, innovation and profitability.

According to the Catalyst researchers, an altruistic or selfless management style is characterized by: 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results.

The Catalyst report goes on to state: “Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague—all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.”

Whether or not your organization defines its ideal management style as “humble,” “altruistic” or “selfless,” there’s no denying that these behaviors are precisely what we want from our managers—and from employees throughout our organizations.

For effective performance management, telling employees what’s expected of them has its place. But showing them how to succeed is even better expected through their own behavior.

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Reviewsnap Headquarters Reviewsnap is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a division of Applied Training Systems Inc., founded in 1995.