Building an Employee Review Process to Fit Your Company’s Culture

Employee reviews are rarely easy for the employee receiving the review or the person delivering one. Receiving a less than perfect evaluation, even when it’s presented in the form of constructive criticism, can trigger feelings of inadequacy—we’re human, after all.

Compounding the problem is the way employers frequently deliver reviews, relying on a generic, one-size-fits-all evaluation approach. This benefits neither the employee nor the employer.

Developing an employee review process that fits your company’s culture is essential, and we’ll highlight steps for doing just that. First, let’s talk about why performance reviews are important in the first place. 

Performance Reviews: Opportunities to Praise, Evaluate, Critique, and Improve

Whether companies should continue delivering performance evaluations has been the matter of some debate. A poll by Achievers, Inc. found that employees were largely unsatisfied with the way many employers provide feedback about their performance. When asked how frequently they would like to receive feedback from their manager, 61% of the employees polled said they would prefer on-the-spot feedback, while just 1% said they preferred an annual performance review.

But eliminating annual or biannual performance reviews simply because employees would like managers to provide additional, on-the-spot feedback is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than eliminating formal reviews altogether, consider providing additional feedback on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Here’s why periodic (annual/biannual) performance evaluations are valuable:

  • They help employers identify an employee’s potential for promotion/wage increase over time.
  • They help employers communicate the goals of the company and how the employee can work toward achieving those goals.
  • They provide an opportunity for employees to communicate what’s working for them and what isn’t.
  • They provide employers with a formal opportunity to praise employees for a job well done.
  • They help employers maintain records of employee performance and feedback over time.
  • They help both employers and employees assess whether the employee fits within the culture of the organization.
  • They provide employers an opportunity to identify areas where employees need additional training.

Does Your Review Process Match Your Corporate Culture?

If your employee review process is inconsistent with the culture of your company, it’s safe to say that it’s not worth much beyond maintaining a paper trail. For example, a medical supply company that heavily evaluates its sales agents based on their ability to work well with others, but whose jobs require them to work solo most of the time, is probably missing the mark.

Understanding What Motivates People

In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink challenges readers to forget everything they’ve learned about what motivates people. He points to three elements of true motivation and satisfaction in the workplace (and beyond) that contribute to high performance: autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives, mastery—the urge to perfect a skill or skillset, and purpose—the desire to do something larger than ourselves. While once useful, the reward and punishment (carrot-and-stick) approach that has been used for centuries in the workforce is largely ineffective with today’s professionals, Pink argues.

Employers that use a standardized, “carrot-and-stick” approach for their review process could be missing out on a valuable opportunity to provide feedback and set goals that motivate employees. Employers don’t have to eliminate formal reviews to create a more effective employee evaluation process—it’s simply a matter of reevaluating the tools they use and the method of evaluation.

Here are some tips for delivering an effective and constructive review:

  • Start the review by addressing any issues with the employee’s performance, bringing up each issue separately and discussing it completely before moving on the next issue/topic. Describe the performance issue, then reinforce your company’s performance standards, and then develop a plan for improvement, offering your help and using positive reinforcement throughout the process. Receiving less-than-perfect “marks” on a review is never pleasant, so it’s critical to not damage morale in the process. Tread lightly, but be firm on expectations.
  • Involve employees in setting goals during the review process. Ask the employee what they think they can achieve and what they’d like to achieve, and work with the employee to set realistic goals.
  • Consider incorporating an employee self-review process into the overall performance evaluation. Writing employee reviews is never an easy task, especially since it’s easy to let perceptions influence how we evaluate someone. Comparing an employee’s self-review to your evaluation of them can make the whole process feel less confrontational, and you’ll often find that employees are harder on themselves than you are on them. The process of performing a self-evaluation allows an employee to reflect on their performance and set their own goals.
  • Avoid using negative phrases that can damage morale. Use clear, non-judgmental language that focuses on the quality of the employee’s work, not their character. Here are some examples:
    • Negative: “Don’t let it happen again.” Positive: “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”
    • Negative: “You’re too slow.” Positive: “What tools can I provide to help you boost your production?
    • Negative: “Your presentations are awful—graphics are clearly not your forte.” Positive: “Do you think enrolling in a company-sponsored class/workshop would help you improve your graphic skills?”

An Alternative to One-Size-Fits-All Reviews

Performance review software is an excellent tool for customizing employee review forms to suit your industry and your organization’s culture, mission, values, and goals. Coupled with a 360 degree feedback solution that enables your staff members to submit and receive detailed feedback from managers and colleagues, your employees get a complete look at their performance.

The workplace is evolving—the long-used carrot-and-stick approaches to managing and providing feedback are slowly being replaced by newer methods as our understanding improves about what people value and what motivates them. Incorporating technological solutions to ease your review process and provide employees with comprehensive feedback is part of the ongoing revolution in employee performance evaluations.