A No-Nonsense Guide to Performance Reviews
written by
Juney Ham
written by
Juney Ham
December 17, 2020

Performance reviews.

Do these two words fill you with dread? If so, you’re not alone.

In fact, a staggering 95% of managers are dissatisfied with formal performance reviews, and 90% of HR professionals think reviews are inaccurate (SHRM) -- wow.

Yet, it’s equally clear that providing relevant and constructive feedback to your employees is valuable *and* valued by those receiving them. According to a Joblist study, almost 60% of employees said that getting regular feedback during informal meetings was very motivating.

Here at Beacon, we believe that feedback is one of the key mechanisms to help our team members learn and grow. It inspires us to improve ourselves, to strive for new opportunities, and to earn the right to more challenging and rewarding tours of duty. In fact, one of our own core values, “set expectations early and often” is commonly invoked as a reason for providing feedback. Giving feedback to managers, peers, and direct reports is one of the most important responsibilities every Beaconite has.

As a leader in your organization, I’m sure the idea of providing quality feedback to your team is something you believe is incredibly important and daunting at the same time. It may be challenging to allocate meaningful bandwidth in order to ensure that you do a great job. Moreover, you may not have had the time or budget to set up a comprehensive HR platform to help create and deliver performance reviews. You’re occupied with day-to-day responsibilities, interrupt-driven requests, and the added stress of the pandemic upending workplace norms. How are you possibly going to carve out time to complete performance reviews, let alone do them well?

As experts in this field, we have a number of strategic and tactical recommendations. These will help deconstruct the monolithic annual performance review into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be guided by other assets and reference material that you will likely already have available to you:

Leverage your employees’ scorecards (or job descriptions if you don’t have a scorecard) to frame your feedback.

We are huge advocates of building out scorecards as we feel modern job descriptions are broken. There’s an additional advantage of having scorecards built out for your employees -- you can use them to inform your performance feedback and reviews as well. At Beacon, we actually use each team member’s scorecard as a framework for providing feedback and guidance by highlighting:

  • How they are living our core values
  • When they’ve shown personal or professional growth and development
  • Where there’s room for improvement in either skills or behaviors

Frequency matters; provide feedback when things happen, when details are fresh. 

One of the key ways in which my co-founder and I stay aligned and keep communication channels open is by doing our best to provide feedback as soon as we can to each other if something could be improved upon, or if something didn’t feel “right” coming out of a meeting or a discussion.

This actually originates from the time we worked together at a previous company and is something that has always been a part of my management style (for better or worse). It was challenging at times, but it was also something he appreciated and got a lot of value from. This has stayed with us as a founding team, and is an important part of our culture today.

This also has the important added benefit of making sure feedback is frequent, bite-sized and specific, because it’s still fresh in your mind. Personally, I know that if I were to try to include an important event or instance that happened many months ago, the feedback could be muddled or just plain incorrect. I sidestep this entirely by sharing things as they arise.

Implement 360 (peer) reviews to gain the perspective you can’t get yourself.

Peer reviews are often the unsung heroes of performance feedback -- although increasingly they are included in most performance management platforms and are called out as an important component to executing performance reviews well.

Particularly if you’re a founder or executive at a high-growth, early-stage company, employees often wear multiple hats and are working on different projects at the same time and across different times of the year. Engaging their team members who worked closely with the employee will provide valuable context that you may not have been aware of, gives you insights into how the employee interacts with people other than their manager, and may spark incidents in your own memory that you may have passed over or forgotten. A great peer review is worth its weight in gold!

* * *

Ultimately, we believe that performance reviews don’t have to be high-anxiety, high-production affairs that happen only once or twice a year. The key is to approach performance reviews as a longer-term commitment. This will lead to more empathetic guidance and feedback with others. You’ll find that frequent and informal touchpoints will not only provide a more useful context and course correction to those you’re providing feedback; it will actually make the year-end process (if this is something your company does) easier to complete since you’ll have a body of material to reference.

Good luck!

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