Ongoing performance management

Too many employers rely too heavily on annual performance reviews

Brian Kreissl

Question: How do we ensure performance management is viewed as an ongoing process as opposed to an annual event?

Answer: Far too many managers and employees (and even some organizations) view performance management as a necessary evil that is done as part of the annual performance appraisal process. Because managers and employees alike dread performance reviews, there’s a tendency to avoid having necessary performance discussions throughout the year, which helps neither the organization nor its employees.

It is a bit of a cliché to say nothing in a performance review should ever come as a shock to an employee. However, it’s a great starting point in communicating to managers the importance of providing ongoing performance feedback throughout the year.

This message is important for several reasons, a key one being that employees need meaningful feedback. It isn’t fair to make them wait until the annual performance review to find out how they’re doing. By that time, it’s really too late to make any changes for the current year.

One of the most important jobs of a manager is to set expectations and provide organizational context for managing performance. Employees need to know what effective performance actually looks like, and that message needs to be provided from the outset, preferably by providing objective standards of performance.

Performance management is also important from the organization’s perspective to ensure everyone works towards organizational goals and objectives, and ensure employees and the employer aren’t working at cross-purposes. Goals need to be aligned with the organization’s strategy, vision, mission and values.

That is one of the reasons why most organizations use some type of "management by objectives" (MBO) methodology when it comes to cascading goals and objectives throughout the organization.

Using this approach, employees typically meet with their managers at the beginning of the year to draft goals and accountabilities for the upcoming year.

Employees should have a hand in setting their own goals and objectives to help ensure buy-in and engagement.

Regular meetings important

Managers and employees should have regular one-on-one meetings and coaching sessions and review progress towards goals, as well as challenges and potential roadblocks that relate to those goals. The frequency of such meetings varies depending on the role and the individuals in question, but such conversations typically happen biweekly or at least once per month.

Such meetings allow employees to bring up any issues or problems related to their work, the organization or co-workers. They also make it much easier for managers to have difficult performance-
related conversations with employees because the atmosphere can be less emotionally charged than in a formal performance review. There’s also the feeling there is less at stake during an informal coaching session than a full-blown performance appraisal.

Nevertheless, it is particularly important to train managers on how to give effective performance feedback (for example, by not personalizing the feedback, including elements of positive feedback along with constructive feedback and ensuring criticism is given in private).

Many organizations even have mandatory mid-year performance "temperature checks," so employees have a chance to hear how they are doing partway through the year. This can be somewhat formal, with the manager and employee having to provide comments and confirm electronically the discussion took place.

Similarly, employees should be having regular career development discussions with their managers (or occasionally with their managers-once-removed). While career development is a separate issue from performance, the two are most certainly related.

After all, part of any career planning conversation is a discussion about what knowledge, skills and competencies are necessary to get to the next level or the next role.

Even with the annual performance appraisal meeting itself, it is necessary to give employees an opportunity to provide their own input, feedback and some type of self-evaluation because managers won’t necessarily remember everything an employee has accomplished during the year.

It also means managers and employees will need to think about performance throughout the year and prepare for the review beforehand.

The performance appraisal isn’t just a form to be filled out by a manager and handed to the employee for signoff. A great deal of thinking, planning and discussion need to go into the performance management cycle throughout the year — not just at the time of the review. 

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions in Toronto. For more information, visit

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