Time to evaluate performance reviews

How have performance reviews changed in the time of the pandemic? Image: 123RF.

It’s worth rethinking workplace performance reviews, as your next one could be the most important in years. By John Burfitt

On the topic of workplace performance reviews, many human resources specialists and business consultants agree on two significant points.

One is that conducting a review is an essential part of effective management, while the other is at this time when many businesses are adapting to the ‘new normal’ of operating within the confines of a pandemic, performance reviews are more important than ever. 

All through 2020, where it was common in restaurant circles for head chefs to make home deliveries and waiters to add social media marketing to workload, not surprisingly the traditional job descriptions were redefined to take more of an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

The time is now …

Which makes these early months of 2021 an ideal time to conduct a performance review that could be real value to a team, Silver Chef’s strategic partners & events manager Ken Burgin believes. 

“After everything that was thrown up in the air last year, when many restaurant teams were so amazing as they went way beyond their usual roles in the name of survival, conducting a business review now could be wonderful for everyone,” Burgin says.

“This could be the time to acknowledge what staff members did throughout last year, focus on what they learned and plan ahead for this year.” 

When done properly, Burgin believes a performance review can prove to be a potent way to boost team morale, which is more important than ever when relying on good staff is at a premium. 

“The good workers are the people you want to hang onto, and constructive, well-considered and genuine feedback might prove to be a crucial part of doing that with the shortages we’re seeing now as so many working visa visitors have disappeared from the Australian market,” he says. 

“So, maybe flip the old concept of a performance review on its head, and make it something that works for both management and the team—and possibly even something people look forward to.”

What a performance review looks like

The logistics of how a review is conducted often differs from business to business. Some managers schedule an annual meeting with each team member, while others make it a twice-yearly process. 

A comprehensive job description and clear KPIs should be the essential foundation of the review so employees know what their roles entail, what is expected of them and what their performance is being measured against. 

Workplace expert Michelle Gibbings, author of <i>Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work<rom>, says the criteria needs to be clear from the outset.

“People look for clarity and want to know what they’re accountable for—there should be no surprises in a review,” she says. “If there are major surprises or if issues from six months ago are brought up for the first time, then the manager needs to take a good look at their standards of day-to-day communications, as something might be missing.

“Staff need to be recognised for any extra commitment and what resulted from that effort. It’s been such an unusual 12 months, and the dynamics have shifted. It’s also important to be fair and reasonable in what people are being assessed against, particularly if goals and targets have shifted.”

Improving performance reviews

Melbourne business consultant Louise Davis is a strong advocate for performance reviews, but believes there is a better approach to how they are usually conducted.

“If you conduct a performance review as a ‘tick-the-box activity’, then don’t even bother,” she says. Davis instead believes regular conversations between managers and staff members throughout the year can achieve far more than a formal review once or twice a year.

“Genuine conversations as structured, regular catch-ups allow for everyone to know how it’s going, what’s working well and what needs attention. In these times of rapid change, when we’ve seen some businesses go from fine dining to becoming a takeaway service, I don’t think anyone has the luxury of waiting for one big review a year.”

Fast and regular

What should be applied in a review, she adds, is the management rule that states, ‘what gets measured gets managed’. By the same token, Davis says regular catch-up conversations should not be misinterpreted as micro-managing staff. 

“It’s about people knowing what is expected and constructive feedback on what’s been happening, and that must be a two-way street. It might be a case the owner or manager is the one who walks away from that conversation having learned more about that staff member’s skills or goals than they ever imagined.”

Ken Burgin suggests an important step for 2021 might be to even abolish the term ‘performance review’, and instead consider the ways crucial feedback can be included in staff meetings and regular catch-up conversations.

“One thing we’ve all learned from the past year is to make fast changes, so let’s not slow down on some of the important things—and communicating with your staff about their performance is important,” he says. “We need to make the most of this time of change to establish better ways of reviewing staff, that moves beyond a review being feared in a school principal kind of way. Both parties should come out of a review feeling it has been worthwhile.”