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Performance Reviews Stink in Person- Remotely They're Worse

Ah, November. Leaves are turning, nights get longer and the dreaded performance reviews loom. No manager enjoys doing them-- not only is it tough giving people formal feedback at the best of times, but there's all that HR paperwork and process to go along with it. It's bad enough when you can call someone into your office to have this chat. How much more uncomfortable and weird is it when the person is on the other side of the country.

Daniel Debow knows both sides of this challenge. Currently,he's co-CEO of Rypple. They make software that makes tracking feedback and employee discussions less onerous. He's not a fan of performance reviews, but has some interesting thoughts on how to make them less painful for all concerned.

What's wrong with performance reviews and why do remote employees tend to hate them even more than most other tasks?
Performance reviews are frustrating, time-consuming and usually don't relate to actual performance throughout the year. Who can remember in December what happened in March--good or bad? Everyone ends up scrambling through their e-mails, trying to recreate the past. Too often, the "annual" performance review becomes a referendum on the past 90 days, not a real evaluation of performance and potential.

It's especially tough for remote employees. It's human nature to be more aware of what we see every day. At performance review time, there's a real risk that out of sight really does equal out of mind. Remote employees are in a tough situation because the only way they can get good reviews is by spending lots of energy documenting what they did and building their cases. That takes time away from their actual jobs. It can also feel like self-promotion--and a lot of high-performing remote employees aren't comfortable with tooting their own horns.

Does age/generation impact how people view these reviews? Do Millennials have a different take on them than Boomers?
In a recent poll we conducted on LinkedIn, we asked people what words come to mind when you think about performance reviews. Over half of those aged 25-34 said either "stressful" or "bullsh*t!" The majority of the 35-54 group said "time-consuming" or "bullsh*t." The only group that seemed to find performance reviews helpful was those over 55.

There has been a lot of talk about how Millennials don't like feedback, because their parents always praised them. I don't think this is true. Millennials don't like the traditional "save it all up for the end of the year" performance review cycle. It's too slow. Millennials are passionate about personal development--they want to excel in their jobs. But they won't tolerate a stagnant environment. The trick with Millennials is to engage them early and help them chart a growth path.

How can technology help managers both throughout the year and at performance review time?
Companies have to figure out how to create a culture of constant feedback--without creating a lot of process. Technology provides the tools to give feedback in the moment, when it's most meaningful. It also lets everyone in the team or company weigh in. For example, with Rypple, anyone on the team can say "thanks" to someone else. That thanks can be published in a company feed, which is great recognition for the employee. It also gets saved to the employee's account for performance review time. No more rooting around in back e-mails--the information is right here.

Here are some of Daniel's tips for using technology to make performance review stink less:

  • With remote employees, it's important to be crystal clear about objectives. If your expectations aren't clear, performance reviews will be painful by definition. When employees are working remotely, it's easy to get out of sync. Be very clear on objectives at the beginning and check in frequently to make sure that your employees' activities are still lining up with expected results.
  • Write it down: When you see people in person, you get more context and cues that help you remember these interactions. Plus, you can read body language and judge whether you understand each other. When you interact primarily by e-mail or phone, it's harder to remember what happened. Jotting down a confirmation of what you agreed is a great tool. Rypple, for example, lets people publish objectives to their manager and team, and check off when they're done. That's a great way to make sure you're in sync on priorities. It also provides an objective record so, a few months down the line, there's a shared understanding of what happened.
  • Try to deliver the message in person: When the formal review does roll around, make it as personal as possible. In person is great, but a video call can be a great substitute. Anything you can do to make it personal and demonstrate you care will make discussions go more smoothly.
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