How to Give Employee Performance Reviews in 2021

How to Give Employee Performance Reviews in 2021
One of the most popular Organizations, Twitter has suspended all performance reviews in 2021, saying that it’s not fair to give employees dealing with different circumstances in the pandemic a formal evaluation right now.

How to Give Employee Performance Reviews in 2021

It may be true – Many cherish now – the old-normal. It was surely a different time. Quite a bit of new concepts got evolved. Newer words and phrases got coined during the Pandemic. Many have been in the context of people management, capability building, productivity measurement, and of course one of the most favorite topics all these past decades i.e., ‘Performance Management System’.

“Come 2021, Employee Performance Reviews has become the hot topic and many big houses have invested time & energy to optimize the best out of it. For example, in a recent study in the USA involving 7 large organizations, only 30% considered their evaluation-criteria for 2021 performance-reviews.”

Interestingly 2% said that employees would be given the same old rating they got during the previous review cycle. Also, 5% said reviews have been put on hold or canceled. It was not that they commented ever about a stressful performance review season. It is also not that the reviews may further add anxiety post-CoViD-19.  India is no exception. Business sectors like travel & tourism, aviation, and surface-transportation, hospitality, FMCG, infrastructure, construction & real-estate and many more got affected badly and the survival was a dire need to stay afloat.

A pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people, disrupted our normal ways of working. It has pathetically left lakhs of people unemployed. Hence to many, it was not quite a normal time for employers to assess performance as usual.

Survey results reflect similar results. For many the hearts ruled over the minds; we heard quite a bit about empathy & compassion. Simon Sinek in one of his popular talks was describing “Heart Counts” and not “Head Counts”. Large houses recompensated the wage-cut if at all. Economy taking a dive, our The government designed many revival packages to help bouncing back.

By now, we know – many organizations are not recommending detailed performance dialogues and no deep reflection. Many are still doing business as usual.

The BFSI sector in India will be ready to extend 1.6 million employment opportunities by 2022. While around 20% of these will be future new jobs, about half would be existing positions that require reskilling.  While banks have been utilizing automation to smoothen out cycles for quite a while now, there is a focus on innovations that should revolutionize systems and assume control over certain human activity jobs totally.

Digital learning, AI, and ML have increasingly become the bedrock of this vision and its execution. The performance management system will be influenced by such newer processes. In fact, some of the trend-setting examples are from the Investment bank Goldman Sachs, which has moved forward with rated performance reviews. They had planned to grade 25% of staff as “exceeds expectations,” while 65% will receive “fully meets expectations” and 10% will be marked “partially meets expectations,” according to an internal memo. 

More specific point shared in July/2020 by Reuters was – Goldman Sachs Group Inc was adopting a performance review system that would grade up to 10% of its 39,000 employees as under-performers. Their main goal is to let staff know where they stand as roughly 90% of the bank’s workforce works from home due to CoViD-19 restrictions. The dynamics of today’s challenges underscore the need for more transparency in feedback and even stronger communication between our people and their managers,” Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon wrote in the memo to all staff.

One of the most popular Organizations, Twitter has suspended all performance reviews in 2021, saying that it’s not fair to give employees dealing with different circumstances in the pandemic a formal evaluation right now. Keni Dominguez, their Consultant said there was not a “one size fits all” answer for how to handle performance reviews during the coronavirus pandemic. “For most organizations, I would say the best approach would be the refined, lightened approach focusing on a feedback mindset rather than quantitative measures. That seems to be the fairest, given the circumstances.”

Experts offered three ways performance reviews should change this year. 

If you do go forward with a performance review, ease off on the productivity guilt

“We can’t continue to pretend like our employees aren’t deeply affected by all the challenges they are having to navigate during this time,” said Dominguez. Added stresses this year might include transitioning to remote work, finding the tricky balance in caring for dependents at home, and grieving the loss of friends and family members to COVID-19. For employees of color, it may also include grappling with police brutality and racism, and the fact that Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Before overhauling performance reviews, Dominguez said, employers should ask themselves about this kind of pressure with hard questions like, “Were you slow to react as an organization? Did you take proactive steps to support your employees?” and consider how the answers affect employee performance.

In the survey of 317 companies, produced by McKinsey and, only half of the employers reported that productivity expectations had changed during COVID-19. That means many working parents and caregivers have been pushed to maintain unrealistic pre-pandemic goals.  Josh, a parent of two children who connects stakeholders and partners for a global health nonprofit, said that after returning from paternity leave in August, he was told during an informal review that he needed to produce more and that his employer questioned his commitment to the job. 

Josh’s formal review is coming up in the next few months, and he’s concerned that the process won’t account for “our individual lived experiences as employees, and what we’re actually able to produce in a set amount of time.” “I’m one of only two staffers with multiple kids that live with them full time, and I have some fears that there won’t be that understanding there,” said Josh, who asked that his last name not be used out of fear of retaliation at work.  “It is unfair to assess people right now on productivity,” Dominguez said. “I think it’s fair to say that most of us are less productive than we were last year at this time, and I wouldn’t even have that on a performance review.” 

Since 2021 is so unknown, consider more short-term, realistic goals

Part of what will make annual performance reviews realistic is accounting for the long-term uncertainty of living through a pandemic.  Josh said that at his nonprofit, performance reviews are supposed to serve as a check to ensure employees are making goals. But figuring out what goals are realistic is a “place of tension and anxiety” for him as shifting state and school coronavirus guidelines affect his work. “I feel a lack of support and safety if these goals don’t get met for things that are outside of my control,” he said.  To that end, Dominguez recommended using the review as a time to set incremental goals that give staff time to pivot and change as needed.  “It’s a lot easier to see that far in the future versus the entire year,” she said. 

Make structured feedback the focus. It’s the best part, anyway

A bad performance review is all about what the employee is doing and not enough about how their manager can support them better.

“Performance reviews should be a two-way conversation, not a top-down listing of compliments or grievances,” said Michael C. Sturman, a professor of human resource management at Rutgers University. “Supervisors need to hear the issues employees are facing with regard to how successfully they can do their work.”

Despite the changes brought by COVID-19, experts agree there is value in holding structured performance reviews to get this feedback. Sturman noted reviews are not only necessary for developing and rewarding employees but also for making a case if an employee needs to be dismissed. 

For that reason, don’t default ― as some companies have ― to just duplicating pre-pandemic reviews or, following Facebook, by giving every employee an “exceeds expectations” rating for the first half of the year. Dominguez said the issue with giving everyone the same rating is that it may “demotivate high performers and set the tone with underperforming employees that their performance is satisfactory.”

The pandemic can be a time for employees and managers to adjust goals and agree on which things need to be accomplished, which things are feasible given the circumstances and which areas show that success is possible, Dominguez said. “If you were to remove the performance evaluation process, it’s a lost opportunity for managers and employees to directly communicate with one another and have those conversations around how people can grow,” she said.

Reference: Monica Torres, Senior Reporter, Work/Life


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