Evolving The Annual Performance Review

3 min read

Most of us naturally want to receive feedback on our contribution at work. We want to know, are we helpful? Was it worth the effort? How is my contribution pushing the mission forward?

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Yet, most organizations find it exceedingly difficult to create a culture of feedback. Let alone, how do we even evaluate performance in a year like 2020.

Especially this year, an annual appraisal, in many companies, might be the most awkward moment of the year. Your people might be thinking two things: we hope our contributions will be acknowledged and celebrated, and we fear negative feedback, which may have been left unsaid and built up over the course of the year. Especially this year.

If we are mindful this year, and consistently moving forward, we can have conversations stemming from a place of care, and we can enter into moments of inquiry, where we have no easy answers but can help each other holistically and openly assess performance more truthfully.

“People must feel safe to be honest about themselves and towards others. Only then can we use the strength of everyone and prevent people from doing things that they don’t really know how to do or don’t want to do” - Jos de Blok

Bringing this type of mindfulness to discussions is something that we can learn and something that can be taught. A key way to do this is to evolve the very nature of how performance evaluation discussions play out.

Most of these discussions are focused around attempting to take a snapshot of a person’s abilities and results and consequently develop a list of strengths and weaknesses.

This is a very heartless way to summarize a person and their performance.

Instead of creating a narrowly focused, one-dimensional snapshot, we must take a broader view of a person’s journey over the last year; Including their potential, hopes, personal calling, and even the ways that the organization enables performance. This holistic evaluation cannot be done on a categorical scale of 1 to 5. Instead, we must recognize and celebrate achievements and explore the learning from our failures.

The goal is to take this performance evaluation from “I see you as….” to a joint conversation around “where do you…” It doesn't need to be complicated. A collaborative approach towards performance and feedback is the key towards building relationships and improving future performance.

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The question you may have at this point is, how do we move from the usual practice of evaluating with a rating scale, to a moment of joint exploration?

There are many different practices, but here are some questions that can help turn that conversation into this new model:

  • What has gone really well this year that we might want to celebrate?
  • What has been learned in the process?
  • What didn’t go as well or might have been done differently?
  • How do we “take stock” of where things are now compared to where we thought we might be?
  • What are you most excited about this next year?
  • What concerns you most?
  • What changes, if any, would you suggest in your function?
  • What ongoing professional development will help you grow in your current role and in the future?
  • How can I be of the most help to you?
  • When you think about your work in the year ahead, what goals will help guide you?

As you may have noticed, there is no place in these questions for negative feedback or telling a person what they need to do better.

We are not pretending that everybody is perfect and no one needs to be told what they could improve on. But this type of feedback should not be concentrated in the annual review. This feedback should be given on the spot, all year round, instead of being left unsaid until the end of the year. How do you expect someone to grow throughout the year and stop doing things that don’t work if you are only telling them about issues at the end of the year? As a people leader, this should be part of your daily and weekly routine with your team.

The big change here is to view annual performance reviews through a lens of love, care and coming together to turn these discussions into moments of true learning and celebration. Annual reviews don’t need to be dispiriting, lifeless affairs.

With the right presence and the right questions, we can turn annual reviews into rituals of celebration and learning.

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