How to Use Regular Employee Feedback to Replace the Annual Review

Tips to Increase Workplace Productivity and Employee Happiness

Regular feedback to employees about their performance makes the annual review unnecessary and a waste of resources.
••• Steve Debenport / Getty Images

Nobody enjoys annual performance reviews. The prospect of a manager sitting down at the start of each year with an employee to dissect conduct and work during the previous 12 months is daunting for all involved. Neither the employee whose work is under review nor the manager conducting the meeting wants to be there.

Annual performance reviews are not viewed as effective by managers, workers, HR leaders or senior leadership. In fact, only 49 percent of employees find that reviews are accurate, while 90 percent of HR heads believe annual reviews do not yield accurate information.

Not only are reviews viewed as flawed, they take a lot of time which stifles productivity and wastes talent resources that would provide benefits if they were invested in other activities.

Today’s agile workforce needs nimble new strategies, processes, and tools to enable feedback between employees and managers. Fortunately, best practices and technology tools are available to help any organization move beyond the dreaded annual review and improve their employee performance feedback and evaluation process.

Replace Annual Reviews With Regular Feedback

Employee engagement is typically an ongoing focus for company leaders. Many people say that they don’t enjoy coming to work, largely because they aren’t getting the feedback and coaching they need to feel engaged.

While happy and involved employees lead to better business outcomes, only around 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is actively engaged at workaccording to Gallup.

In response to this growing awareness, companies are replacing annual reviews with frequent check-ins. Adopting more regular assessments is a significant tool for companies to encourage employee engagement, eliminate the burden of the annual review, and offer managers a chance to connect, listen and provide valuable coaching.

More than one-third of U.S. companies have moved to a regular feedback model, according to some estimates. This move is driven in large part by distaste for the annual review and concerns about retention.

The Why and How of Regular Employee Performance Feedback

According to Deloitte, the thought of changing a process that takes thousands of hours a year, at an estimated cost of millions, is daunting especially if leadership is unfamiliar with the regular feedback practice.

While time is needed to get everyone on board with the transition from annual performance reviews to regular check-ins, or one-on-one meetings, it is important to help leaders understand why employee evaluations need an upgrade.

Today’s workforce wants and needs frequent feedback. Millennial employees, in particular, have a particular need for regular feedback; a demand that will grow in coming years. Between the increasing adoption of agile project management and technological advances like AI and machine learning, the pace of work is rapidly accelerating.

Real-time feedback is increasingly a necessary component to foster engagement and productivity. Weekly and monthly check-ins also provide a way to review challenges and opportunities­­, while giving direct feedback and outlining achievements and stretch goals.

Topics discussed in your one-on-one meetings should include immediate workload and how employees are tracking toward accomplishing existing goals, plus any training or development opportunities that could improve performance.

You can also identify team collaboration opportunities and ways to improve productivity. Identifying job competencies and incorporating peer feedback in the meeting adds to the value of the discussion.

Performance Management Software Can Boost Employee Engagement

Regular reviews with employees thrive on interpersonal connection and you need to establish goals and write them down to help focus employee efforts. However, important ideas can fall through the cracks if one-on-ones are held with a pen and paper or on a spreadsheet. Although the information will be preserved, this is an insufficient way to foster improved performance.

Employee reviews are more effective when online software is used to help manage the meetings, helping guide the conversation through collaborative agendas. Most technology built to support employee performance have the added benefit of integration with existing software, like calendar functions and document management.

Finding the right tools will help managers and employees gain the maximum benefit from moving from annual reviews to regular feedback.The right performance management software can help enhance the ongoing review process by providing:

  • A one-on-one management tool to help hold managers accountable for keeping these meetings and making them a priority.
  • Collaborative agendas where managers and team members can both add topics for discussion in the next one-on-one. This can help ensure that the conversations don’t always focus on current workload, but also include future goals and growth opportunities.​
  • Performance snapshots to make it easy for managers to see and acknowledge successes, as well as encourage improvement in areas where performance is less than ideal.​

Empowering teams with the tools to ensure feedback and performance assessment are consistent can help boost engagement, strengthen employee-manager relationships, and ultimately improve productivity while cutting out the potentially crippling costs of annual reviews.

Benefits of Replacing the Annual Review Across the Entire Organization

Making the switch from annual reviews to ongoing performance management and one-on-ones can take time, money and effort. Overhauling an enshrined process such as annual performance reviews, in which the organization's leadership already has a significant financial investment, is a challenge.

However, removing the universally despised annual review program assures it will no longer be a drain on resources, with accompanying negative impact on employee engagement and team unity.

Although managers and their employees also have more on their plates than conducting and participating in regular performance discussions, the potential benefits and progress are too great to pass up. Regular, ongoing feedback has been shown to improve the company at every point, including in collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

Making consistent, incremental improvements throughout the year—rather than attempting to fix everything during a single annual meeting—will have an equally profound positive impact on the bottom line, something every leader will appreciate.