Qualitative employee performance reviews are often viewed as an outdated practice. It used to be that an employee would be evaluated on a series of generic competencies that weren’t directly related to their job. Unsurprisingly, they received vague feedback that didn’t quite help them learn how to improve their performance.
With the emergence of modern performance management software, organizations can now conduct quantitative performance reviews. Objective goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are set for each employee and their progress is tracked throughout the review period. When it comes time to evaluate performance, employees receive clear feedback focused specifically on what they’re trying to accomplish every day.
However, you can make the case that qualitative performance reviews still have a place in today’s workplace, provided they supplement a quantitative approach.
What are qualitative performance reviews?
Qualitative performance reviews assess employees on subjective criteria that cannot be precisely measured. Behavioral and leadership competencies like “communication” and “initiative” are qualitative since they don’t have defined outcomes that equate to success.
The opposite of qualitative performance reviews is quantitative reviews, which are based on the specific, measurable goals the employee focuses on throughout the review period.
The role of qualitative performance reviews in modern workplaces
Based on the definition above, most HR professionals tend to prefer quantitative performance reviews over qualitative evaluations. After all, you want to provide employees clear and accurate feedback and goals and KPIs help you do exactly that. However, let’s consider two scenarios where qualitative performance reviews are beneficial.
Qualitative competencies provide a complete picture of job performance
Measuring performance with objective goals is ideal but simply meeting targets doesn’t mean someone is a top performer. The best employees are all-around great people to work with. Qualitative competencies help discover if an employee does all the little things that make them an excellent team member.
Let’s review a few competencies that can be used to evaluate an employee’s attitude, emotional intelligence, and other behaviors:
- Empathy – Determine if the employee is considerate of others’ thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.
- Organizational advocate – Consider if the employee represents the organization with professionalism and believes in the mission and values.
- Accountability – Evaluate the employee’s ability to take ownership for the results of their work, actions, and decisions.
- Composure – Assess the employee’s demeanor when faced with stressful and challenging situations.
- Compromising – Rate the employee’s willingness to negotiate agreements and accept concessions when necessary.
And then there are managers, who need to be effective leaders, in addition to accomplishing their role-specific goals. They have to keep their direct reports on track while providing guidance and support. Here are some leadership competencies that will you help you assess managerial performance:
- Mentorship – Discover if the manager provides coaching that helps junior employees learn and grow.
- Delegation – Review the manager’s ability to assign tasks and projects to the right direct reports.
- Supervision – Assess how well the manager monitors their team members to ensure they are efficient and productive.
- Approachability – Consider if the manager makes themself available to direct reports and colleagues.
- Team building – Evaluate the manager’s capacity to hire, promote, and develop team members.
Including these behavioral and leadership competencies will round out your performance review forms. Raters will first consider if employees are meeting their goals, then evaluate how they conduct themselves in the workplace.
Qualitative performance reviews make sense for some roles
While goals support a modern performance management process for most roles, others just don’t have quantifiable outcomes. It’s easy to apply goals and KPIs to your sales, marketing, and customer support teams but success isn’t cut and dry for your office manager or IT staff, for example. Those employees strive to keep the organization running smoothly, rather than accomplish predefined tasks that contribute to revenue.
Trying to shoehorn goals into their performance reviews will be frustrating for everyone involved. The employee will be asked to focus on arbitrary targets instead of the work that really needs to be done. And their manager will feel uncomfortable assessing their performance on irrelevant factors, in addition to struggling to define their goals in the first place.
For the roles on your staff where success is ambiguous, it’s completely fine to use qualitative performance reviews. Strive for quantitative performance reviews for most positions but don’t feel like you need to set measurable employee goals when it doesn’t make sense.
How to make qualitative performance review work
Qualitative performance competencies are looked down upon because they are subjective. For example, an employee might feel like they’re an effective communicator while their manager believes they need to improve in that area.
However, the right approach prevents inaccurate evaluations. We’ll conclude with some tips for creating a successful performance management process:
- Include descriptions with competencies – Describe what success looks like for every competency so managers evaluate employees accordingly.
- Share frequent feedback – Encourage managers to have regular check-ins with employees so there is an on-going conversation about everything performance-related.
- Document employee performance – Have managers record examples of an employee’s great work throughout the review period so they have a record to consult when completing reviews.
- Allow for self-evaluations – Make employees an active participant in their performance evaluation by having them review themselves.
- Conduct 360-degree feedback – Collect feedback from multiple raters so the manager has a variety of perspectives to consider when completing the evaluation.
Qualitative performance reviews help employees grow and improve, provided they receive accurate feedback. By following the tips above, your team will learn where they’re excelling and where they can improve in every aspect of their jobs.