Modernize Your Performance Appraisals

Julie Rieken

When: October 14, 2016
Start Time: 2:00 pm ET
End Time: 2:45 pm ET

Host: Julie Rieken

You hear the noise about ditching the annual performance review. But how will you substantiate employment-related decisions without them?

Don’t get caught in the middle! You can have the best of all worlds by Modernizing Your Performance Reviews. Trakstar’s CEO Julie Rieken will present ten ways we’ve seen customers adjust and improve performance reviews to make them more communicative, more two-sided, more effective, and more modern! Could a few small adjustments make big improvements in your organization? Come learn how to make your performance reviews work for your organization today.

Click play below to watch the video



The following is a transcript of Modernize Your Performance Appraisals, presented by Julie Rieken.



Good afternoon. I’m showing that it’s the top of the hour. If you’re here for the Modernize Your Appraisals Webinar, you’re in the right spot. I’m excited for it today. Let’s just a couple of pieces of housekeeping before we get started. First of all, let’s hope that you’re able to see my screen. You should see a bright orange screen that says, “Modernize Your Performance Appraisals,” in front of you. If you do, that’s fantastic. You should also have a chat box. If you’ve got any questions throughout the presentation, feel free to ping them, or you can save them until the end. You’ll just use the chat box that’s in front of you. There’s a little airplane in the bottom right corner of that and you can send questions to me throughout the presentation.

          Let’s go ahead and get started. I’m really excited about this topic, about modernizing performance appraisals. There’s a couple of reasons why. First of all, I’ll just do a quick introduction of myself. I’m Julie Rieken. I’ll present today. I’m the CEO of Trakstar. We are an online performance appraisal company.       

          Today, though, I’m not going to show you our software. I’m just going to talk about the best practices in the things that I’ve seen in the field. I know there’s a lot of chatter. I’m also the CEO of a company. We’ve got employees too. I sit on my local chapter’s SHRM board. I hear a lot of talking about performance and management and really follow those trends closely and say, “What are the things that I’m seeing that are good? What are the best practices? What does all that stuff look like? How do we make sense of that?” That’s what I’m going to talk about today. I’m excited to share some of this stuff with you.

          If you have any questions, again, please feel free to use the chat box. Otherwise, let’s go ahead and dig in. I said we were going to do the top 10 reasons, not reasons, but top 10 things you could do to modernize. I’ve actually added an 11th today, which I think is a good one. I’m excited to share that with you.

The Chatter

          Let’s just start with things that you may have heard, things that are going on sort of in the performance realm today in the HR world and conversations you may have had with your colleagues or things you may have read about online. What I’m hearing a lot about performance appraisals is that we really need to freshen them up, that some large organizations are abandoning them or looking at new ways to deliver them. It’s because the idea of an annual review feels a little bit old. It feels like, hang on, I should really be talking about performance a lot more than once a year. We need something a little bit better. The traditional competency model served us, but gosh, I wish it felt a little bit different, a little bit fresher for the kinds of things that we’re facing today in the work place. That’s some of the stuff that you may have heard. Trust me, I’ve heard that too. It’s a big deal.

          I want to talk a little bit about that. I think that it’s something that we all look at. There are some solutions. I’m just going to share today the essence of the presentation will be some of the things that I’ve seen out there with all of our customers and conversations that we’ve had with potential customers.

          Why is all the nose happening? Why are people deciding to look in different directions around performance reviews? It’s because, again, the annual performance review is something that people are feeling like needs to be updated. At the same time I know that we, as an employer, and probably you in your HR role, you’ve got some things that you’ve got to deal with, just as we do. How do you document that things have happened and how do you support employment related decisions if you need to either promote somebody or if you need to make a paper performance kind of decision, or if something’s just not working out and something’s not making a match. If you don’t have a performance appraisal, what kind of a tool would you use? How would you deal with compliance? Things like that.

          I know those are things that you face in your daily existence because I know I face them too. We do at Trakstar. How can you blend the two worlds? You’re looking for something that supports employment related decisions and at the same time feels a little fresher and more modern than the annual review. That’s what we’re going to get into.

The Power Exchange

          If you would, let’s just take a minute and think about something. What if you switched the balance of power on the performance review from the manager to the employee. These are some of the things that I’ve seen. Let me ignore that. Sorry about that.

          Let’s just say that you were to switch the balance of power. By the balance of power, I mean, in the traditional performance review, the balance of power lies with the manager. The manager evaluates the employee once a year, sits down and says, “Here’s how I think you did.” What if you switch that balance of power and made it a little bit more equal so that both the employee and the manager have some input on that performance?

          I ask that because I know that traditionally that isn’t necessarily how things go. If you want to do that, I wonder how that would look. You might just think about that in your organization. Maybe you’re already switching that balance of power. If you’re not, how would that feel? What if you were to focus on goals rather than competencies? We’ll talk about that. The competencies are the common. Send that to voicemail. The competencies are common things, things like attendance, work quality, work quantity. What if you focused more on a goal based appraisal, rather than one that was focused on competencies? How would that look?

          Then the other thing I would say is what would happen if your managers had an easy way to discuss and deliver a review? You know it’s hard. You know it’s hard to sit down and have that one sided conversation and try and open up the door into something they really want to talk about, but it’s kind of weird. That whole social interaction is a challenge. What if they have an easy way to discuss and the review was used as a tool for coaching? How would that feel?

          I’m sort of a rhetorical question. I get how I think it would feel. I think it would be better. Let’s just see, can you make those things happen? Think about these ideas. These are some of the things that we’ve seen happening, some of the trends that we’ve seen. People using values-based ratings instead of performance metrics. I’ll go specifically into what a values-based rating scale is. It’s more of a, “I feel good here. I need more experience. I agree. I disagree.” Things like that. I’ll give you some good examples of what we’ve seen. What if you were to focus on future growth in your annual or even a bi-annual review or a quarterly review. What if you were focusing on future growth and not looking backwards if it was future facing? What if you just eliminated ratings all together or just used them sparingly, or you used them but the only people that saw the ratings were really you and HR or maybe managers and you needed them for numerical things, but they weren’t the topic of conversation that was employees review?
          Those are some of the things we’ve seen. I’m going to go specifically into those. Here are the 11 things that we’re going to cover today. I want to talk about doing self-reviews, shortening forms, asking meaningful questions, adding employee-focused elements. This is a really big one with the values-based feedback. I love this one. We’ll go into a little bit of depth on that.

          Eliminating weights and final scores, moving from competencies to goals in terms of focus. How about just updating email communications, because it’s just hard to wrangle people? You might have stock emails that you used and whatnot. What if you just updated them and made them a little more fun or relevant? That actually, we’ve seen some improvements there in the whole process. Going online, of course, is something that helps. Considering 360 feedback if you haven’t thought about that. Taking your appraisal in whatever form you have and switching its focus to be more of a coaching and continual growth kind of a form rather than a reflective form. Of course, my 11th one today, which is the extra one, changing your rating scale. That, actually, I’ve got a pretty good story around that on an organization that did that.

The Traditional Review

          Let’s just start with this. Let’s just start on a baseline, something that I think most of us are familiar with. I don’t know that we can all agree upon this, but I think we’ve probably come pretty close. The idea of what a traditional appraisal form looks like where you’ve got some competencies like communication, teamwork, whatever those elements may be. You might have some goals on it and you might have some questions. This is a common set up for an appraisal form. I put some weights in there, 60% or 40%, sometimes people weight, sometimes they don’t.         

The idea is, on a traditional form, that it’s got, commonly, three components. Let’s use that, sort of, as our framework, as our backdrop. Then we’re going to contrast against that with some of these newer ideas. Okay.

Employee Self-Reviews

          Let’s just start with the first one, doing self-reviews. We’ve done some analysis at Trakstar on our customer base and figured out how many customers do self reviews. It’s about 75%, which I think, it’s higher, actually, than I expected. There are 25% of our customers that don’t do self-reviews yet. I don’t know what boats your in, but I would say the first thing you can do to modernize is to do a self-review. Let the employee have a voice. It’s nice when the employee can weigh in on what he or she thinks about his or her performance. That’s the first and really kind of an easy thing to do. It provides a nice common place for discussion. If you do nothing else and you just take your traditional review and open it up for a self-review, it changes the discussion between a manager and an employee when they sit down to have that annual conversation.

          It also allows the manager, it kind of gives them, when we talked about making that conversation easier for manager, it allows the manager to check the employee’s perceptions before they sit down so that if the manager perceives, “Hey, I think you’re doing great here,” and the employee is like, “Ugh.” They’ve been hard on themselves or something, it allows the manager to come in prepared with some examples and the same is true in the alternate situation where the employee’s like, “I’m really knocking it out of the park,” and maybe the manager perceives a bit more of a struggle there. They can prepare themselves for that discrepancy in perceptions when you do a self-review.

          I would say one of the first things to do to modernize is to enable self-reviews. If you don’t do that now, it’s a super easy way to modernize your process That’s number one.

Shortening Appraisal Forms

          Okay, number two. Shorten your forms. We have seen a lot of different forms come through, people that want to automate their performance appraisals, of course, so they come to Trakstar and they bring their old or their traditional forms with them. Sometimes they’re really long. That’s the example I’m showing on the left is what I would consider a really long form. You can see this one is split up into, this is an actual customer form, not naming the customer. I’m not sure I even remember. You can see they’ve got some core expectations and some standards of behavior. There’s at least 20 things on here. That’s a lot. Some of these, I think they really need, if you take a look at the core expectations, this is a medical field, some HIPPA compliance, some infection control. That’s a pretty big deal it looks like in this particular space.

          On the standards of behavior, there’s 10 things in there. Some of those, I actually think are probably crossovers, when I look at that. I think integrity and trust and ethics and values, that’s probably one thing that could be combined. Attitude and joy probably could be combined there. That would be a way to possibly shorten that. This is a long form. I think that creates a challenge when you’re trying to do an annual performance review. You might just think about, “What do we have on our current appraisal forms? Do we have one? Is it too long?”

          My rule of thumb, one of the things that I’ve seen that I honestly think works best just from hearing from customers and being in this position is to try and shorten a form to five competencies or less, if you can do it. It’s a great way to make things go a lot quicker, and you still have quality conversations.

          Along that, I do want to tell you a quick story about a customer. This is a customer from Nebraska. They came to us a couple of years ago. We provide customers a list of about 100 competencies. This is the list. You can kind of see in there. They loved this list. In fact, they picked 60 of these elements, 60. As you can imagine, with 60 things to rate, it really got tiresome.

          Here’s the story. I called the CEO and I say, “Hey, you know, you’ve got 60 elements on your form. We’ve seen this before. It’s kind of tough for employees.” We had to, actually, as a software company, had to enable some special things to allow the form to be that large, because there’s auto saving and things that made the form behave very slowly when you have that many components in there. I wanted to talk to him about it and say, “Hey, do you think you might want to pare that down a little bit?” When I did call, it was funny. I talked with their CEO and he took me to the woodshed and told me, “No, we are not paring it down. We love all of these 60 things. We think that our people should have all 60 of these components.”

          Okay, they did. They did find out, two or three years later, that it was a very challenging thing for people to finish. They got some feedback. I think they’re down to seven or eight things now. They did pare it down. They went more to a goal focused, too. I would say, 60, that’s an extreme example, right. That’s an extreme story. Think about how many elements that you got. Is that something that is making the performance review really a challenging thing. Can you do just bring it down to a few elements that would give you enough conversation, enough meaningful elements that it would be a good experience?

          Then what I’d say about that is we know what some of the top five and top ten things are that people use. Some of the are really, they’re big blanket umbrellas and they open up conversation in a lot of different areas, things like communication. Sounds kind of trite and like, “Oh, communication.” Yet, that can open up a lot of discussion about the kinds of communications people have. I would say pare that down as much as you can, especially if you’re going to do just a competency model. That will be helpful. That’s a way to modernize.

          Here’s an example. I took those forms, the long ones that we started with and if I were to shorten them, this is probably what I’d do. I’d take those core expectations and just pare them down to about five things. I’d keep some standards of behavior too, maybe down to three things. I’m not sure I’d have 20. I’d see if I could pare it down. I think that might be helpful.

          Of course, whatever you decide to do, you know your organizations best. The shorter sometimes the easier and the better and it promotes people getting things done more quickly and whatnot. There’s this idea number two.

Using Open Ended Questions

          Okay. I’m looking to see if there’s any questions. There aren’t any. I’m just going to keep talking. Let’s go on to number three, asking meaningful questions on your appraisal form, really common questions. List your strengths. List our areas for improvement. We see these over and over. They’re the most common questions. Yet, when somebody asks me that, I really kind of freeze. I’m like, “I don’t know. My strengths?” I feel kind of guilty putting down what they are. I feel kind of full of ego. I don’t like that question. My areas for improvement, gosh, there’s just so many. Where do I really being on that? I’m not sure if my boss asked me to list my areas for improvement, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to list all that out and plant the seed in his or her mind about all the areas that I’m really not that great at.

          One of the things that we’ve been doing is just collecting better questions. What are some of the really good questions that we’ve asked that could prompt a more meaningful discussion? Here are four of them that I’ve seen that I really like. What were my biggest accomplishments that moved the needle at my work since my last review? This could be one thing, could be two things. It allows the employee to think about what are the things that I did that moved the needle? That’s maybe better than strengths. I think. It opens up more conversation.

          What did I set out to do but I didn’t accomplish? It’s not a weakness. It’s just something that something got in the way. There was a roadblock, time constraints, whatever that may have been. What are my professional goals? What concerns do you have about your job? Those are some questions that I think prompt better conversations between a manager and an employee. If you can think about those when they are sitting down at that meeting, I think those would be a lot more natural for people to talk about than it would be listing strengths and listing weaknesses.

          This is an example of one of our customer’s forms. This is an actual form. I love it. There are three things on this form. I just want to point them out to you. I’m going to circle them here. Need to get my pen.

          First question, what went well? The first question. They’ve got a narrative space. When they do their appraisals, they’ve got a narrative space. Just look at the way that they’ve phrased this. It’s a really beautiful phrasing, I think. Describe your key achievements. This is your time to shine. Think about your successes in terms of the what and the how. Be specific and concise, use bullets. It’s meant to drive candid conversations between managers and employees. What? What are you big wins? What are you most proud of? Your impact. How did your project or expertise grow? By the way, with each of these, they’re not responding to each one of these things individually. These are elements where they’re just giving some snippets to inform the employee’s thinking in a single response. They don’t have to go to each one of these and respond. That’d be a lot of essay writing, right? That would be kind of laborious and nobody wants to do that. They’re prompting people. Just, “Here’s some ideas to help you think.”

          Then the second one here. This is nobody’s perfect. What could have gone better? I love this one, because it’s not what are your weaknesses. None of us are trying to do a bad job at work. There are things that like, “Oh, I could have approached that in a different way.” Or, “In hindsight, this would have been better if we’d done this thing first.” A missed deadline or an opportunity to earn extra revenue, a project got derailed. Is there anything you would have done differently and what behaviors may have changed the outcome of a goal?

          You have two narrative questions, just two. Then they have one rating. Check out their rating scale too, I think it’s kind of cool. Overall, how do you feel you performed over the last six months? It’s not easy, but they’ve got just one rating. This is the employee’s perception of his or her performance, struggling, below target, on target, above target or world domination. This is their entire appraisal form.

          I love it. It’s different. It does create, I mean, if you’re looking for pay for performance, this is going to be, you might have a little bit more of a struggle here. You don’t have the manager’s perception in this. Not that you couldn’t. You could. You could blend that in here. This is an employee focused, employee heavy, employee sided appraisal. I like that. I wanted to share that with you. That’s that one.

          Let me go to this next piece here. Sorry, need to get my pointer back. Great. Let’s erase some of those marks. Okay. Go back. Go back to pointer. There we, oh. I wanted to show you. We’ve got lots of resources at Trakstar. We’ve got 21 great appraisal questions. Here’s that nobody’s perfect one. Right? I love that one. Here are 21 good ones. If you don’t remember them, don’t worry. I’m totally happy to share all of those with you. There are things that we’ve collected, actually, from our customers. Some of the really creative ones that we’ve seen. We’ve put that together in a PDF. You are all welcome to that. I think some of them are really good. They prompt better conversations between managers and employees.

Employee-Focused Reviews

          Okay. Let’s move on, to, I think we’re on number four. Talk about the balance of power. We talked a little bit about this where when a manager is the one that’s delivering the appraisal and it’s one sided and there’s no self review, it’s a really weird social situation. It’s manager heavy. The manager’s talking at the employee. A couple ways, of course, you saw that example we just talked about, a way to challenge that to be to make it a little bit more employee focused like the example you just saw. There’s some other ways.

          This is a new way that we’ve seen that I love. This is idea number four, adding employee-focused, values-based elements. In an appraisal, traditional appraisal, how have you done on communication, anywhere from low to high.

          This is a little different. This is employee focused. Only the employee answers this. It prompts conversation. It doesn’t mean you eliminate the manager, necessarily, rating an employee on competencies, at all. This is just an extra element that you can add to get some feedback. It’s good feedback for the manager. It’s interesting for the employee and again, props that conversation.

          Take a look at these. Let’s just say that you had, instead of a competency like teamwork, you had something that said, “My current workload is appropriate.” The employee gets to rate strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree. My current skills are adequate for this job. The employee rates himself or herself. I need to learn more. I’m comfortable or I’m really good at this. How do you think you performed. I did not perform well. This year was a struggle. I survived or I thrived. What about just a yes or no? I’m interested in alternate kinds of work, yes or no.

          You can see kind of how these value based elements can play. You can put a type of survey into your appraisal, which again, could provide you. We’ve actually seen customers use this to measure employee satisfaction and moral. We don’t weight this. There’s no right or wrong answer to this. When you put this in an appraisal, you wouldn’t give it 30% of weight because you don’t want change somebody’s mathematical outcome based on their opinion. You could put this in there to provide conversation points.

          You’d want to be careful about this. You wouldn’t want to ask something like, “I like my manager. Yes, no or maybe.” Because your manager’s going to see that. Be careful about that. You might ask questions that might be open ended that could give you some insights into how people are feeling about their jobs that could, again, prompt a good conversation between managers and employees.

          Here’s an example just of what that might look like. Imagine that you have something called job knowledge, which normally would be rated low to high. Instead, you flipped it. You put it towards the employee. I need to know more. I’m comfortable. I’m really good at this. It would look a little bit like that. That could be interesting. I like that. I like it because I think it really shifts the performance conversation. I think one of the things we’re all looking for is a way to engage employees more in this process, a way to make it more two way.

          In the first situation, it’s the manager saying, “Here’s how I think you did.” In the second one, the employee, when they sit down and they do a self-review. The employee might say, “Hey, I picked uncomfortable here.” The manager might say, “I see that. Tell me more.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that the tough conversations don’t happen in this situation. If the employee says, “I picked I’m comfortable here.” Then manager can still have whatever conversation he or she needs to have whether that’s something like, “I’m surprised you didn’t say you were thriving here. This is what I see compared to your peers.” Or the manager is still open to say something like, “Gosh, I think a little bit of extra training might help you get into that thrive area.” You’re still having that challenging conversation, it’s just in a lot more positive way.

          Okay. Let’s go on to the next idea here. All right. Again, our backdrop from the beginning was competencies, goals and questions, kind of that traditional appraisal form. On the left, you can see, I’ve got just a screenshot of what common competency model appraisal form might look like. Job knowledge and technical performance, work quantity, dependability, problem solving. They decided to shorten their form here, actually, by just, as you can see, putting three in one. I’m not sure it actually solves the shortening of the form, but it’s still only one element to rate. You get the idea, competency based model, where they’re going to rate themselves low or high. Manager would rate the employee low or high.

          This would be what a goal. This is 100%, by the way. This is a traditional appraisal kind of a situation. You could switch that up. You could change it to be more of a goal focus. A goal focus could look like this. They could have individual elements that they’re working on. Maybe that’s weighted higher. You can change your weights, of course. You don’t have to be 80%. You could make this a bit more of a focus. You can still have some competencies, some core values, whatever you want to call that. Attendance, communication, these elements are kind of the same in there. Maybe some job specific, in this case, this is an accountant. They might add a couple of extra ones in there. Changing it to where the weight of that appraisal is more focused on the projects or the goals that you’re wanting that person to achieve, rather than on straight up competencies.

          One thing I would mention about straight up competencies in any of these situations, is I wouldn’t eliminate them. I think one of the things about making an employment related decision is making sure we’re fair and equitable. I love the idea of a small core value section, five or less, for everybody that’s the same. Maybe a couple of job specifics. Maybe a total of five. Maybe five here, two here, three here, two there, something, again, small, that’s entirely up to what your organization needs. Something where you have a baseline for everybody so that for people that are performing above the bar, you have a look and a feel for that because everyone’s been rated on the same competencies. Again, for the same for the below the bar. You’ve got a nice way to substantiate employment related decisions.

          When you do goals, strategies and actions, these are a little bit harder for employment related decisions, because you don’t know. Did somebody have 10 goals? Did somebody have two? Whatnot. Anyway, you get the idea there. You can kind of change that up a little bit.

Eliminating the Final Score

          Okay. Let’s move on to number five, idea number five, which is eliminating weights and final scores. You know how the game kind of goes. Time for the annual review. The manager’s got five people. He or she does the first person for Joe or Mary or whoever, does the first appraisal. That person ends up scoring a 3.5 on a five point scale. Then the manager goes in and wants to rate the next person and says, “I want that person to be above or below that 3.5.” They play this math game in their head. “I should probably rate so-and-so here because otherwise their score ends up a little bit lower than Mary’s or than Joe’s. I want this person to end up with a numerical calculation that’s above or below.” Suddenly the scores don’t necessarily reflect that person’s performance. They reflect a mathematical number that manager, for good reason, is trying to achieve.

          What I might say is, what would happen, and this is just … What would happen if you had a normal looking appraisal, again, some core values, some management, some questions, but you eliminated a final score? You’re still scoring, but you don’t get to see the … That’s not true. Administrator might. In the Trakstar sense. I don’t know how this would work with other systems, but in the Trakstar sense, you could still get a numeric output from the administrative side. The manager and the employee don’t see it. The employee doesn’t walk away saying, “Well, I’m a 3.5.” The manager’s not playing that up and down math game when he or she is doing an appraisal for somebody. They’re genuinely just thinking about that employee in that situation and their performance. They’re not playing that game.

          Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean, you still get, at least in a Trakstar sense, and I don’t want to dwell on the Trakstar software too much. You don’t have to eliminate the idea that you can still get a report behind the scenes and what those scores really were. Your pulling it out of the visualization for the manager and the employee which allows for maybe a more honest conversation and doesn’t attach a numeric score to an employee’s performance. That’s something you can do too. That’s another way to modernize.

Moving Performance Appraisals Online

          Let’s go on to the next one. Sorry. Oh, looks like I went to six and then to five. Okay, my bad. You got them out of order but now we’re going to move on to seven. Okay. Going online. It’s a really big deal. It make things easier for you. It streamlines your process and everybody gets everything at the same time. Then you know who’s ahead and who’s behind. You can pull some good data out of this. I’ve seen organizations try and collate data out of Excel. No. It’s just too hard. I would say going online. That’s a way to modernize your appraisal, of course.

          It also, at least from what we’ve seen, it can help people shorten the time that it takes to do reviews. You know this if you’re in charge of your reviews. You know your passing out forms, Word docs, Excel Docs, you’re collecting them, you’re sending them back. You’re attaching them for approvals and what not. This is just some data that we have from a customer that in 2013, it took them an average of 145 days to complete their appraisals. Then, when they went online, it brought that down a lot, because everybody’s getting everything at the same time. It’s a lot easier for the administrator to see how things are going. Okay.

Utilize Peer Feedback (aka 360 Degree Feedback)

          Let’s go onto the next one. The eighth thing to modernize is to consider 360 feedback. 360 feedback, or multi-rater feedback, you’ve heard maybe different terms for it, is an interesting way to modernize, especially if you want to change the perception, again, of the manager is the only one weighing in on things. In this case, Pat, our individual in the middle is getting feedback from two people and maybe also from his manager. Two people are providing feedback saying Pat’s fantastic to work with and he’s willing to lend a hand. This also really helps the manager, depending on the capacity in which he or she is working with that person. They can get some additional feedback and get a more well rounded perspective.

          360 feedback has different things that you can look at. You can share that feedback with the employee and say, “So-and-so said this or not.” You can make it anonymous. You can choose the pieces that you wish to share and eliminate the others. All of those things are possible with 360 feedback. You don’t have to necessarily share every single comment that was ever there. You probably wouldn’t want to because you never know what’s happened between two people at the water cooler. It will allow a manager to get some different feedbacks. I think. Consider 360 feedback.

Create Automated Email Reminders That Will Work

          Updating email reminders is a nice idea. One of the things that we’ve seen that works is changing the frequency of your … This is particularly true if you’re in in online situation. If you’re not, you may have some stock emails that you sent out 30 days, 15 days, ahead of when an appraisal is due or when a review is due. If you’re in an online situation, you can certainly change the frequency. You can be really clear about due dates. You don’t have to worry about it. The system’s going to send them. We’ve seen people do some really fun email titles, things that are just less … You know how when you get those emails in your inbox that are automated and the same title and you’re really tired of looking at that title. We’ve seen some people do some friendly titles for like, “Uh-oh, your appraisal’s overdue, you can still finish.” Things that make them just a little friendlier and make people a little more apt to open that email and stay on track.

          I would say, this is a really easy win, quick and easy win to get people on time and to modernize your process. I’d say updating email reminders is a good one. Okay.

Focus on Coaching and Development

          Number 10, focus on coaching and continual growth and development. Sometimes appraisals, performance reviews, are really retroactive. You’re looking back at to how things have happened in the past. What I might say about modernizing is change those questions to be more forward facing. There’s no reason you can’t do it. You just need to phrase your questions in a different way. What are the things you might need for next year? What are the things that you have done well? What are some coaching tips that I might provide? The way that you build your form can be more forward facing than retro, than looking back. I’d say that’s a really good way to modernize. We do have some examples of that at Trakstar, things we’ve seen people do that allow maybe a little bit of the backwards look, because you’re going to need some historical documentation, again, to substantiate employment related decisions. You can also add some forward facing elements in there that allow that conversation to be about what an employee will be needing rather than what was done. I want to say that’s a really good way to modernize.

Why The Bell Curve Doesn’t Always Work

          Then I want to just go to the last idea here. This one, this is just my big idea for the day. It’s not even that big. You’re going to be surprised. It’s not that big. I want to tell you a little story from a customer in New Jersey. Maybe you’ll find it to be big. Actually, it was pretty interesting what happened with this customer. Customer in New Jersey, is the city and county that worked with us. They’d been doing appraisals. Of course they had some pay for performance. This is how their bell curve looked. You might perceive a bell curve would be a normal bell curve distribution. Theirs wasn’t.

          Here’s the reason. They started with their rating scale was like needs improvement, and then meets expectations and exceeds expectations. Managers felt really guilty. They had this guilt complex. I can’t say meets expectations, it feels like my employee’s getting a C. A C is something, none of us want a C. We want an A or B. A C is in the middle and it feels gross. They wouldn’t rate an employee in the middle because meets expectations made the manager feel bad and guilty and it made the employee. They would mark the fourth level. They wouldn’t go all the way to the top, but overwhelmingly they’d mark the fourth level.

          This actually is super common. We see this in a lot of our customers. Their bell curve isn’t equal. It’s a left skew or what they call a negative skew. It would end up at the level four. A few, high achievers, mostly everybody though, is in that, “You’re doing better than average.” That was a struggle for them because everybody got a pay raise. They were doing pay for performance. Depending on your appraisal score, you were getting a raise. This created financial problems. What they wanted was a normal distribution. Here’s what they came to us and they said, “Okay, here’s the deal. Our employees are fantastic. We genuinely have people doing so well. They really are good people.” That doesn’t mean, though, that everybody’s a high performer. When we put that, when we left skew the curve, the high performers don’t really even get recognize. They get blended in with everybody who’s also doing a really good job but maybe isn’t on that edge.

          They wanted a more normal distribution. I thought that was an interesting problem and a common problem in the appraisal world is the left skew. They wanted a more common, a more normal distribution where they had some low performers, solid, good performance, not average performance, not meets expectations kind of performance, but what the expect, and then the high performers.

          Here’s what they did. They did one thing. They changed their rating scale. The words made all the difference. They took the words, instead of needs improvement and exceeds expectations and meets expectations, as you might expect, they changed them to the words of the stock market. This is the big idea. They changed it to not performing. If you’re not performing, you’re not performing. Under performing is where needs improvement went. Performing was the middle level. I’ll dig into that a little deeper. Leading is the next one and out performing is the final rating scale.

          Imagine somebody rates you and you get meets expectations. You go home just feeling kind of meh. You get performing instead and performing is something I don’t feel bad about performing. Yep, I’m performing. That’s right. Leading was something like I am leading which means I effect a little bit of change maybe within my department. Outperforming meant somebody that was effecting change perhaps organizationally. They changed their descriptions, too, for performing. When you write a description of what performing means, it doesn’t just mean is doing his or her work. They made it really strong. They made it what they expected. What they expected was high. The performing description, when they wrote the few sentences to describe what did performing mean in communication. They made it really strong. What they were able to do was to normalize their bell curve because they took the guilt out of picking the middle level. They were specific about the way they described each of these levels.

          We took that idea, actually, at Trakstar and did the same thing with our confidences, and made our middle level, no matter what words picked, and buy the way, you can pick whatever words you like. I think these are great words. You can pick whatever words you like at Trakstar. Whatever that level is, it’s a very strong level. It’s not a meh, C grade kind of a level. This is what we expect and everything else is just a little bit higher or a little bit underperforming. We think you could do better there.

          I think that’s the big idea of the day there. If you do nothing else, changing your rating scales can really change the conversation and make mangers be able to be a little bit more honest and employees the same thing. That’s that.


          If there is anything we can do to help you with this conversation, if you’ve got ideas and you want to see more examples of what people have done, we’re happy to do that. Go to Click on Get A Live Demo. We’re very pleased to do that for you. Today, if you do not have the Modernize Your Performance Appraisals PDF, I know some of you might, some of you might not, if you don’t have this, I’ll be sending it out as a followup today. The Modernize Your Performance Appraisals PDF follows a lot of my presentation today and gives you some of those ideas. Sometimes you don’t need a full overhaul on your performance appraisal system or your methods or your processes to make a really big difference. Hopefully you’ve come away with two or three ideas today that might help you in your thinking.

          If you want more ideas or you wish to continue the conversation, you can see my email address below, I’d be very pleased, other ideas with you, things that we didn’t cover today. That is that.

          I want to thank everybody for coming. I’ll pause here for a minute. I know I’ve been talking steadily for 40 minutes. I’ll pause here and see if anybody’s got any questions. If not, then I just want to thank you. Have a great weekend. Feel free to follow up with me if anything comes up in the future. I’ll just pause. Maybe everybody else is waiting for everybody else to answer, to ask a question.

          Okay. I’m not seeing anything. Maybe it just is 5:00 everywhere, on a Friday, which is totally fine, too. Again, have a great weekend. I’ll send a followup email to everyone with the Modernize your Appraisals PDF and I hope you’ve got just a couple of good ideas that might be helpful as you decide to modernize your process. Thanks again.