How to Create a More Manageable Performance Review System

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Time-consuming performance reviews need a revamp. Here are four things to skip to create a more sustainable review process.

Performance reviews have long gotten a bad rap. They are seen as outdated, ineffective, time-consuming and anxiety-inducing. There’s some truth here. Yet when done right, performance reviews are an opportunity for employees to channel a growth mindset and meaningfully align with their managers on performance.

We’ve experimented with almost every variable at HubSpot — more frequent reviews, less frequent reviews, more formal reviews, less formal reviews. This year we agreed to ship one system company-wide for a full 18 months, so we have time to collect real data, truly enable a great process and ensure employees and managers alike have clarity on expectations. Did we nail it right out of the gate? Nope. As usual, there were learnings along the way, but our ultimate goals are shared ones: employees get great feedback to help them grow, the system is designed to help fight bias of all kinds and managers align with their peers on what remarkable talent means so we can invest time and energy in true top performers.

Here are four things to consider omitting to improve and upgrade your performance review process:

Drop the lengthy self-surveys.

On average, people spend 40 hours on their self-evaluations. But you don’t need 50 questions to have a meaningful conversation about performance. Keep it simple — all you need to ask is what went well, what could have been improved and what you’ll focus on in the future.

That’s why this year, our company capped the self-survey portion of reviews at five questions and 500 words each. We also asked that folks use bullet points instead of drafting up long, detailed paragraphs about their work. By keeping the time needed to fill out a review down, you’re able to spend more time having a genuine conversation about growth and development.

Get rid of unhelpful, overly fluffy reviews.

Performance reviews should help you grow better. That’s only possible if you’re giving (and given) direct, constructive feedback both around what’s going well and areas of improvement.

That’s why Brene Brown’s quote “clear is kind” resonates so much with me. I believe there is a lot of integrity that comes with delivering tough feedback directly without mincing words. For this cycle, each of our senior leaders wrote a sample review outlining the level of feedback expected for a sample rating, so the onus was on us to lead by example, sharing clear context on what a strong, clear review entails.

Don’t just deliver details, create a dialogue.

You shouldn’t rush reviews, but it’s important to leave space at the end of each review to be able to have an actual conversation. Everyone should have the opportunity to give their manager feedback, or even push back and say “Hey, I had a minute to think about this and I wanted to dig in a bit deeper.”

During my last review cycle, some of my most meaningful conversations happened during that window of time. I got to hear from my reports about what they thought I got right, wrong and everything in between. Holding space for these open and honest discussions benefits everyone: employees get to practice sharing tough feedback while managers learn how they can be better leaders.

Ax inconsistent rating scales.

To build true equity for your teams, you need consistent ratings across the entire organization. Like many companies, we use a five-point rating scale. But more importantly, we also dedicate time and resources to educate our managers on the definitions and expectations for each level, encouraging them to be thoughtful when considering where people fall. Providing clarity and transparency on how performance is measured builds trust, helps get ahead of questions before they’re asked, and ensures we’re all on an equal playing field. In the spirit of transparency, our Product org had a different performance rating scale until this year. While it worked when we had a smaller workforce, having inconsistent rating systems didn’t scale with our rapid growth.

Feedback is a gift, but only if it’s a regular occurrence. The data shows that employees aren’t getting enough feedback. So, rather than having two performance touchpoints per year, build feedback into your team’s operating system so that employees are learning and growing year-round — as Mark Twain said, “continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Ultimately, performance reviews should be productive, not painful. No matter how you feel about them, investing in your people means investing the necessary time and effort into how to deliver feedback to fuel growth.