3 Tips for Enhancing Performance with Reviews

Instead of just evaluating project professionals’ past performance, motivate them.

5 Mar 2013

The reviews are in: Traditional performance appraisals could do a better job at motivating employees and producing results for organizations.

Consider the results of the 2013 U.S. Employee Report, published in December 2012 by talent management software company Cornerstone OnDemand. When asked about their employer’s performance review process, just 38 percent of employees said it gave them the opportunity to improve their work. And some companies are listening. Last year, Adobe Systems — including 2,000 employees in India — did away with the annual year-end review.

“There’s a reason managers don’t like giving reviews and employees don’t like receiving them: Performance reviews don’t work,” says Samuel A. Culbert, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, and co-author of “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing—and Focus on What Really Matters.”

The feedback is useful, but project professionals need it delivered in a more consistent and constructive manner. “A very capable project manager is an independent, driven person,” says Wendi Clure, PMP, delivery director, implementation services, at CTG Health Solutions, a healthcare IT consulting company based in Dallas, Texas, USA. “That kind of person wants and seeks feedback.”

How can project professionals receive feedback from organizations that helps them find motivation and push their careers to the next level?

  1. Preview, don’t review.

    Replace performance “reviews” with performance “previews,” suggests Mr. Culbert. Ask team members how you can help them do well tomorrow, rather than punishing them for what they did poorly yesterday.

    “If the boss asks you, ‘How can I help you? Are there resources you lack?’ that’s a far better conversation [to have],” says Mr. Culbert.

    Previewing performance rewards honesty and results in better project outcomes. And that may lead to a résumé filled with success stories — a valuable weapon in a career development arsenal.

  2. Make feedback frequent.

    Organizational psychologist Graham Winter, director at Think One Team International in Adelaide, Australia, advocates a three-step process — repeated quarterly, not annually — in which a supervisor and project manager align performance goals, collaborate on tasks to achieve those goals and review their progress.

    “It’s no different than a project,” Mr. Winter says. “You spend time up front to make your expectations clear, you then go out and do it, and on a regular basis, you debrief and learn.”

    Tom Powers, PMP, a contract project manager at Amway in Ada, Michigan, USA, and Ms. Clure agree. To encourage positive behaviors to continue and negative behaviors to cease more quickly, Ms. Clure has interactive conversations with direct reports at least every other week. In the past, Mr. Powers has scheduled monthly one-on-ones that lead into a quarterly performance review — helping keep career goals fresh in the minds of project professionals.

  3. Consider crowdsourcing.

    Organizations can optimize the process of giving continuous, ad-hoc feedback by integrating a social component, according to Derek Irvine, vice president of client strategy and consulting at Globoforce, an employee recognition services firm in Southborough, Massachusetts, USA. He recommends supplementing traditional performance appraisals with crowdsourced performance reviews — using tools like internal social networks to capture performance feedback, 365 days a year, from both managers and peers.

    Organizations might worry about the implications of virtual reviews, but they can minimize risks by making feedback anonymous, restricting feedback to positive achievements or making feedback channels private.

    Although the traditional annual performance review has many goals, from setting compensation levels to legal recordkeeping, improving performance isn’t typically achieved. By supplementing the existing performance review with a new process — or even replacing it altogether — for ongoing and forward-looking feedback, employers can motivate improvement both in projects and project professionals.