Guide to employee performance tracking | Strategies & tools
The process of annual or biannual performance reviews offer some merit for organizations. They can help managers and employees discuss how things have been going, clarify expectations at a high level, and set goals for the months to come. However, today’s teams are more distributed and hierarchies are more flat, with one in six North American companies currently adjusting their performance management processes to accommodate hybrid and remote work.* That means infrequent, top-down assessments no longer accurately reflect the way teams collaborate.
Performance tracking is a more frequent, collaborative process that happens between more formal, infrequent performance reviews. There are many benefits to tracking performance on a regular basis, such as:
- Agility — Ongoing, routine performance tracking enables managers to address issues directly and in context at the time that these arise, allowing for more agile problem-solving and data-driven reviews.
- Collaboration — A more collaborative approach to assessments gives employees more say over the goals and metrics managers use to evaluate their performance.
- Engagement — Frequent communications and feedback keeps employees engaged and motivated, whether they’re working remotely or in an office setting.
Unfortunately, organizations often utilize performance tracking as a large-scale corrective measure for underperforming teams. Instead, we encourage them to think of it as a proactive people empowerment system. In this article, we discuss strategies and tools for monitoring employee performance more regularly and effectively. We’ll also briefly compare some of the top performance tracking software on the market today.
*Willis Towers Watson, 2023
Importance of employee performance tracking
When you take the time to create a performance tracking system that's in line with your company goals and culture, it will benefit your organization in many meaningful ways, including:
- Enhancing engagement and satisfaction — Ongoing feedback and conversations foster a healthy rapport between team leads and their reports, allowing employees to feel more valued, supported, and ultimately, bought into your company culture and processes.
- Driving employee development — Performance reviews that focus on professional and personal progress empower team members to take ownership of their careers rather than simply doing what managers and leaders tell them to do.
- Allow for more agility and flexibility — Continuous performance tracking enables organizations to quickly identify bottlenecks and shortcomings in their ways of doing things so they can make adjustments as and when issues materialize.
“As someone who’s been tracking employee performance for over 15 years, I believe it’s absolutely crucial for optimizing the functioning of your organization because it allows you to react in real-time to arising challenges and opportunities. Still, you have to be very careful about how you undertake it or you risk severely undermining your employees’ morale.”
— Piotr Sosnowski, Head of People at Life and My Finances
How to track employee performance
Teamwork-oriented performance tracking empowers managers to act as coaches and strategic partners as they guide employees toward achieving their goals. With that in mind, here are a few practical steps that your organization can use as a template to update its processes.
1. Set realistic goals
Clear goals provide a sense of direction and purpose, and a collaborative goal-setting process helps employees grow in ways that benefit them and their organization. When staff members are involved in setting their own performance objectives, there is a much higher chance those goals will be met. Plus, enabling your team members to track their progress and impact on the company mission can increase their motivation, productivity, and overall engagement rates.
If your company utilizes OKR planning, you already have the framework to support employees with their personal development goals. After aligning on an outcome-focused objective, define three to five measurable key results to guide the employee on the path to reaching their goal. For example, a development OKR for a customer service representative might look something like this:
Objective | Improve written communication skills to optimize customer interactions in support emails
- Key result 1: Finish a de-escalation training that results in 20% fewer tickets needing to be escalated to higher tiers of support over the next quarter.
- Key result 2: Practice clearer communication and reduce the number of interactions per ticket by 15% over the next quarter.
- Key result 3: Establish a peer review system for written customer interactions and receive an average score of 4.5/5 in the next 6 months.
If you’re not using OKRs, or you’d like to keep your individual employee goals a bit simpler, the SMART goals framework is a great approach. SMART means your aims should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. This is what a goal like this could look like for the same customer service employee:
- “The goal is to improve the clarity of my written communication to optimize customer interactions, resulting in 15% fewer interactions per ticket by the end of the next quarter.”
“Make sure to include and involve the employee in what they want to set out for themselves during a year or a period of three years. You can set those big audacious goals, but you can also set work/life balance goals and think about the person as a whole when thinking about the time period ahead for goal setting.”
— Jennifer Morehead, CEO of Flex HR
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2. Review progress regularly
It’s important to note that organizations should not use routine progress monitoring to surveil productivity, as this diminishes trust between employers and employees. Instead, team members should think of performance tracking as a way to stay ahead of bottlenecks and managers should approach it as a way to facilitate learning and development.
Outside of performance reviews and informal 1:1s, leverage feedback tools and asynchronous communication channels to discuss which goals are moving forward and which are gridlocked. Managers can ask team members questions like:
- Are there any adjustments or changes you need to make to your approach to stay on track?
- Do you need any additional support or resources to achieve your goals?
- Have you met any milestones or achieved any subgoals?
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3. Encourage self-monitoring with tracking tools
One advantage of people enablement software is that it makes tracking goals more efficient; in fact, 97% of HR leaders and 89% of employees agree their organizations benefit from using it.
Still, not all platforms have a straightforward design, so it’s important to invest in a solution that’s intuitive to use. The best options — like Leapsome’s Goals module — allow you to track progress with statuses like on track, delayed, and off track and show the percentage completion. Moreover, the Goal Tree feature enables you to view how progress is impacting your wider organizational objectives.
4. Assess development in 1:1s
Some companies have chosen to stop doing semi-annual formal performance reviews, in favor of weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 check-ins. Others have kept their traditional assessments in place and supplement them with more frequent, informal meetings.
Whatever your approach, regular virtual or in-person meetings are crucial for managers and their direct reports to assess whether team members are on track to reach their goals and, if this is not the case, to work together on strategies and solutions. Keep these best practices in mind ahead of your meetings:
- Review progress at the start of each meeting to identify milestones and barriers to progress.
- Make the meetings collaborative and empower your reports to come up with ideas.
- Set action items for employees to take charge of before the next meeting so it’s clear what they need to work on.
- Don’t ask for 100% success with goals. In most frameworks, a success rate of 70% or 80% is already a good indicator of progress.
“My number one tip is to never expect your employees to achieve 100% of their goals. The pressure it creates isn’t worth the potential benefits. The stress of knowing that there’s no margin for error not only doesn’t enhance performance, it also paralyzes the employees, effectively blocking them from undertaking any risks and being inventive, which is never good news. So let humans be humans and know that there’s no growth without some errors to learn from.”
— Piotr Sosnowski, Head of People at Life and My Finances
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Optimize your performance management system with Leapsome
Performance tracking is a living, cyclical process that never stops evolving, which is why leveraging the right performance management software solution is crucial.
Not only do platforms like Leapsome allow you to create easy-to-use workflows, they incorporate powerful analytics that enable you to digest data, identify trends, and make evidence-based decisions to improve employee performance.
However, while other solutions might offer multiple disconnected tools and call themselves “all-in-one,” Leapsome is a truly interconnected platform that intuitively syncs goals, performance reviews, and 1:1 meeting agendas to help you design a performance management system that motivates employees and drives business outcomes.
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Performance tracking FAQs
1. What is the purpose of tracking employee performance?
The primary purpose of performance tracking is to develop employees professionally in line with strategic business goals and, in turn, help organizations grow.
More specifically, performance tracking empowers companies to:
- Set objectives for individual employees that feed into wider organizational goals
- Monitor progress toward these goals
- Assess employees’ contributions to an organization's overall success
- Identify team members who may need additional training or support
- Recognize and reward high-performing employees
- Foster engagement and satisfaction with regular coaching and feedback
2. How often should employee performance be tracked?
How often you should track employee performance depends on your organization’s culture, needs, goals, and resources. In general, you can discuss individual progress:
- Weekly or biweekly with informal check-ins or 1:1 meetings
- Quarterly or semi-annually with formal evaluations or 360-degree assessments
- Annually in a meeting to set objectives for the year ahead and assess past progress
3. How can employee performance tracking improve employee engagement?
Employee performance tracking can improve employee engagement by:
- Setting and clarifying expectations — When team members understand what’s being asked of them, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated to meet those expectations.
- Exchanging feedback — By providing constructive input regularly, managers can help employees feel valued and supported, which can increase their sense of satisfaction.
- Identifying development opportunities — Highlighting future opportunities can prompt team members to develop new skills and improve their job performance, allowing them to feel a greater sense of buy-in.
- Creating a culture of accountability — When performance tracking is done consistently and effectively, it encourages employees to take more ownership of their work.
4. What are the legal implications of employee performance tracking?
Employee performance tracking has several legal implications that organizations should be aware of to stay compliant with relevant regulations. They must:
- Comply with privacy laws when collecting and storing employee performance data.
- Ensure their performance tracking practices don’t discriminate against people based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, disability, religion, or national origin.
- Not retaliate against employees for raising concerns about performance tracking practices or for participating in investigations or complaints related to performance tracking.
- Keep accurate records of employee performance evaluations and related data in compliance with record-keeping laws.
- Follow applicable labor laws related to performance evaluations, including those related to compensation, promotions, and terminations.