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Performance & Feedback

Expert guide to employee performance evaluations

Leapsome Team
Expert guide to employee performance evaluations
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Performance evaluations are evolving to become more thorough and useful for both employers and employees, but there’s still work to be done. Indeed, a recent Willis Towers Watson survey revealed that only one in four North American employers find performance evaluations helpful, and only a third of employees feel their reviews are fair.* 

At the same time, organizations that use performance assessments effectively were 1.5 times more likely to report higher financial earnings and 1.25 times more likely to achieve higher productivity than similar players in their industries. 

What makes performance evaluations more impactful for some organizations? The best approach is to evaluate performance holistically on an ongoing basis and give managers and direct reports plenty of opportunities to discuss progress with goals and development plans

In this article, we’ll explore what excellent people-centric performance evaluations look like in practice and consider the advantages they can bring to your business. Specifically, we’ll touch on:

  • What performance evaluations are
  • Purpose and benefits
  • Different types of performance evaluations
  • Key elements of effective performance evaluations

*Willis Towers Watson, 2023

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What is a performance evaluation?

A performance evaluation — also called a performance review or appraisal — is a process that organizations follow to assess an employee’s work quality and skills over a specific period. 

Traditionally, employers held performance evaluations once or twice a year and scored team members based on their job description, core competencies, and company values. However, this system is flawed because it doesn’t focus explicitly on individuals’ career development or the impact their work has on their team or the broader organization. Moreover, the infrequent nature of this kind of review schedule makes it more difficult to address challenges as they arise and prevents the creation of regular opportunities for learning and growth.

Many forward-thinking businesses are revamping their approach to performance reviews in favor of more regular 1:1 meetings and check-ins that are centered around:

  • Setting and tracking realistic performance goals that feed into larger team and company goals.
  • Reviewing progress with competency frameworks and development plans, giving employees greater clarity and ownership of their professional development.

The purpose & benefits of performance evaluations

A photo of two professionals having a performance review.

Meaningful, frequent performance reviews can help you build a more engaged and resilient team

An ideal performance review cycle starts with evaluation questions that set clear expectations for employees. As the review cycle progresses, team members will need continuous feedback and coaching so they can develop their skill sets and ensure their work contributes to high-priority organizational outcomes. Some benefits of this approach include:

  • Increased transparency and clarity — When employees understand what’s expected of them from the outset, they’re less likely to be surprised by the feedback they receive in performance reviews or informal check-ins and will have a clear concept of what success looks like in their role. 
  • Higher engagement rates Ongoing feedback, mentorship, and open, meaningful communications allow employees to take an active role in their performance evaluations. They’re more likely to trust and engage with the review process if they feel they have a say in the outcome rather than being a passive participant.
  • Boost in employee morale Linking individual goals and benchmarks with organizational objectives means that as team members and departments succeed, the company follows suit. This strategy means employees can see how they contribute to moving the business forward, which is great for both motivation and engagement.
  • More resilient teams Frequent reviews and check-ins allow for more agile problem-solving. Why? Regular honest conversations and collaborations better position both managers and direct reports to respond to changes and overcome roadblocks quickly and effectively, making them more nimble and adaptable.
“Aside from refining or gaining new skills, performance reviews and evaluations promote stronger company culture where the employee’s growth is valued as much as the company’s overall progress. This reinforces the sense of community, working together to achieve the shared goals — making them more engaged and productive.”

— Piotr Sosnoswki, Head of People at Life and My Finances

What are the types of performance evaluations?

An infographic showing four common types of performance evaluations.
Feedback from multiple team members can make the evaluations process fairer and less prone to bias

There’s more than one way to write a performance review, and companies should embrace well-rounded, personalized strategies when gathering and delivering feedback. Input from various stakeholders and team members allows managers to make more unbiased promotion and compensation decisions — and consider issues from other perspectives. Let’s consider four common types of evaluations and what makes each of them useful:

  • Self-evaluations These assessments ask employees to reflect on their own performance objectively and recognize their strengths and areas for improvement. When contrasted to other types of evaluations, these also allow team members to identify perception gaps between peers, managers, and themselves. It can also demonstrate to team leads if their direct reports have the ability to “self-edit” and clearly consider their own contributions and capabilities.

  • Manager evaluations To be effective people managers, team leads need feedback on their leadership and coaching skills, in addition to their other fundamental job responsibilities. This input should come from their managers as well as their direct reports to get a more comprehensive overview of their performance. To collect meaningful feedback from team members, offer the option to make assessment forms confidential so employees feel more comfortable being candid and honest.

  • Peer evaluations These are crucial for discovering how an individual employee’s contributions impact their team or any direct coworkers. To support peer reviews, the people doing the evaluating should have access to information about the current goals and competencies that their colleague is working toward.

  • 360° evaluations 360-degree feedback allows for even more performance review objectivity as it incorporates and synthesizes input from a variety of different sources, beyond the team or direct coworkers. If many different stakeholders are involved, this kind of assessment can help spot biases, strengths, and areas for improvement that individual managers may otherwise miss.
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Key elements of an effective performance evaluation process

If your organization’s goal is to engage employees in the evaluation process, foster meaningful collaboration, and sharpen managerial coaching skills, consider implementing these performance review best practices in a way that works for your culture:

Setting performance goals & expectations

A screenshot of Leapsome’s Goals module showing personal goals.
Leapsome’s Goals module allows you to set, track, and collaborate on goals which can be part of performance evaluations

For performance reviews that only occur once or twice a year, one issue is that employees may feel as though they’re irregular and not impactful, especially if they’re not explicitly connected with development goals. Team members need to understand the “why” behind expectations and goals to see how their performance drives results and, ultimately, company success.

Conversations around goals and expectations also need to be collaborative so employees have more ownership over their professional objectives and aren’t simply actioning tasks that team leads delegate. To that end, managers and direct reports should brainstorm the goals they want to collectively prioritize, plan how they’ll meet them, and get clear on why they’re so important to the team and wider organization.

Work together with employees to come up with personal development goals that bring individual and team goals together. Make sure these follow the SMART framework: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s also important to mention what these goals will help accomplish. For example, a junior project manager who wants to build their leadership skills might set this personal development goal:

  • Within the next 12 months, as a junior project manager, I aim to enhance my leadership skills by leading a mid-sized project with a team of at least 5 members from start to finish while maintaining the project’s budget and timeline and receiving positive feedback from at least 3 team members or stakeholders.
💪 Empower employees to achieve more

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Identifying & measuring key performance indicators (KPIs)

In addition to setting goals, managers should ensure team members understand which KPIs to track so they can monitor their progress. For example, if an employee sets individual development goals around internal communication, they might establish personal KPIs like:

  • Survey completion rates
  • Engagement rates
  • Email open rates
  • Percentage of positive versus negative feedback 

Once determined, ensure direct reports have the tools they need to track their KPIs effectively. Performance management software can help with this by automating the monitoring process and providing all team members — including managers — with status updates along the way. 

Providing regular feedback & coaching

A screenshot of sample feedback on Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module.
With Leapsome, you can request feedback that’s connected to the specific skills you’re trying to build

While feedback can be intimidating to give and receive, waiting too long to talk about a situation that needs to be addressed can make employees feel blindsided when it finally comes up. Instead, managers should exercise their coaching muscles often and provide a regular, healthy balance of positive and constructive feedback

Outside of the formal evaluation process, managers can accomplish this in several different ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins Many companies choose to complement their formal review process with regular 1:1s or team meetings to address progress with goals and OKRs and simply see how everyone’s doing. These conversations should be straightforward and focus on discussing how goals are coming along, tackling obstacles, discussing work-life balance and well-being, and brainstorming solutions.
  • Asynchronous feedback Team leads can give quick feedback on projects and tasks via informal communication channels like Slack or Microsoft Teams. They may also use a dedicated platform like Leapsome, which allows people to request honest input from managers, peers, and leaders based on specific company values.
🎡 Keep the feedback wheel turning

Leapsome can help you ensure that coaching is consistent and effective with Instant Feedback tools and customizable meeting templates.

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Documenting & tracking employee performance progress

Detailed data and records empower managers and leadership to make unbiased compensation and promotion decisions. They also give managers all the information they need to provide the most relevant coaching and advice. However, these insights can easily get scattered across multiple channels and be hard to sift through, so managers don’t always have visibility when they need it most — during check-ins and review meetings.

It’s best to have one centralized spreadsheet, digital space, or platform where employee performance data lives. This may include information like:

  • Progress on current goals 
  • Previous check-in and 1:1 meeting data and action items
  • Recent feedback and praise
  • Skills the team member is actively working to build
A screenshot of Leapsome’s Meetings module showing a 1:1 meeting agenda.
Leapsome integrates goals, feedback, and skills data with meetings so managers always have the information they need during check-ins

Evaluating performance effectively with Leapsome

While no two companies will have the same approach to performance evaluations, a consistent, collaborative, and goals-driven strategy can boost employee motivation and involvement and empower them in their career development. 

However, if you don’t have the right processes in place for recurring evaluations that are cooperative and outcome-oriented, it can take a lot of administrative resources to update your current performance assessment workflow.

Don’t rely on ad hoc performance review tools that vary across teams and multiple spreadsheets and instead — consider Leapsome. Our platform is a comprehensive people enablement solution that seamlessly integrates tools for performance reviews, OKRs and goal setting, 1:1 meetings, and continuous feedback, so you can develop your people, propel your business forward, and stay adaptable and resilient in the face of challenges.

🦘 Give your teams what they need to clear the highest hurdles

Let Leapsome centralize your performance reviews, OKR tracking, and check-ins to create more agile, resilient teams. 

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Written By

Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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