Unfortunately, annual performance reviews have gotten a bad reputation. Many employees find them anxiety-inducing and biased, while managers can see them as a pile of unnecessary paperwork and a drain on their time. But these assumptions are merely the result of poorly designed and ineffectively run annual reviews and overlook the many benefits reviews provide at the individual, team, and organizational levels.
Still, when employees adopt the mindset that traditional performance reviews are a chore, participation rates and meaningful, constructive feedback can suffer. To understand how to overcome the performance review stigma and earn employee buy-in, we interviewed People leaders who have run performance review cycles with 98%+ completion rates (including self-evaluations, upward reviews, peer reviews, and manager reviews) on Lattice to learn their tips and tricks for driving record participation.
Here are their tried-and-true tips for getting managers and employees to participate — and complete — the performance review process.
How to Increase Performance Review Participation Rates
1. Remind employees why reviews matter.
You can’t expect your employees to participate in performance reviews if they don’t understand why they matter. Instead of making reviews a mandatory HR-led initiative, enlist the help of your CEO or other C-level leaders to speak to the importance of employee reviews in a company-wide all-hands meeting or smaller departmental ones.
Leadership should remind employees that these reviews and performance conversations shouldn’t contain any surprises that haven’t already been mentioned in ongoing feedback conversations with their manager throughout the year. Rather, performance reviews provide an opportunity to recognize an employee’s work from the past year, as well as discuss their potential career paths and professional growth opportunities. This can help quell some of the anxiety that performance reviews typically cause, as well as remind employees that performance reviews are designed to benefit them and help them grow their careers within your organization.
2. Set a review schedule and clearly communicate deadlines.
To help your employees take the review process seriously, you need to create a performance review timeline with clear expectations and deadlines so your staff knows exactly what is expected of them and when. Stephanie Mardell, former VP of People at mobile commerce platform Button, created a six-week performance review schedule with specific time periods designated for self-evaluations, peer reviews, upward reviews, manager reviews, and review conversations.
Based on Mardell’s system, here’s a sample annual performance review timeline that you can implement at your organization to help improve your participation rates.
- Week 1: Walk employees through the timeline and share expectations for participation and how you’ll assess performance. Also communicate what the eligibility requirements are, like if an employee is too new to rate or if contractors and part-time staff won’t participate. Finally, ask employees to complete their self-reviews.
- Week 2: Train your team on how to use your performance management system. Have employees and managers confirm a list of peer reviewers if you’ll be conducting 360-degree reviews, and have those selected individuals complete their peer performance reviews.
- Weeks 3-4: Instruct managers to complete their reviews, submit promotion recommendations (if applicable), and schedule performance review conversations with their direct reports.
- Weeks 5-6: Have managers conduct performance reviews conversations with their direct reports and share feedback and employee ratings.
For Cindy Gordon, former Chief People Officer at insurance agency Policygenius, getting a 100% completion rate for the company’s performance review process was so important that she made it a team-wide OKR. Having a clearly defined goal around this helped rally the team and got everyone interested in following the review cycle progress.
“We’re a metrics-driven company, so we’d share daily updates on our participation rate via Slack to help build [a] fire in [their] bellies and build some friendly competition for the team to get it done,” Gordon said. Providing regular participation rate updates like this can get your employees more motivated and invested in the outcome.
3. Train employees on the process.
Before your employees can participate in the review process, they need to know how and where to fill out the required information. If you’re using performance management software like Lattice, you need to show employees where to find and fill in their peer and self-reviews, as well as where to see their overall rating and feedback when the time comes. If they don’t know how to use the necessary tools — whether that’s a performance management system or an Excel spreadsheet — your employee participation rates will suffer as a result. Make sure you take the time to walk employees through your process in person and provide them with online resources and/or documents they can reference when they’re ready to go through the process themselves.
4. Provide examples of how to properly write a performance review.
Performance reviews can be intimidating for people who have never written one before. That’s why Lauren Yee, former People Coordinator at quality assurance automation software company Rainforest QA, tried to make the process easier by providing employees with a document of commonly asked questions and tips on how to write a 360-degree review, including self, peer, and manager evaluations.
Some of Yee’s favorite pointers are: Get to the point quickly, keep it simple, and no surprises. You can read the rest of Rainforest QA's employee performance review best practices with us, and you can share these with your teams.
- Be specific. Vague reviews don’t provide employees with actionable feedback. Conversely, more effective performance review comments highlight specific examples of projects, metrics, and outcomes that the employee helped deliver. This keeps the review objective, shows the employee that their contributions are seen and valued, and helps contextualize the feedback you’re providing.
- Refer to your notes. For managers, a year is a long time and odds are you won’t be able to recall every single one of your employee’s contributions and all the feedback you shared with them over the last 12 months. To avoid recency bias and ensure you don’t leave out vital parts of your employee’s performance in your reviews, consult your people management platform to revisit past one-on-one meetings and the feedback — and praise — you shared with your direct report throughout the year to give you a full picture of their performance.
- Stay future-focused. Don’t get stuck in the past; keep the majority of your feedback focused on how your employee can improve in the coming months. Here are a few questions managers can consider to help guide their employee reviews and performance conversations in the right direction:
What is something this employee is doing now that they should continue doing in the future?
What is something this employee is doing now they should stop?
What is something this employee is not doing now that they should start?
These prompts can help managers provide specific, detailed feedback to their direct reports that will aid them in growing professionally and being better team members. These questions can also serve as a helpful guide when writing peer reviews, and our peer performance review template will provide you with even more thoughtful questions to consider.
5. Keep your manager-to-employee ratio low.
Because performance evaluations are primarily driven by managers, you need to be mindful of how much of a burden this process is putting on your team leaders. Collecting peer reviews, reading over self-assessments, and writing their own review of an employee’s performance isn’t asking too much of a manager with one to four employees. But if your company has larger teams, asking a manager to lead this same process for 10, 15, or more employees is not practical, and can even impact the manager’s ability to attend to their day-to-day responsibilities. Not to mention that if a manager is stretched too thin like this it will negatively impact the quality of the feedback and review they’re able to give, and limit their ability to fully invest in their direct report’s personal and professional growth.
Keeping your manager-to-employee ratio low will help lighten the administrative work associated with reviews and ensure that every employee receives a thoughtful, personalized review from a manager who has the time and effort to dedicate to this process and their staff’s professional development.
6. Use a variety of reminders to nudge people over the finish line.
Remember that in addition to conducting performance reviews, your employees also have full-time jobs that can push the culminating performance review conversations further and further down their to-do lists. In order to keep these discussions top-of-mind, you’ll need to master the delicate art of finding different ways to follow up and remind busy people to finish their reviews without annoying them.
Tracy Clark, former Director of People and Workplace Operations at Insight Data Science, a company that offers a professional-training career-change fellowship program, shared her favorite strategy with us: “I got the best response when I talked to managers and asked them to bring up finishing performance reviews with their reports in their next one-on-one,” she said. “I’ve found that it’s the most effective way to encourage people to complete their reviews.”
You can also remind employees in meetings, as well as over Slack and email, to make sure that everyone knows when they need to complete their reviews. And many people management systems like Lattice also have the functionality to automate in-app and email reminders to your team members so they know when their portions are due.
7. Keep the conversation going.
Once your performance reviews are completed, you can’t celebrate your high participation rates just yet. In order for your employees and company to get the most out of this process, you need to maintain the momentum of reviews and encourage your managers to regularly check in with their direct reports on their professional growth, goals, and career aspirations. While performance reviews are a great reminder to touch base on employee performance, managers should have ongoing coaching conversations with their team members.
With Lattice, managers can access all the performance management tools they need on one platform so they can easily set and track employee goals, lead more efficient one-on-ones, give and request feedback, and recognize their employees’ accomplishments and contributions. Encourage managers at your organization to take full advantage of the tools at their disposal and use them to be better People leaders.
High performance review participation rates, while a worthy goal to aspire to, isn’t an indicator of the quality of the feedback collected or the caliber of the performance conversations your employees and managers are having. Having 85% of employees participate in truly meaningful, impactful career development conversations with their managers (versus having a 100% participation rate of reviews that just checked the box) is still a resounding success. So while a high participation rate can be a helpful metric to aim for, be sure to also focus your efforts on training managers on how to give constructive feedback, coach their teams, and invest in the future of their employees. That will give your company much better outcomes than achieving a 100% participation rate any day.