HR teams walk a fine line when deciding on a cadence for their people programs. How often is too often to conduct performance reviews? How do you gather enough actionable engagement data without running into survey fatigue?
According to a market study conducted by Lattice Advisory Services, “more is more” — when feasible. We surveyed 1,200 professionals, evenly split between direct reports and managers, to better understand how HR processes impact employee engagement. The survey, conducted in early 2021, included companies in 16 different industries with headcounts ranging from 100 to 5,000. Here’s just some of what we discovered.
1) Employees with quarterly goals are more engaged.
Few would argue against goal setting at work, as it enables employees to see how their work connects to your company’s mission. At an individual level, even the simple act of writing a goal makes you more likely to achieve it. But when it comes to structuring your approach to goals, can the cadence you choose influence employee engagement?
In our survey, the most engaged employees were those who set and discussed goals the most frequently.* As visualized below, the most pronounced decline in engagement happened when direct reports set goals less than quarterly. What’s more, we observed a nearly identical curve when we asked reports to share how often they discussed their goals with their managers.
This finding is perfectly in line with an organizational behavior truism: One of the most important motivators in people’s lives is making progress toward meaningful goals. An annual goal cadence for a company makes a lot of sense in most cases, but individual paths change much faster than that. Setting (and more importantly, reviewing progress on) goals at least quarterly is something that nearly every company should consider standard practice.
2) Performance review cadence and engagement are linked.
Who benefits from performance reviews? It isn’t just managers or the company at large, though there’s certainly a financial case for implementing them. Employees use these critically important touchpoints to understand how they’re doing and pave the way for what comes next in their careers. And while the notion of the “dreaded” annual review might persist in popular culture, it’s a false narrative: The data suggests that employees want more, not fewer, opportunities for reflection and feedback.
We found that direct reports’ engagement levels are strongly correlated to performance review frequency. Quarterly reviews lead to higher engagement scores than semi-annual reviews. Semi-annual reviews, in turn, yield higher engagement scores than annual reviews. As shown below, while engagement among managers isn’t as affected by review cadence, the pattern holds. Note that we’ve removed the confidence interval for clarity.
It’s interesting to note the difference between direct reports and managers when it comes to review frequency. In general, managers are just as happy to have annual reviews as they are to have quarterly ones. It’s the direct reports whose engagement levels are most impacted by frequency — a population that has a lot less of a say when it comes to planning or carrying out reviews. So it’s up to company leaders and HR teams to champion their employees’ cause.
3) Surveys should be run as frequently as the business allows.
Surveying empowers company leaders to assess the employee experience and engagement levels across the organization. They’re also the best way to collect input on other focus areas like belonging, satisfaction, and manager effectiveness. But while surveying can be a valuable tool for gauging sentiment, HR teams are often wary of over-surveying and its potential impacts on participation.
While legitimate, it may be worth tempering some of those concerns. We found that survey cadence and employee engagement levels appear to be correlated. That seems intuitive enough — companies that conduct frequent surveys likely prioritize engagement. Similarly, direct reports at these companies may feel like their experience and perspective genuinely matters since they’re being solicited for input so frequently.
Employee engagement surveying is only the first step, however. Our study also showed that:
- Managers who review engagement survey results with their teams were more engaged than those that did not.
- Employees who saw action plans being put into place, both at the company level and at the team level, were similarly more engaged than those that did not.
This action is at the crux of engagement, and might also explain why the engagement graph above dips at “annual,” and turns back up for a cadence of “ad hoc” and “never.” One annual survey, even one that the company might act on, is just not frequent enough to drive engagement. It’s better not to ask at all than to ask so infrequently that the resulting actions make little impact on employees’ experience.
While quarterly reviews, surveys, and goals appear to drive higher engagement scores, not all organizations have the resources and bandwidth to implement them. If needed, take it slower by incrementally working toward your ideal program — like opting to run semi-annual engagement surveys until your team is ready to administer them quarterly and adopting pulse surveys more actively to fill in the gaps.
In cases like these, Lattice Advisory Services helps leaders identify and implement the people programs that best fit their unique needs. First, we work with clients to select a base model that matches their organizational parameters — business growth trajectory, team autonomy, and so on. From there, we help them build a program that doesn’t just address performance reviews, engagement surveys, and goal setting, but also includes recommendations on development planning, compensation cycle timing, and more.
Want to learn more? Read People Program Models: Six Approaches to Bringing Your People Strategy to Life or schedule a call with our team.