Performance Reviews

RfH Insights: How Should HR Handle Performance Reviews in a Crisis?

April 10, 2020
March 8, 2024
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

RfH Insights features actionable advice curated from Resources for Humans, Lattice’s online Slack community of 8,000+ HR and recruiting professionals. Interested in joining the conversation? Register here.

Let’s be honest: For most teams, performance reviews probably aren’t top of mind right now. Important as they are, employee wellbeing and safety always take priority. That might be why Facebook and Google made headlines last month for canceling and delaying their reviews, respectively.

But as the health crisis enters its third month for some companies, HR teams are starting to wonder whether a little normalcy might go a long way. For those with reviews in the near term, is it best practice to move forward or delay? We asked the 8,000+ HR leaders that make up the Resources for Humans Slack community for their opinion. Here’s what they had to say. 

Pushing Forward

While understanding the sensitivity of the situation, most in the community warned that straying too far from regularly scheduled programming might do more harm than good.

“Not sticking to the schedule will cause more panic and stress for employees. Keeping the day-to-day as normal as possible will be a relief,” said Julie Sarnik, Employee Experience Coordinator at WebDevStudios. Bringing managers and direct reports together, even for reviews, just gives them another chance to check in.

Others shot back with another question: What message would it send to employees if companies didn’t go through with reviews? That was something that weighed heavily on HR teams’ minds. “I'm thinking we should continue since there's no clear end in sight and I don't want their growth to feel paused or less important,” said one leader still finalizing her team’s decision.

“One hundred percent. There is no reason to delay those conversations because you're currently working remotely, and it wouldn't be fair to do so either. Video conferencing is perfectly suitable for this,” said Beth Lang, Head of Operations at User Conversion. “Your team is already at risk of feeling disconnected if they've suddenly moved to full time remote, delaying this opportunity for feedback and reflection won't help that,” she said.

Jamie Benson, an HR Business Partner at Swire Coca-Cola, agreed with her peers. But she had another reason for pushing forward. Timeliness is everything when it comes to feedback. Wait too long and your employees’ performance reviews might lose relevance. “Don't delay the feedback. Feedback is most effective when it's timely — do it now, virtually,” Benson said.

Keeping Perspective

Employees might have their brave faces on, but it’d be unfair to expect them to give 100% in the middle of a global crisis. Community members agreed that holding reviews meant doing so with the understanding that current events have a tangible impact on employee output.

That means looking beyond just hard data. For employees that are traditionally measured almost exclusively on their numbers, like sales, it may mean looking at how they’ve made the most of a bad situation. “One thought we have is less focus on KPIs and bookings and [instead] focusing on activities they can do at a flexible time that are still value-adds, like developing tools and strategies,” said one community member.

Others were quick to point out that current events have only bolstered the case for making feedback a more regular occurrence. When managers and direct reports meet regularly throughout the year, holding one “lighter” review isn’t a make-or-break proposition. There are plenty of other opportunities to keep performance in check or hold more metrics-focused conversations.

“We require weekly check-ins for managers and direct reports and that really helps cut down on how large or robust reviews need to be,” said Shannan Farmer, Recruiting Coordinator at Calendly

“We're continuing as planned with our reviews. We’ve been utilizing reviews as a biannual, formal supplement to continuous feedback, with an outcome of two to three development goals for the upcoming six months,” said Olivia Pucci, Senior HR Manager at Reonomy. “There’s no better time to ensure our employees have a set time to obtain and discuss the feedback they need to set themselves up for success. This time around, we've just been sure to make the purpose of the review even more clear than usual, so there isn't any added pressure around the conversation,” she said. 

There was one other sticking point: For many companies, performance is tied to compensation. Linking the two is a sensitive subject — and there are strong opinions on both sides. But given economic circumstances, most have taken a step back from making those calls right now. We've recommended pausing comp reviews with a commitment to complete them when things normalize and making changes retroactive if we can,” said one senior HR leader.

If you decide to carry through with your performance reviews, they have to fulfill a purpose. And for most, reaffirming their investment in employees’ growth was reason enough.

“I think this comes down to whether you think the value is in the process — the feedback — or the outcomes. My perspective is that the value is in the process,” said Rachel Ben Hamou, Director of Talent Development at PeopleStorming. “But account for the huge disruption this crisis has caused and make sure people are not scored down for it,” she said.

Ultimately, reviews are about reflection and bringing managers and reports together. In times like these, finding time for both might be what your people need.