The pandemic upended nearly every aspect of how we work and do business. In the wake of the pandemic, organisations have had to reconsider, and revamp, where they work, how they work, and how they measure and manage performance.
One key performance management area that organisations will need to rethink post-pandemic is the employee performance review. The pre-pandemic work environment in which traditional performance measures were developed no longer exists, and organisations need to think about how they evaluate performance.
As the pandemic and its effects linger, many managers are navigating how to tackle post-pandemic performance reviews — and, in particular, how the pandemic changed the employee/manager relationship, how to factor in new organisational priorities, and how to be more flexible.
Here are some of their strategies and best practice for the post-pandemic performance review.
Throw out previous goals. To start, Michael Maksymiw, CPA, CGMA, a tax partner at Marcum, a New York-based firm, recommends that managers ignore goals and targets that were set prior to the pandemic.
“I threw out the goals that people set prior to the pandemic because nothing about how this year went was conducive to achieving any of those things,” he said.
Instead, he asked his direct reports to reflect on what they learned and in what ways they grew personally and professionally this past year.
“If you look at someone’s goal sheet, it probably centres around personal development growth goals, technical acumen growth goals, and something else that helps out the business,” he said. “You can still think of those primary buckets, but consider how they added value to each of them in light of the pandemic constraints.”
Take employees’ individual circumstances into account. With more and more employees working from home, personal and professional boundaries have blurred. Rather than trying to keep things separate during the performance review, Ashanika Perimal, (CA) SA, the Johannesburg-based head of finance for Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, recommends that managers take the time to understand individual employees’ personal constraints and make sure not to penalise them for challenges outside of their control.
“You have to realise that employees are dealing with a great deal of fear,” she said. “Some have lost family members, or their spouses have lost jobs. Some have family members who are in the hospitals fighting for their lives. People are struggling with mental health challenges — and as a supervisor, these are things you have to be cognisant of.”
For the post-pandemic performance review, Perimal recommends that supervisors consider the ways that employees managed to meet goals despite the numerous challenges they may be facing at home.
“The performance review needs to be realistic in the climate that we are under, and how the employee has performed given those challenges,” she said.
Make it a dialogue. The performance review has traditionally often been one-sided: The manager describes how they see the employee’s performance on meeting certain goals and where the performance needs improvement. However, Maksymiw believes that this approach can be demoralising to employees who receive negative reviews and also omits the employee’s contributions that the manager wasn’t necessarily aware of. That’s why, when Maksymiw does evaluations, he tries to make it a dialogue.
“I always approach performance reviews as a conversation,” he said. “I want to know what the person I’m evaluating did that they were proud of, where they felt they struggled, and how they think their year went.”
Making performance reviews conversational is a particularly useful strategy during the pandemic, when many of the goals set prior to lockdowns may no longer be achievable, and has the added benefit of increasing employee engagement, according to Maksymiw.
“If employees feel that they are co-creating and co-developing goals with their manager, and working together to make sure that those goals are being met, they are naturally going to be giving more,” he said. “You’ll see their performance increase because they are more engaged and have real agency in their own career growth.”
Moving forward: Turn mini performance reviews into routine management practices. For managers used to in-person offices, evaluating an employee’s performance when they are working remotely can be tricky.
To make performance reviews easier, Andrew Codd, CGMA, the director of finance of global support services at Dell, has created a system in which his employees — who are located all around the world — fill out “value logs”, which he defines as “mini performance reviews” of what they’ve done in the past month and how their work is adding value to the business. Codd has weekly videoconferences with each employee, during which value logs are frequently discussed. These mini performance reviews are also extremely useful in creating the annual performance review, he said.
“The annual performance review is kind of a macro of these smaller conversations,” he said. “We pick the biggest wins for the performance review and how those play into their longer-term goals.”
While Maksymiw hasn’t formalised routine performance evaluations into logs, he agrees that it’s important to have ongoing conversations with direct reports throughout the year about how they are performing.
“Performance reviews shouldn’t be a one-shot deal. If you are in charge of someone’s career, you should be investing in it every day,” Maksymiw said. “So when it comes to the end-of-year review, it shouldn’t be a surprise. And if it is, the manager is probably doing something wrong.”
— Malia Politzer is a freelance writer based in Spain. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.