How to do Effective Performance Appraisals for Remote and Hybrid Employees (with examples)
Flexible Work is Here to Stay
At the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, organizations had to adapt overnight to the phenomenon of remote working. This huge shift in how organizations fundamentally operated compelled CXOs and People Leaders to create new work norms. More than two years later, this change has been bigger than most of us could have imagined in 2020. It is estimated that 25% of all professional jobs in North America would be remote by the end of 2022. This projection isn’t really surprising when we take into consideration that remote opportunities leapt from under 4% of all high paying jobs before the pandemic to more than 15% today.
Now, even as some organizations are asking their employees to return to their offices, a June 2022 Mckinsey survey reports a startling figure of 58% Americans who voted of having the opportunity to work from home at least one day in a week. 35% respondents reported having the option of working from home 5 days a week. As we consider these two extremes, one thing is for certain: flexible work is here to stay.
Remote and Hybrid Teams are Fundamentally Different from In-Office Teams. And the New Processes Need to Consider That.
At a fundamental level, the People/ HR teams that have been able to design better systems and processes for their remote and hybrid employees (as compared to their peers in other organizations) have one common trait: they have realized that the working styles of remote and hybrid teams are inherently different from in-office teams.
They have not tried to juxtapose in-office practices on such teams because that almost never works. Worse, it contributes to burn outs, rising tension between employees and managers, and loss of clarity.
So, with that in mind, let’s understand how People Teams can enable Leaders and People Managers to customize the highly personal Performance Appraisal and Review Process for remote and hybrid employees. In these next few paragraphs, we will dive deep into:
- designing new-age performance management systems (PMS) that work for a millennial-dominated workforce
- why effective performance reviews and appraisals (PRA) are an outcome of a well designed PMS and the tech platform that you choose and
- checklist for having effective PRAs with remote and hybrid employees
Let’s get started!
Designing Performance Management Systems (PMS) that work for Millennials
Performance Management, as a concept, is almost a hundred years old. In the 1920s to 40s, organizations began focusing on achieving maximum ROI from their budgets. And finally, in the 1950s, Peter Drucker’s seminal book called The Practice of Management paved the way for Management-by-Objectives (MBOs) and the widespread adoption of Performance Management by organizations. About forty years later, the 1990s saw the rise of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that have been largely commonplace today.
Very recently though, the needs of a millennial-dominated-workforce (75% of the American workforce would be millennials by 2025) have compelled organizations to not only relook at their Performance Management Systems, but their entire management styles, fundamental philosophy of differentiating and rewarding high-performance, culture, processes, and more.
In short, the following Performance Management approaches have outlived their utility:
- the carrot-and-stick approach
- annual forced ranking systems (example: the bell curve)
- isolated performance reviews dominated by unidirectional feedback from managers
In this regard, the fundamental expectations of remote, hybrid, and teams in offices are similar. They all want a continuous feedback driven performance management process that enables them to understand
- if they are on the right track
- how they can improve both functionally and behaviorally
- how they can move forward in their careers (opportunities to learn and grow) and
- the impact of their work on their teams and the overall organization
Additionally, employees now crave continuous recognition, sometimes even more than money. So the Performance Management System that you would be designing or revamping would have to keep the above pointers in mind.
Designing Effective Performance Reviews and Appraisals for Remote and Hybrid Teams
Given a robust PMS platform that meets the needs of today’s workforce, the primary challenges of performance reviews and appraisals for People/ HR teams of remote and hybrid organizations are four fold.
1. How to enable dialogue-driven conversations and continuous feedback sessions when the managers and team members are not in the same place or even in the same time zone
To add to that, because of a lack of visual inputs & encounters with colleagues, in remote and hybrid teams, managers are sometimes not as clued in as they would have been with teams in offices.
2. Or to put it simply, access to information regarding their team members is limited for people managers of remote and hybrid teams
Understanding the interests, pulse, and work preferences of remote and hybrid team members overall has also emerged as quite challenging for people managers. And this leads to the third point:
3. How to give growth focused feedback in the absence of relevant data as mentioned above
And last but definitely not the least, how to track and focus on the tricky aspects of performance. In other words:
4. How to handle negative news and situations during performance reviews that leave team members feeling inspired and more confident as opposed to dejected and directionless
The pre-requisite for all of the solutions mentioned below is to have a Performance Management philosophy that supports continuous feedback, growth oriented bidirectional discussions, and collaboration. These have to be pushed top-down and be embedded as a part of the organizational culture to set the right expectations from all People Managers.
With this underlying philosophy in place, let’s understand how the challenges mentioned above can be solved for remote and hybrid employees.
Enabling dialogue-driven conversations and continuous feedback sessions even when the managers and team members are not in the same place or the same time zone
This is where a new-age and robust (but easy-to-use) Performance Management Platform starts generating tangible ROI. It’s important to remember that continuous feedback does not necessarily mean formal meetings that are booked on calendars. Of course such meetings have their own time and place, but the success of continuous feedback sessions lies in the very name: they have to be continuous. And for remote and hybrid teams, they can be asynchronously delivered as well.
What does that mean?
Well, what that means is while for in-office teams, such discussions usually happen over a cup of coffee or via impromptu catch-ups, for remote and hybrid teams, these feedback dialogues can also happen via the tech platform. Continuous feedback addresses 3 major areas that are sought by employees (as mentioned above):
- if they are on the right track
- how they can improve both functionally and behaviorally
- the impact of their work on their teams and the overall organization
And this does not have to be only feedback from the people manager. This can be an ongoing discussion with inputs from the team members as well as the manager. And it could be in the context of a particular goal, overall performance, or behaviors as well.
Consider the following example below where a People Manager is sharing and receiving continuous Feedback with and from his Direct Report in the context of a particular goal.
Of course, this sort of feedback needs to culminate in video conference driven one-on-one meetings or in-person meetings for hybrid teams. But a steady flow of communication and feedback ensure that those one-on-one meetings are not spent on updates or trivialities, they are actually spent focusing on growth-focused conversations that inspire, engage, and retain top talent.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to enable employees to self-evaluate themselves before a performance appraisal. This enables employees to not only self-rate themselves (if that’s the process you are following) but more importantly to qualitatively describe how they have performed throughout the year and on their goals. This also plays a big part in transforming the Performance Review and Appraisal process from a manager-driven conversation to a two-sided dialogue.
How to give feedback to remote and hybrid teams: Customizing your managerial style
As mentioned above, access to information, which can otherwise be easily gained from in-office teams, is limited for remote and hybrid people managers. To add to that, people are different. And People Leaders need to understand how to customize their managerial styles while giving feedback. For that, a PMS platform should also be able to give you concrete inputs. And even if your PMS platform doesn’t, people managers should discuss transparently with their team members to understand their:
- skills - not only does this enable managers to suggest critical areas of upskilling but it also goes a long way in understanding how can every team member play a part in each others’ growth journeys (peer-led cross skilling).
- interests - knowing the interests of team members enables people managers to break the ice easily and effectively. Not every conversation should start off with goal metrics and review updates. You might choose to focus on your team member’s interest areas for the first five minutes before easing into the meatier part of the conversation.
- preferences - does your team member like such feedback conversations in the beginning of the week or towards the end? do they prefer mornings or evenings? These are small preference points that go a long way in establishing trust and the right situation to have constructive and sometimes difficult performance conversations.
- strengths - what are the major behavioral traits that drive your team members? During your conversations, should you focus more on career development or an increase in responsibilities or the opportunity to work with senior leadership maybe? Knowing these details would help people managers to structure the conversation and focus on outcomes that are in-line with the team members’ core drives
- aspirations - What do your team members aspire to become? This is an absolute must for people managers to know before even attempting to have a growth-focused conversation with the team members. The definition of growth and expectations from an organization vary widely for team members. Without having a working knowledge of this information, as a people manager, you cannot have a constructive future-focused conversation that inspires and motivates your people.
All of the above can be neatly assembled for managers to consider while customizing their leadership styles.
Giving growth-focused feedback to remote and hybrid teams
This is arguably, the most important part of performance reviews and appraisals. And this is also where most people managers tend to go off-the-mark. In fact, only 20% of employees responded to this Gallup poll saying that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them. That’s 8 out of 10 employees who crave more meaningful performance conversations! Managers now need to abandon a directive industrial era style of management and don the hat of a mentor and a coach.
However, one shouldn’t assume that giving such feedback regularly is an easy task. Just like a scientist would need their equipments and tools to become successful, a People Manager would also need to be ably equipped for giving such feedback.
The People/ HR team must invest in a system that enables people managers to see a holistic performance view of their team members. It’s important to remember that performance reviews and appraisals are not limited to the 4 or 5 agreed upon goals. This is one of the biggest mistakes a people manager can do, in the absence of the right information. 30% of the discussion should indeed focus on these goals, their achievements, analysis, and more. However, the remaining time should be spent equally in discussing the actual overall impact of the person on the organization and future-focused initiatives.
In essence, the PMS platform needs to show people managers a complete view of the employee’s
- personal goals and related achievements
- team goals in which the employee has contributed significantly (and how)
- functional/ cross-functional/ org-wide projects and opportunities in which the employee has contributed significantly (and how)
- how many mentors & mentees the employee has connected with
- skills built during the review time-frame (quarterly, bi-annually, annually)
- rewards and recognitions given and received
- continuous feedback given in the past by the manager themselves
- development plans
Not only does this make the review more well-rounded and inspirational, it also makes it as bias-free as possible. Instead of judging a review on only one data point (typically point 1), a People Manager now has 10 rich data sources to share an overall growth focused feedback.
Additional tip: For personal goals and related achievements, instead of giving feedback, people managers can choose to adopt a feed-forward approach (A simple example of feed-forward based questions are “what can we do better in the future?” instead of “where did we go wrong?”) instead. This ensures that your remote and hybrid teams know that you trust them and are focused on improving in the future instead of analyzing past failures that can’t be altered.
Handling negative news and situations during performance reviews that leave team members feeling inspired and more confident as opposed to dejected and directionless
If you were expecting a magic bullet, well the sad news is that there is none. However, the good news is that people leaders can develop their managerial skills and get better at handling negative situations and objections.
As a People manager, you have to remember that Performance Reviews are inherently scary, more so for employees. People are usually very wary of getting judged and it’s tougher to accept negative reviews and critical feedback over a remote video call.
And that is why the most important managerial trait for delivering negative feedback and reviews is empathy. It is important to understand that empathy is not similar to sugarcoating words, but to really deliver the feedback via an improvement focused conversation, similar to feed-forward. You can even take the help of Performance Improvement Plans if need be to structure an improvement agenda.
Checklist for having effective Performance Review Discussions and Appraisals with Remote and Hybrid Teams
Teams in offices have the opportunities to interact with their managers up close. As humans, our level of trust and comfort is built with others via a lot of subconsciously perceived stimuli. Unfortunately, it takes time for remote teams to build this level of trust and rapport, initially.
So, people managers for remote and hybrid teams have to be fully present in the moment while having one-on-ones to convey to the teams that as people managers, they are invested in the team member’s growth and development. This is incredibly important because it has a direct impact on how receptive your employee would be throughout the conversation.
It’s important to study your team member’s performance and to gather your thoughts before you step into a virtual meeting with them. The best reviews have one basic characteristic: they were attended by people who were well prepared. Jot down your feedback if need be in the PMS platform so that you remember the salient points of discussion.
Remember that this is not an occasion to berate or belittle team members, even if they haven’t reached their targets. This is an occasion to really understand matters from their perspective and to come up with a joint plan on how to best move forward. This does not mean that you have to shy away from giving negative feedback. On the contrary, it means that along with negative feedback, you also need to focus on the ‘why’s and ‘how’s (to make it better).
Recognize high-performance amply
This has a disproportionately high impact in energizing and inspiring team members. Be generous in your recognition and ensure that your team members understand what are the values, behaviors, and performance metrics that they are being recognized for.
End with future-focused action plans
Ensure that you are drawing the performance review discussion to a close with a documented action plan, detailed steps on how things would change for the better, and who owns which particular action items between the two of you. This enables remote teams to work towards a series of steps rather than feeling disoriented and lost after a Performance Review.
We know how easy it is for people managers to get lost in any of the points mentioned above or to skip some altogether. We also understand that using most Performance Management Platforms feels like a chore (and that’s an understatement).
And that’s why we built Klaar. It’s an intelligent Performance Development and Enablement platform that (for the first time), does not add on to your work or only function as a data repository, but enables you to holistically view the data and insights for talent profiles, performance, contributions, engagement, mentoring, and more under one roof. But we knew that teams of today would need more: so we interconnected all of these modules. So now, (as an example) you can understand which one-on-one meeting was responsible for a dip in your team’s pulse, and which team members need mentoring support (and in which areas!).
For the first time, simplicity, ease-of-use, and robustness are not at loggerheads. You can request a demo below. We’d love to show you around :)