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Social Performance Reviews: How to Get Started

Cornerstone Editors

Meeting with the boss behind closed doors for an annual performance run-down bottled up into an hour-long package seems outdated when you think about the direction company culture has headed in the past few years. Open offices, total workplace transparency, and constant communication make the traditional performance review archaic -- great, but now what?

The answer may not be so simple. With more cooks in the proverbial kitchen, getting constructive and actionable feedback about job performance can be confusing and misleading to employees.

In 2012, The Wall Street Journal made its case against the performance review: "The alleged primary purpose of performance reviews is to enlighten subordinates about what they should be doing better or differently," wrote Dr. Samuel Culbert, professor of management at UCLA. "But I see it differently. I see it as intimidation aimed at preserving the boss's authority and power advantage. Such intimidation is unnecessary, though: The boss has power with or without the performance review."

Today it's not uncommon to see an intern sitting next to a company's founder or a first-day hire getting invited to a board meeting. These types of inclusive activities have generally created more collaborative cultures with less of a hierarchical, us-versus-them mentality, but, Culbert is right -- bosses still exist and employees still need feedback. Culbert's idea was to create a performance preview (something he describes as a spontaneous back-and-forth conversation between boss and employee), but even this feels a little outdated today. With the continual boom of web- and mobile-based communication platforms, it seems logical why performance reviews themselves need to become more social, more collaborative. But where to start? A few guiding principles to consider:

Real-Time Peer Acknowledgement

Companies are starting to embrace the idea that the group can outperform the individual. Of course, it's important to have employees with specific skills, but the high-performing adaptable team member seems more appealing to recruiters these days than the one-note guru. As this team effort idea becomes more important to companies and their workflows, managers can have a harder time assessing one person's performance for an entire team's output. In fact, this seems both unfair and impossible.

Here's where continuous conversation and personal acknowledgement within a team are important. This can be done in different ways, but opening up new channels for real-time peer review can become a critical tool for a manager that may not be involved in the day-to-day and can also be good for team morale. Kudos received for a small individual achievement in a company forum can be accumulated for a quarterly reward or gamified to be a company perk.

Social Goal Management

Setting goals through a social platform can also be helpful for both bosses and employees. Managers can check in on the progress of employee goals and can also chat regularly with employees about how these goals can be reached. The back and forth can open up communication and give employees opportunity for more consistent feedback. This is similar to Culbert's preview idea, but also gives the employee a checklist of actions that will bring him or her closer to hitting goals. For remote workers, these goal lists can be especially important to help them feel engaged and connected.

Personalize Feedback -- No Boilerplate

Employees today are wise to hackneyed management practices. Giving similar feedback to each employee, for example, won't fly, nor will it feel genuine. If a boss copies and pastes the same feedback to each team member following a project, they won't get away with it -- they'll simply lose respect. A social performance review specific to each employee may create more work for the boss in the short run, but employees will feel more valued if they receive feedback and acknowledgement based on particular instances or projects. Employees will know if you're full of it, so don't fake this one.

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