End of Year performance appraisals: How to pick up the pieces of 2020 and prepare for 2021

Leadership Assessment

Organisational-wide learning and performance management practices typically rely on face-to-face learning and prescribed processes. These standard methods have many benefits, however the rapid shift to remote and flexible working has added layers of complexity in their delivery and effectiveness. In this article, we examine the need for an increasingly flexible and targeted approach to conducting end of year reviews. 

Ready to learn? Let’s dig in.

The changing nature of leadership and performance 

2020 is the year we couldn’t have predicted, we’ve seen working practices change phenomenally. While many employees have adjusted to remote working or furlough for the first time, pandemic leadership has meant that our leadership systems and processes  need to be  tested – and adapted – to manage, assess and develop remote teams. 

In 2019, Mercer found that only 2% of companies believed their approach to performance management delivered “exceptional value”, and that was during a ‘normal’ year. So, how has the pandemic impacted performance management – and how can we ensure that we effectively manage the end of year appraisals for split teams?

Perhaps, a traditional approach to end of year reviews and learning needs analysis should be discarded altogether in 2020.

Here are 8 ways leaders can approach end of year reviews remotely:

Review and adjust team and individual goals more frequently

For some, the impact and continuation of the pandemic have meant that business survival is key and financial growth is unrealistic. Perhaps we’ve been supporting our teams through change and encouraging them to work together remotely rather than focusing on exceeding targets. Therefore, if the business strategy has changed in 2020 and into 2021, we must adjust team and individual objectives and be flexible when applying them. 

  1. Apply discretion and use empathy

In a year of upheaval, considerable change, fear and the impact on mental health, employees need to feel motivated, engaged and supported by their leaders, not measured against potentially unfair and unachievable goals. We should discuss with your Executive team  and HR leaders the impact and appropriateness of carrying out the usual performance management process and consider the process in line with the amended HR and people strategy. 

  1. Temporary adjustments to end of year appraisals

The 2020 performance review will likely require an overhaul, which may or may not be temporary.

With changing job requirements, new deliverables, employees on furlough, redundancies and business strategy change, it may not be appropriate to use a formal rating system. Similarly, it might not be fair to align performance to pay as measuring performance in such changing workplace landscapes may be impossible or unrealistic. It’s vital that we work closely with individuals to ensure that while new or amended goals are aligned to business strategy, they also engage and motivate.

Remote Teams Call

  1. The importance of learning

Whether we love it or hate it, this year everyone has had to learn and adapt to doing things differently, at work and at home. Rather than focus on reviewing past goals, the most useful discussion might be to review the learning. We have seen how quickly plans and priorities can change, so learning the lessons from this year will be crucial to preparing for next year and whatever it may bring.

  1. Pandemic leadership and ongoing performance discussions

Throughout the pandemic, a ‘quick chat’ in the office is no longer possible, so we should enhance individual performance remotely over time with regular one-to-ones, taking the emphasis off the end of year appraisal. Such ongoing discussions (informal and formal), allow employees to share achievements, challenges and work issues and give us an ongoing sense of performance. 

They also give us an opportunity to coach individuals through challenging situations or projects, rather than doing it all in one end of year meeting, hopefully meaning an appraisal will be straightforward with ‘No surprises!’ 

  1. Ongoing business communication

A recent study showed that over half of employees in the UK felt that they were not receiving enough information about COVID-19 from their employer. We must update our team members remotely about business change and motivate them by ensuring they know how their role contributes to the business.

It’s up to us as remote leaders to ensure employee and team goals are aligned to the changing business and people strategy, and these are communicated to employees. It may be appropriate to set only short-term goals for 2021 as work (and life) is currently so unpredictable. 

  1.  A whole person approach 

HSBC Singapore’s Head of HR believes that individual assessments must be based on,

“Reasonable performance expectations taking into account COVID-19, and agreed upon by both managers and employees through frequent, open conversations based on individual circumstances, including consideration of real-life challenges and factors that might impact employees’ performance outcomes.”

In the past, personal lives were typically kept separate from end of year performance discussions, but during the pandemic, the separation has been blurred. We should get to know individuals more personally during remote working so we can understand individual challenges and make allowances for some factors if their personal life has been disrupted due to COVID-19. Individual objectives may be adjusted to take such factors into account, and we should empathise with their situations, not penalise.  

  1. Leadership development tools

So how do we ensure that we adapt to pandemic leadership and learn to develop and assess our people in a different way?

We need to assess leaders remotely and give flexible, tailored training to meet the ever-changing business needs. My Leadership Strengths offers a leadership development tool which can be used by all leaders regardless of location or seniority. The Quick Prioritisation Tool (QPT) allows individual self-assessments and personalised reports so that the relevant learning and development can be organised. It lets us manage and develop leaders while adapting to the changing needs of the business.

Final thoughts

Final Assessment

This year businesses may waive the end of year appraisal meeting or adapt it to meet the changing needs of the business strategy and individual needs. Ideally, employee goals will have been reviewed throughout the year, and if they haven’t, we need to decide whether they are still relevant and achievable. More than ever, we should motivate our people and set them short term goals and training that is relevant to their current role and situation rather than the one they had before the pandemic. We have to become more focused on the people side of each role – ensuring an empathetic approach and a (virtual!) open-door policy.

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