Is There a Better Way to Conduct Performance Reviews?

A look at how NACE International swapped its annual performance reviews for monthly self-evaluations and check-ins. Plus, some tips for adopting a new system of your own.

There’s nothing that brings together a boss and an employee more than the annual performance review. Am I right?

Both tend to share a mutual loathing of it. Bob Chalker, CAE, CEO of NACE International: The Worldwide Corrosion Authority, sure does.

“I remember as an employee when I had my [annual performance review], before I was in a management role, I was frustrated by it,” Chalker said. “It was meaningless to me. It didn’t provide any value, but then when I became a manager, it was even more frustrating because it took a tremendous amount of time and work.”

Plus, he added, the annual performance review didn’t seem to do what it set out to do—encourage better performance.

After decades of working at companies and associations that used the traditional annual system of reviewing employees, Chalker had finally had enough—and tasked his chief talent officer with finding a better way. She stumbled across Roger Ferguson’s Finally! Performance Assessment That Works: Big 5 Performance Management at a local Society for Human Resource conference, and NACE International ended up adopting the system.

The basic idea is that employees review themselves each month on how they performed on their five-biggest responsibilities or duties, which ideally align with the association’s wider goals. Then their supervisors offer monthly feedback on those reviews, either face-to-face or via email. It’s incredibly simple, Chalker said, but it’s incredibly effective.

In fact, after implementing the new system, Chalker said staff “were more engaged, they were having dialogues with their bosses on their performance, they felt like they were being heard, and they felt that their boss better knew what they were doing on a regular basis.”

But before you toss out your traditional annual performance review and start implementing an alternative, keep in mind a few tips to ensure a smooth transition:

Take the time to train staff on your new system. Host efficient and informative training sessions to make learning your new performance review system as easy as possible for your employees—after all, they’re already busy working on the things that make your association great. At NACE International, the association held several trainings on writing SMART goals and describing their day-to-day work. “We basically taught them how to tell their stories, how to let their bosses know what they were doing,” Chalker said.

Coach through the criticism. There will always be those who prefer the old system, at least at first. For example, some of Chalker’s staff members came into his office and asked how they were going to know whether they were performing well. “We had to coach them and ask, ‘Well, what has your boss been saying? Are they giving you positive feedback? Are they saying great job? Or, are they saying, ah, you need to adjust what you’re doing?’” he said.

Keep your staff accountable to the new system. A performance review system is only as successful as the people who are using it, so from time-to-time, associations might have to give their staffs gentle reminders, especially if they’re slipping into old ways. With NACE’s system, it’s critical that supervisors give feedback to their employees within a few days. “We had to work to create accountability,” Chalker said. “[People will] tell you that it wasn’t difficult or challenging, but that they just forgot, so you have to make sure that you have some element of accountability or otherwise, it just becomes the other system.”

Make sure that your new system keeps a paper trail. If you decide to throw out your annual performance review system for an alternative, make sure that you’re adopting one that requires written documentation of an employee’s performance. In the case that an employee files a claim or charge with the National Labor Relations Board or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about his or her firing, it’s important that your association has documentation that will hold up in court.

What are you doing to refresh performance reviews at your association? Please leave your comments below.


Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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