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How to conduct successful performance reviews remotely

Debates about performance reviews – their purpose and impact – take on new intensity during a pandemic and when uncertainty, change, and remote working defines workplaces.

In reviewing the history and purpose of performance management, Elaine Pulakos and colleagues found that formal performance management processes often disengage employees and do not positively impact performance outcomes. Sharing their findings in 2019, they found that the ratings organisations use are limited in their value as a performance measure.

Similarly, many employees find the performance review process unsatisfactory.  Gallup research found that only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance appraisal inspires them to improve.

There are several factors to consider when deciding how and when to conduct performance reviews during this time.

Feedback matters

Employees want feedback that is meaningful, relevant and well delivered. Feedback delivered in the right way and with the best intentions is always valuable. 

Feedback delivered ‘in the moment’ is often the most relevant and helpful for employees because it is timely and tangible. Many organisations are moving away from the traditional end of year performance review cycle to more regular feedback sessions, which are less structured. 

Consider context

The pandemic has heightened anxiety and raised stress levels across the board. Many employees are dealing with increased uncertainty, changed working hours, financial pressures, impacts on loved ones, and juggling home-schooling, to name a few of the additional issues.

It’s essential to be sensitive to what is going on for employees. These are unusual times, and it is more important than ever for leaders to reach out and support their team members and show care and compassion.

This context doesn’t mean you step away from feedback that is hard to deliver or hear. It does mean that the leader needs to be conscious of each person’s unique circumstances and challenges and acutely alert to how they provide the feedback and how their team member receives it.

Focus on purpose

For some organisations, formal reviews are tightly linked to salary increases and bonus decisions, while for other organisations, the focus is more on development and coaching. Some organisations try to do a mix of both.

If you conduct formal performance reviews, be clear on the discussion’s purpose and the best possible timing. This decision process includes whether to hold the formal review now or delay and conduct it later in the year. In some situations, where timing can be flexible, it will be worthwhile waiting until the work environment has settled.  Also, recognise that the performance goals or KPIs that were set last year may not be relevant. Consider what has changed and, therefore, how that should be accounted for in the discussion. For example, rather than focusing on tasks and projects, there may be behavioural attributes, such as flexibility, adaptability and creativity, that are important. 

Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML
Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML

Deliver positive impact

Performance reviews can motivate and demotivate, depending on the skill of the leader in conducting the conversation.  

Leaders must be prepared for the conversation, and so too, the employee. As always, it is a two-way conversation, not a one-way monologue.

In a remote environment, there are additional considerations. Firstly, make sure the technology you are using works consistently. There’s nothing worse than being impacted during a conversation by poor connectivity. Similarly, find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted by phone calls, children wandering into the room or any other disturbance.

Leaders will want to be mindful when their team members can’t find a quiet space for the conversation. This situation may impact how they receive feedback and participate in the discussion. Having other people around them may constrain what the team member is willing to share.

At the start of the conversation, both the leader and team member should be clear on what they want to get out of the discussion. Recognise that the conversation may need to have more time allocated and allow time for reflection. At the end, wrap up with specific next steps.

Feedback matters. It always has and always will. The most important thing is to ensure the feedback is meaningful, relevant and actionable, and it is delivered with care, empathy and perspective.


Michelle Gibbings is a Chartered Manager, workplace expert and an IML ANZ fellow. She is the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work, Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career and the new book Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one.

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