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Is Collaboration the Key to Effective Performance Reviews?

How to transform your good team into a great team

Performance reviews are a staple within most organisations, but have you ever met someone who looks forward to them? Too often, both team members and managers dread the approach of annual review season. Why?

In the traditional format, performance reviews are conducted once, maybe twice, a year and are viewed as a chore – a ritual conducted for the sake of some bureaucratic management system. A way to quantify all the qualities within a team member and workforce. In other words, performance reviews are treated either as a hassle or as a distraction that takes everyone away from their ‘real work’.

This ‘tick and flick’ perception is cemented when the outcomes of the review process are not translated into practical actions. If the whole thing is pro forma, then of course your team is going to take a dim view of the rigmarole. Alternatively, if the only outcome is in the form of a pay rise, then the process becomes more a negotiation based on individual performance than an exercise intended to boost collaboration in the workplace. You simply cannot expect feedback to be received constructively when your employee is advocating for a salary bump at the same time.

Nevertheless, effective performance reviews are vital to managing a team. They allow you to measure how team members are performing against personal and business goals, and to provide a forum for guidance and encouragement. Without feedback, you cannot expect either individuals or teams to perform at their best. Part of this is providing a way to address performance shortfalls and implement strategies to address them, such as extra training or support.

Regular feedback enables you to address emerging issues before they become entrenched habits. Further, they are also an opportunity to set individual goals in such a way that they align with – and contribute to – the needs of the overall business and the larger team. Indeed, the annual performance review is most effective when combined with regular, less formal feedback that allows for positive reinforcement and course correction in a lower-stakes exchange.

So, given all this, is the performance review as it is traditionally approached just a waste of time? Or, is it possible to transform it into a truly collaborative process that has real staff engagement? In this article, we will explore some innovative approaches that may just change the way you think about giving feedback (or receiving it). Read on to learn about the opportunities and pitfalls of the performance review process.

Don’t hide from confronting feedback

Humans are, by nature, complicated. We are, at the same time, competitive, jealous of our status and conflict-averse. This means that, as managers (and colleagues), we will often abstain from giving either praise or criticism – either because it is easier not to or because we are wary of how it will affect our relationship to the subject of the comments. You want your praise to matter and you don’t want your critique to cause upset people by pointing out a weakness in such a way that hits a sore spot. Nevertheless, overcoming this “feedback reluctance” is crucial if you are going to create a culture of excellence within your workplace.

As described succinctly by author Robert Bacal (who literally wrote the book on “performance management” – that being his publication’s actual title), employees need regular feedback on their performance. Without it, they lack a compass to guide their progress. In the absence of feedback, a skilled and diligent worker can underperform simply because their energies are misdirected or they feel unrecognised. Feedback also provides your team members with the chance to contribute to the development of their role. Effective performance reviews can identify opportunities for skill development and therefore become a motivating experience, rather than be resented as an apparently pointless ritual.

Constructive performance reviews of this type help to align the goals of your team members as individuals with the outcomes you desire for your business. They help workers to feel they’re part of something bigger and are contributing in a meaningful way. When you include your team members in shaping their own paths at work, you change their relationship to their jobs. If you develop KPIs (key performance indicators) that are in line with an individual’s ambitions and interests, that team member is now working for themselves and not just for a paycheck. The difference in engagement is profound.

Effective performance reviews also allow you to harness your team as a source of insights into your business. If your team members feel confident that their opinions are welcome and respected, their insights will become a valuable asset in managing performance. There will always be parts of your operation that you just don’t get a good angle on. After all, you can’t be everywhere and do everything – that’s why you have a team in the first place. A collaborative review is thus an excellent opportunity to learn about issues that might hamper the performance of the person and/or team and to collaborate on addressing them.

What does a collaborative performance review look like?

With these factors in mind, a collaborative performance review process needs to create a culture that is safe, inclusive and based on genuine dialogue. You can pave the way for this kind of exchange by making sure your feedback structure has the following key features:

  • Individualised KPIs that are well defined, clearly understood and consistently applied
  • KPIs that synergise your team members’ goals with the goals of the business
  • The opportunity for team members to self-evaluate and discuss their performance with the reviewer before finalising their review evaluations
  • A forum to recognise wins as well as discuss areas that need development
  • An opportunity for the team member to provide feedback on the support they receive from the business and what they might need going forward
  • Documented and timelined goal setting to align personal development and business objectives. This must be a two-way process that includes a clear conversation about what the team member needs to do to excel and how the business, in turn, can remove barriers or provide assistance to help them do that.

Building performance through better reviews

Collaborative performance reviews, combined with regular feedback, produce engaged team members who know what they need to do, have the skills to do that and also understand how their work fits into the big picture. When collaborative performance reviews are well implemented they produce an array of positive results. Some of these include:

  • Increased staff performance
  • More efficient, proactive and consistent client service delivery
  • Alignment between team member objectives and business objectives, resulting in increased engagement and higher productivity
  • A workforce that understands your expectations and how their work contributes to the organisation
  • Team members who feel empowered to contribute autonomously and know their efforts and wins are recognised
  • Continuous skill development to meet current and emerging business needs
  • A better company culture where organisational values permeate the whole workforce
  • A better performing business generally.

By now, it should be clear that a collaborative review process is more productive than the traditional way of doing things. Indeed, your performance reviews should operate more like team-building exercises and less like handing out grades. So now, how can you get started with collaborative performance reviews?

Adopting collaborative performance reviews in your business

The trick to optimising your results is getting the balance right. However, for the same reasons people dread the traditional review process, it can be difficult to honestly assess your existing systems. Sometimes a dispassionate look is necessary. Bringing in an expert to help you implement a new framework can be invaluable.

You can improve your feedback system today by applying the principles explored in this article, but the key to successful collaborative feedback is a holistic approach. You need to make sure all of the pieces are in place, and that they are working together.

The team at Balanced Scoreboard have tried and tested methods for enhancing team engagement, performance and job satisfaction. Our structured framework for collaborative performance management will help you to transform your good team into a great team. For further information, go to and view or book a demonstration of the Balanced Scoreboard itself – an effective team performance HR tool. Balanced Scoreboard is not a gimmick: it is a complete team-management system that works for you year-round – not just at review time.