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Human Resources

Performance Reviews During COVID-19

Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
by Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP on December 3, 2020

As the year comes to a close, many companies hold annual performance reviews. A performance review is used to support employment decisions such as career development, compensation, or corrective action. Recent trends are advocating moving away from a one-time annual conversation to more frequent discussions around performance. Coaching and feedback should be an ongoing activity as an HR best practice. No matter your performance management strategy, this year is requiring some fine-tuning for performance reviews.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruption and challenges for businesses. For employees, career development took a back seat to organizational demands and tending to the emergency. Priorities for organizations shifted as well. Goals that were put in place were no longer important or even relevant with changed circumstances.

Although your approach may need to change this year, it is important to not just skip the performance review if you normally complete one for employees. Take a look at our tips for conducting a successful performance review during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prepare For the Meeting

Gather your data. Review the role and primary responsibilities. Look at the last performance review and the expectations set for this review period. Be sure to consider the unique circumstances of the year, such as remote work, new processes, and changed priorities.

You can ask your employee to complete a self-assessment ahead of time. In addition to giving you better insight into their perception of their performance, their active participation can help them to be more engaged in the appraisal process overall.

Plan the right time and place for the private conversation. Choose your talking points. Decide to speak to any stumbles or setbacks with more empathy and compassion this year.

If giving the review to a remote worker, doing so over video is more personal. Send the performance review documentation prior to the meeting. Be ready to listen carefully and promote a two-way dialogue to help facilitate a productive performance review discussion.

Adapt to Changed Circumstances

A performance review assesses employee performance to previously set goals. Because the unprecedented events of this year likely thwarted at least some expectations, flexibility is important. Results should be considered through the lens of the pandemic.

Was your company closed for a period of time earlier this year due to COVID? Did your company have to conduct layoffs, and those who remained had to take on different and/or additional work? Should normal performance review expectations be loosened or redefined?

Businesses that already valued agility found it even more important during the pandemic. For example, your organization may have evaluated an employee based on their change management abilities. However, due to the ever-shifting demands brought on by the coronavirus, adaptability and change management may now be of greater value and importance.

Think about the following competencies that were important this year:

  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Change Management and Versatility
  • Learning and Development

Teams who adapted to different ways of working; professionals who implemented new systems and new laws; managers who were committed in the face of major disruption – these skills and behaviors should be recognized.

If pay increases will not happen due to business circumstances, tell employees ahead of the performance review. Allow enough time to pass so the performance review discussion will not be focused around the recent compensation news.

Look to the Future

As well as assessing past accomplishments, performance reviews should also be future-focused. What does success look like going forward? As the workplace has evolved, what is needed so the business can respond quickly to inevitable changes and new opportunities for the future?

Establish goals for the next review period with the employee. Perhaps short term goals make sense based on the position and your current business environment. Are there skill gaps that still need to be addressed? What skills has the employee developed this year, and what can they develop further?

For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed operations, and telecommuting has changed workplace relations. Your employee may have gained a new perspective on his or her career objectives. Take the time during the employee's performance review to also re-establish goals for professional growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses and employees to face many unexpected challenges and adapt swiftly. Business operations and workplace relations may be different this year and in the foreseeable future too. As we progress through the pandemic, it's important to have regular conversations to keep employees motivated, productive, and moving closer to their goals.

Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tonya is the Labor Compliance Manager at FrankCrum. In this role, she leads the FrankAdvice team of HR consultants and manages the delivery and content of best practice HR information to client owners and managers. When she’s not at work, Tonya enjoys international travel.