For decades, companies have relied on annual performance reviews to review and measure an employee’s performance over the past year. But as times change, so do the dynamics of what we know as “work.”

Relationships between employees and managers are closer, the pace and frequency of projects are much more intense, and the development of office culture is constantly evolving. As these changes propel us in a positive direction, many companies are wondering if dusting off the dated annual performance review year after year is the best way to go about measuring and encouraging progress.

6 Ways to Swap Annual Performance Reviews with Check-Ins

It’s clear that catching up just once a year in a hyper-formal manner doesn’t cut it anymore. Why wait for an arbitrary date to touch base with employees? These 6 frequent and informal “check-in” alternatives to stuffy, top-down critiques recognize accomplishments and opportunities for growth at a time when employees need feedback the most.

Schedule Weekly Progress-Sharing and Feedback

With back-to-back meetings and piled-up projects, check-ins can be hard to come by. That’s why many companies have begun to schedule in that time with tools like 15Five. 15Five is an employee engagement tool that prompts employees to spend 15 minutes a week answering questions ranging in topics from progress and productivity to mood and morale. Once answers are submitted, the manager spends 5 minutes per week reading and replying to responses.

an employee sharing weekly progress online as an alternative to annual performance reviews

Consider Professional Development a Community Affair

Limiting employee feedback to a manager’s perception leaves room for blind spots. If you’re looking to obtain a holistic view of an employee’s performance, talk to the people who know them best: their peers, project managers, and stakeholders within the company who rely on their work to achieve their departmental goals. Ask them the following questions:

  • What is your experience working with [employee name]?

  • How did [employee name] contribute to [specific project]?

  • What are [employee name]’s strengths?

  • In what areas do you see opportunities for [employee name] to grow?

Ditch Reviews and Keep It Casual with a Conversation

Raised in a digital age that offers everything on-demand, millennial employees crave on-the-spot feedback. Support their growth goals by letting them know that they can always reach out and schedule time to connect. Creating a culture that welcomes fluid and frequent conversations empowers them to constantly hone their craft and enables employers to motivate millennial employees with instant rewards and recognition that keep them engaged.

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Empower Employees to Guide the Conversation

Employers hope that in-depth questionnaires will elicit thoughtful, essay-length responses, but long self-appraisal forms can be daunting for managers and employees alike. These documents often box managers and employees into a rigid review that doesn’t result in a genuine, meaningful discussion. Instead of poring over specific questions, schedule regular, face-to-face check-ins that start with a single, spoken question from manager to employee: “How’s it going?”

Conduct Project-Based Reviews

Sure, constant communication can be a struggle for teams with more-than-full workloads, but fortunately, there’s software that can prompt and streamline these important exchanges. Basecamp is a project-based collaboration tool that brings teams, individuals, and managers together around projects. The practice of providing feedback that’s framed within a project can result in extremely specific recommendations that are instantly applicable and can immediately add value.

an employee reviewing feedback on a project as an alternative to annual performance reviews

Create Your Own Performance Review Structure

It’s not easy to come up with a review structure that meets the needs of every employee and manager all of the time. The good news is, no one knows your managers, employees, and the company culture you’ve built together better than you do. You have access to the people who will ultimately benefit or suffer as a result of the reviews you put into place, so the best course of action as you rethink your policy is a relatively simple one: ask them what they think.

Send out an anonymous all-company survey with proposed alternatives to your annual review. Feel free to use concepts from the check-in styles listed above along with your own take on the way you feel reviews can best help employees develop into future leaders and managers better serve their teams. Be sure to include an “Other” option and allow staff members to pitch their own ideas.  

Above all, no matter how you makeover your company’s review practices, always approach these meetings, conversations, and quick interactions with the real goal at top of mind: you want your employees to learn, grow, and ultimately succeed for the benefit of your company and for the benefit of themselves. And with that said, give them something to reach for all year round by showing them appreciation by making time for engagements that result in better outcomes and boosted morale.