Leveraging Performance Reviews to Promote Employee Development

Catherine Tansey
December 20, 2022
performance reviews, employee performance reviews, 360 reviews, employee reviews, performance management

Employee retention does a lot for a company. Boasting favorable effects on the

People-centric organizations with good retention tend to also have strong company culture, higher-performing teams, and generally have happier, more productive workplaces overall.

But to generate loyalty from employees, companies must be willing to invest in their growth and development. At people-centric companies, performance reviews are an essential tool for promoting employee growth and development. Beyond just a way to reflect on aspects of an employee’s recent job performance, performance reviews can be used as a deliberate tool to support employee development and career growth. 

A holistic performance management system, which includes employee performance reviews, regular 1-on-1s, and goal setting, also gives companies the chance to develop skills in-house that the company may be lacking, and can also employee retention.

Related content: What Is Performance Management?

6 strategies for using employee performance management to promote employee development

1. Get clear on employees’ goals for professional development 

It’s hard to help team members hit goals if you don’t know where they’re aiming. Leverage the entire lifecycle of employee performance management, from 1-on-1s to formal performance appraisals and discussions, to better understand what employees want professionally and where they see themselves in the future.

Some people are eager for the bump in responsibility that comes with a promotion to management, while others prefer to hone their speciality and continue as individual contributors. 

The point is you can’t assume, and you don’t know if you don’t ask. Once you’ve gained clarity on their vision for their future career, use goals or OKRs to set aspirational targets for skills and competencies.   

Related content: How to Pick the Perfect Questions for Your Next Employee Review Cycle

2. Align individual goals with organizational goals

For employees who are craving new challenges or expanded responsibilities, work with them to develop goals that track toward organizational goals, too. 

This helps employees understand how their contributions impact the organization’s success, supports the company in filling skill gaps and forecasting succession planning, and gives employees tangible metrics to hit for success.  

For example, say an HR team member wants to gain experience creating and implementing People Success strategies and is specifically interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). At the same time, one of the organizational goals is also to power up their DEI efforts and devote real resources to doing so. 

This HR team member and their manager could develop a sponsorship program at the company, with the team member leading the initiative. The employee would gain experience and further their professional development, while the organization would benefit from a strategy that’s proven to increase diversity in leadership positions. 

3. Create a culture of regular feedback

While employees expect feedback during formal performance reviews, it shouldn’t be the only time they’re getting it. Companies that are serious about employee development must build a culture that emphasizes on-going feedback.

Related content: How Gathering Feedback Will Improve Your Office Culture and Employee Experience

Regular feedback is important to both reinforce and redirect employee actions and competencies in the workplace. Commending employees for a job well done encourages (or reinforces) this behavior in the future, while sharing developmental feedback is key in redirecting employees for better performance. 

Companies can begin to encourage a culture of regular feedback with a few simple steps, like creating a feedback channel in Slack to offer praise, and training managers on feedback best practices. For example, share the importance of providing feedback to employees in their preferred method, making feedback or recognition timely for greatest impact, and praising with actions, not just words.

4. Make performance reviews a two-way conversation

Buy-in is powerful. To make employee reviews as powerful and engaging as possible, encourage a two-way conversation about performance, career goals, and professional development. 

Managers should strive to listen as much as they are speaking. Do this by asking open-ended questions after sharing feedback, and pausing after speaking to allow and encourage employees to share their viewpoint. 

Employees should come to the performance review conversation ready to play an active role in the conversation around development, too. As managers, prime employees for this by setting an expectation. Send an email prior to the employee performance review discussion and let direct reports know you’d like to have a two-way conversation, and that you expect they will arrive ready to participate. 

5. Use 360 employee reviews 

360 employee reviews incorporate feedback from several individuals who work with the employee, as well as the employee themself. They address the fact that only collecting feedback from an employee’s manager may not paint a holistic portrait of their performance. 

People who work in a different capacity from managers, like co-workers, collaborators from other departments, and partners from outside of the company, who may also be contacted, can often share unique praise and critique. 

360 employee reviews also give employees the opportunity to explicitly reflect on their own performance, set and discuss goals, and share career aspirations—all necessary actions for employee reviews to act as a meaningful lever for employee development. 

Related content: Free 360 Review Template: Running an Effective Performance Review Cycle

6. Be future-focused

Performance management has come a long way in recent years. Previously it served as a historical review on an employee’s past performance, evaluating them on the year prior.

Today, performance management is more flexible, dynamic, and iterative. Rather than relying on a single annual performance appraisal at the end of the year, progressive companies view performance management as an ongoing process. 

While most companies still lean on formal mid-year and annual reviews to support ongoing development, they serve as a portion of the holistic process, not the end all be all. To keep these formal reviews productive and development-focused, make them as future-forward as possible. You can still discuss past performance, but do so in a way that illustrates how the employee can improve in the future.

Employee performance reviews aren’t just about identifying ways for improvement in the here and now. They can also be leveraged as a powerful tool to promote employee professional development within the organization. Use the six strategies outlined here along with a flexible performance management system to power employee growth at your company. 

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