A recent survey found that two-thirds of organizations feel that their performance reviews are not effective. Described as ‘subjective and highly ambiguous,’ performance reviews can be a very impactful tool when used appropriately, but as this research shows, most companies say that they are falling short of the mark.

Employment trends expert Rob Wilson, says, “Although some employers are eliminating the annual performance review, we don’t see that as a good solution for the vast majority of companies. Without an annual review (even if it’s just a compilation of more frequent ones), it’s very difficult for employers to work on merit pay increases.”

Wilson, who is the President of the national employment solutions firm Employco USA, says that instead of ditching performance reviews entirely, companies need to rethink the way they approach this measuring stick and bring performance reviews into the modern era.

“Modern performance reviews are largely based on the merit system used by the military in World War I – a system that has not grown adequately to suit the needs of today’s corporate structures. The original idea was that workers were so plentiful that poor performers needed to be identified from efficient workers so the former could be replaced and the latter promoted. This mentality is slowly dying as the labor market tightens up. Employers are now more concerned with coaching poor performers instead of replacing them immediately. Annual reviews are less effective in this regard, since their primary purpose is to hold employees up to a (typically) quantitative standard, not to assess granular performance and insert coaching opportunities. That’s where frequent check-ins come in,” says Wilson.

What is a frequent check-in? Think of frequent check-ins as microscopic evaluations. In this process, managers evaluate employee performance periodically throughout the year, not just at its end. Managers are checking in on employee performance as it happens, not giving a rating months later. 

“Employees can, and should, still set attainable goals for themselves each year related to their performance, but examining that growth annually may do them a disservice,” explains Wilson. “Frequent check-ins (think monthly or bi-weekly) allow employers the chance to nip any emerging issues in the bud and lets employees receive coaching when it’s actually relevant. Moreover, checking in with an employee more frequently can build a lasting rapport with the company and strengthen company culture.”

To get started, employees should first develop a goal for themselves for the year. It could be related to performance or some other aspect that’s important to your company, like growing a particular skill. Next, managers should schedule individual meetings at set intervals throughout the year to check in on the progress of the goals. The meetings are also an opportunity for employees to receive feedback in any areas where they’ve fallen short, such as not achieving a goal or milestone on time.

“Frequent check-ins might not be the best option for your business, but having even a few meetings before an annual review could improve employee growth and rapport,” says Wilson. “These check-ins, which are often paired with a final annual review, show employees that you care enough about their development to give them time to discuss it throughout the year. On average, you spend around 260 days at work each year. As an employee, wouldn’t you want your manager to take an interest in your development more than just once a year?”