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ATD Blog

A Human-Centric Approach to Performance Reviews

Friday, February 25, 2022

Performance reviews are critical to drive business decisions, ensure continuity within the organization, and invest in the growth of employees. But during periods of change and uncertainty, HR leaders contemplate how to approach performance reviews in a fresh and engaging way. Fortunately, there are many ways to adapt your approach to facilitate a more human-centric performance management process.

As we continue to navigate the ramifications of a global pandemic, companies are forced to think about how to thrive in the new world of work. Many organizations are striving to motivate and engage their employees in a newly remote or hybrid work environment. When we’re limited to digital-first connections, it’s easy to deprioritize humanity and connection.

In the face of major change, it doesn’t make sense to hold employees accountable to the same goals, standards, and expectations that might have worked previously. Companies have to acknowledge that when the employee experience shifts, it’s important to adjust their approach to performance management accordingly.

Three Ways to Humanize Your Performance Reviews

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to rethinking your performance reviews, we’re here to help. Below, we dig into a few areas of opportunity to adopt a more human-centric approach.

1. Rethink your questions. A quick review of your standard performance review questions can help you identify opportunities for improvement. At Culture Amp, we typically separate performance reviews from development conversations. For those who aren’t familiar with the differences between the two:


  • Looks back.
  • Evaluates how well an employee executes their role-related expectations.
  • Includes alignment to the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Focuses on accurately measuring and differentiating high, average, and low performers.


  • Looks forward.
  • Inspires, equips, and enables employees to grow.
  • Develops knowledge, skills, and abilities, and embraces new mindsets.
  • Focuses on enhancing employee performance and growth, even beyond their current role.

Having both of these conversations ensures that HR leaders have the data they need to make compensation decisions while also demonstrating a commitment to employee development.

Rework your performance review questions to be more empathetic and focused on open-ended prompts. Work closely with managers so they understand the purpose of these questions and how they align to the company’s values.

2. Switch up the frequency. Many companies conduct one to two performance reviews per year, but this cadence can hinder ongoing conversations and leave employees feeling blindsided after their review.


Instead of feeling like you have to stick to the traditional annual schedule, consider increasing the frequency of your performance reviews. For instance, you can conduct them once a quarter or every time you adapt your goals at an organizational, team, or individual level. Of course, you don’t want to add more work to your employees and managers, so if you’re going to increase the frequency, make sure the process is significantly more lightweight.

If any type of large-scale change feels like too big a burden, consider adopting a continuous feedback model into your overall performance strategy. This means encouraging regular one-on-one conversations between managers and their direct reports, as well as enabling real-time feedback from all employees.

3. Make reviews more casual. One way to help humanize performance reviews is to make them less formal. Typically, the annual performance review is a big event. Managers and employees spend weeks filling out evaluations, preparing for their conversations, and reflecting on the past several months. In addition to the work, employees often feel significant stress and uncertainty around pay raises and promotions.

While it’s important to have a standardized process in place, it’s also possible to introduce a more informal version of the performance review. Here are a few ideas to adjust the tone of your performance reviews:

  • In an effort to be more human-centric, don’t use a formal rating system.
  • Make it clear that these reviews are more about checking in on employees—not judging their value to the organization.
  • Focus on creating a culture of continuous listening and growth.
  • Rethink the company’s approach to raises to decouple them from performance to reduce some of the pressure.
  • Encourage managers to have open and ongoing conversations with employees, rather than a formal discussion.

Just like any other people practice, your company’s performance reviews can be a tool to motivate, engage, and retain employees. Adopting a more human-centric approach ensures that employees will have a much more positive experience and ultimately help you build high-performing teams.

About the Author

Sophia Lee is a writer for Culture Amp.

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