Remote Performance Management

Managers can have a dramatic impact on the engagement and retention of their teams. Great managers do the work of inspiring their team, delegating effectively, and holding people accountable. Managers are also responsible for providing the team with feedback that helps them understand where they’re performing well and what they could do to be even more effective. Delivering quality feedback can help your team develop new skills and perform even better in their roles. 

When you’re in the same office as your team, providing coaching or feedback is more straightforward. You walk by your team member’s desk or step into a meeting room and can gauge their emotions and read their body language. Accomplishing this is more difficult when managing remote teams. Communication amongst remote employees can be tricky but is a vital skill for all remote workers and leaders to learn.    

There are some fundamental actions that successful remote managers do. In fact, these are great actions all good managers take. Managers should build these fundamentals into your daily, weekly and monthly practices. 

Set Clear Expectations 

When employees know what is expected of them, they can perform accordingly. One of the biggest challenges remote workers have is not having clear guidance on what’s needed. In an office, you can “sense” what a company is about by observing the physical environment, how people interact with one another, the way meetings are conducted—the culture comes alive in these everyday interactions. When managing remote teams, leaders have to be much more explicit in the ways they want their team to “show up”. When are they expected to be online? Are work hours flexible? What’s the preferred way to give status updates? When and how should feedback be given?   

1:1s

We strongly encourage managers to hold regular check-ins with each member of their team, starting on their first week. 1:1s are one of the most important tools managers have. Canceling or rescheduling them should be avoided as much as possible. Frequent cancelations can leave your team feeling like they’re not a priority, which can lead to trust issues and decreased engagement. 

Agenda and format

Be clear with your team that their 1:1 is their time to ask for help, review progress against goals, and get coaching. Encourage your team to prepare their own agenda for what they need from you. The goal is to meet with each member of your team consistently to hear what they are working on, what is going well, and what’s getting in their way. The 1:1 is not for status updates, but should go beyond that to include time for feedback and to discuss your direct report’s development. 

Taking notes is recommended so there is a shared understanding and documentation of what was discussed. Your 1:1 notes then become a helpful resource to reference when it comes time to delivering feedback or conducting performance reviews. 

The main takeaway here is that 1:1s are for your direct reports and their needs. It can be helpful to check in on a quarterly basis to ask your team if they feel the 1:1 is an effective use of their time and what they might want to change in the future.   

Continuous Feedback 

Feedback is an essential component of growth and development at work, but it’s something that many companies don’t get right. Whether feedback is delivered in a 1:1 or through a more formal performance process, it’s important to deliver it well. Feedback should be meaningful and tied to key behaviors. 

Feedback is most valuable when its:

  • Specific
  • Tied to a tangible outcome
  • Respectful
  • Timely & ongoing

Specific

Using data and giving specific examples when delivering feedback is most beneficial in helping people grow. Using statements like, “I noticed” or “I observed,” will help you focus on the facts and not your interpretation of their behavior. You should also make sure you share the impact of their actions. Saying things like, “This is important because…” will help them better understand why this feedback is useful to incorporate.

Tied to a tangible outcome

What will the recipient do as a result of hearing your feedback? If you can’t think of a tangible step they can take, it will be even more difficult for your team member to do so. The point of feedback is to help them learn and improve. 

Respectful

You should think through in advance what message you are trying to get across, why you’re delivering it, and how it will help the person receiving it. The key to approaching feedback is to make sure it feels like it’s coming from an ally, not an adversary. Look for ways that you make your feedback feel supportive and not antagonistic. 

Timely & ongoing

Providing your team with real-time, direct, and honest feedback is your opportunity as a manager to help your team understand how they can grow and improve. If you wait weeks or months to share feedback in a formal review, your direct report likely will not remember the incident or be frustrated that they weren’t given the opportunity to correct the issue sooner. 

Performance Reviews

Performance reviews have received a lot of scrutiny over the past several years. Many have shared the opinion that performance reviews are ineffective. The reality is, performance conversations are a critical part of the engagement and retention of your employees. They’re also a critical discussion for remote employees to have a clear understanding of where they stand and what’s expected of them. 

Performance management drives retention

Employees prefer working in environments where they’re challenged and their peers are held to the same standard. Employees will stay in a job longer if they feel like they are growing. If your company wants to mitigate costly turnover, it needs to take performance management seriously. As you know, employee retention is important because the cost of recruitment, training & onboarding is so costly. Low performers, low morale, and ultimately resignations all cost money. You need to challenge your top performers and performance management out your low performers.

Goals help teams prioritize

One of the most valuable benefits of performance management processes that includes goal setting is that it helps teams prioritize. People know they’re getting the right things done and how their work impacts the broader initiatives at the company. Setting goals helps managers clarify their vision for the team and what they expect from each team member. Ideally, goals align the team on what the priorities of a team will be, in a given time frame, and then how to accomplish and measure the success of each goal. Lack of clarity on goals makes setting objectives or giving feedback difficult. 

As a manager, you are a key player in setting & tracking goals for your team. You are likely also responsible for understanding how your team goals align to the overarching company goals. Good goal setting and check-ins should be part of your regular operating model and communication for any remote team. If managers are doing this right, it should make their lives easier, not harder. 

Designing a Program

Before running a review cycle, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my objectives?
  • Which groups should participate?
  • How often should I run a performance management cycle?
  • What questions should we ask?
  • What are best practices for delivering feedback?
  • What tools/systems should we use?

What are my objectives?

An effective performance review is a two-way, individualized conversation between a manager and an employee about their performance, impact, development, and growth. Good performance reviews give employees and managers an opportunity to discuss how an employee is doing and how they can do better. 

Good performance reviews support:

  • Employees knowing where they stand and what they can do to improve
  • Managers providing developmental coaching and helping to remove blockers
  • The company benefits from a regular supply of data on individual and team performance

Which groups should participate?

There are four main groups who can participate in your performance process:

  • Employee (Self) – An employee can complete a self assessment, reflect on their performance and share what they want to accomplish at the company and longer-term in their career
  • Peer Feedback – Colleagues can have the opportunity to highlight strengths and development areas in a peer’s performance. Including peer feedback is helpful to give the manager a broader perspective into someone’s performance and how they “show up” when interacting in other parts of the business that the manager may not see.
  • Upward Feedback – Direct reports of a manager should be given the opportunity to provide upward feedback on how their manager is performing, both for the business and as the leader of their team
  • Manager Evaluation – Managers complete an evaluation of their direct report’s performance and identify areas for development. Managers should include feedback gathered throughout the year via continuous feedback and feedback obtained through peer feedback

How often should I run a performance management cycle?

Traditionally, performance reviews were conducted once a year and focused on evaluating past performance. At their best, performance reviews should occur a few times per year and should focus on driving and improving future performance.  

For companies just getting started, an ideal timeline could be:

  • Design your program in January
  • Performance Review in February
  • Compensation Adjustments in March/April

For companies with more established performance management programs, an ideal annual calendar could look something like the below:

  • Q1: Performance Check-In & Goal Setting
  • Q2: Continuous Feedback
  • Q3: Performance Review, Peer Feedback & Development Conversation
  • Q4: Continuous Feedback & Compensation/Promotion Review

What questions should we ask?

There’s no perfect recipe for the performance review questions you use. The main goal is to have a meaningful conversation. The questions should be used to facilitate that work. Below are some sample question templates, which can be modified based on your unique company needs.  

Employee (Self) Evaluation Template (for an employee to evaluate their own performance)

  1. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  2. What goals did you meet? Which goals fell short?
  3. What do you think you should do differently next year?
  4. Provide examples of how you bring our company values to life
  5. What can I do as your manager to make your job more enjoyable? How can I support the achievement of your goals?

Peer Feedback Review Templates

Strengths & Areas for Improvement

  1. What are this person’s strengths?
  2. What’s something this person could improve on?

Stop Start Continue

  1. What’s one thing this person should stop doing?
  2. What’s one thing this person should start doing?
  3. What’s one thing this person should continue doing?

Other Sample Questions

  1. Does this employee effectively communicate with others?
  2. How effective of a leader is this person, either through direct people management or influence?
  3. How would you rate the quality of this person’s work?
  4. How well does this person set and meet deadlines? 
  5. How likely are you to want to work with this person again?
  6. How does this person embody our company values?
  7. If you could give this person one piece of constructive advice to make them more effective in their role, what would it be?

Upward Feedback (to your Manager)

  1. Is your manager action-oriented? How well do they drive results? 
  2. Does your manager make your work better?
  3. Does your manager hold you and your peers accountable for producing quality work on time?
  4. How well does your manager support your professional and personal growth?
  5. Does your manager accept feedback? Does your manager communicate well?

Manager Evaluation Templates

Annual Performance Review

  1. What achievements are you most proud of this year?
  2. What did not go so well?
  3. What personal or professional goals should we set for next year?
  4. What kind of support do you need to achieve your goals?
  5. How will you measure or track your progress on these goals?

Quarterly Check-In

  1. What were the highlights of the last quarter?
  2. What did not go so well?
  3. What are your goals for the upcoming quarter?
  4. What would make the next 90 days successful for you at work?
  5. What kind of support do you need to achieve your goals?
  6. How will you measure or track your progress on these goals?

Other Sample Questions

  1. What’s an area where you’ve seen this person excel?
  2. What’s an area you’d like to see improvement?
  3. To what extent did this person meet their performance goals?
  4. How well does this person prioritize and manage their workload?
  5. How well does this person communicate with others?
  6. Provide an example of one company value this person excels at

What are best practices for delivering feedback?

If you want your performance reviews to be effective, make sure they are a two-way conversation, with both sides contributing. Managers should not just read their feedback, or the peer feedback they received. Managers should reflect on all factors of their employee’s performance and look back on behaviors and accomplishments. Performance reviews are great moments for managers to coach employees on how they can improve and develop. 

Performance reviews are crucial moments to re-state, review and/or re-set expectations and how those goals will be achieved. You and your employee should leave with clear next steps towards the future. However, these conversations should not be the only time your team members hear from you about how you feel they are doing. Ideally, these formal conversations solidify expectations and review long-term performance. They should not be the first and only time your team hears positive or critical feedback from you.

What tools/systems should we use? 

Using a performance tool such as Lattice, 15Five, Culture Amp, Reflektive or Small Improvements is useful to standardize your performance management process and consolidate your feedback, goal setting and 1:1 notes. These tools are particularly useful for remote teams where centralized documentation and virtual collaboration are paramount. 

Using a manual, paper-based process like email or Google Docs can lead to many problems, such as employees or managers customizing their review so you do not have a standard way to measure performance, make it difficult to track status and completion of reviews and can lead to private performance data being shared with the wrong people unintentionally given lack of proper controls on sensitive information. 

Trust

At the end of the day, having mutual trust with your employees is the most important foundational step managers can take to be successful. Great remote managers will assume positive intent when things feel off. If an employee is behaving differently in a meeting or misses a deadline, don’t assume it’s due to poor performance. Reach out to see what’s going on. They might be dealing with a personal issue or reacting to something you’re unaware of. Be proactive in building and maintaining the relationships with your direct reports to check in and keep the lines of communication open. 

Shelby consults with CEOs, People Leaders, and Venture Capital firms who believe people-first cultures empower successful companies. 

She provides her clients with guidance in the areas of:

  • Remote & distributed work expertise
  • People leadership advisement
  • People technology strategy

Learn more at shelbywolpaconsulting.com

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