Modernizing performance reviews for retention, inclusion

Former DE&I executive Sandra Quince said a more intentional, but less formal, approach to performance management is preferable.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: Morsa Images/Getty Images

· 4 min read

Drawing on her experience as an HR and DE&I executive at Bank of America, Sandra Quince is now focused on making the workplace more equitable as the CEO of Paradigm for Parity, a nonprofit consortium funded by her former employer and other companies including AstraZeneca, Coca-Cola, CVS, Diageo, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and SAP.

Paradigm for Parity’s mission is to address “systemic gender and racial gaps in the corporate sector” by promoting “strategies that transform corporate leadership to assure that women of all races, cultures, and backgrounds have equal power and opportunity to advance.”

One of those strategies includes updating performance reviews, an oft-maligned and dreaded corporate process that can feel like it serves little value to either side of the interaction: the manager or the direct report.

“What’s most important is that managers are connecting more frequently, regardless of whether or not [it’s by] doing performance reviews,” Quince told HR Brew. “When you’re doing performance reviews, it is all subjective. We’re human and we all have biases. So, one of the challenges that you find is that we bring our bias into this process.”

HR leaders should consider reevaluating their promotion and performance review data to check for bias, Quince said, and managers should be making an intentional effort to know and understand their reports’ unique goals and needs.

“Do I know what drives them? Am I having the right conversations, so that I can advocate for them, and be their voice at the table, and potentially be their sponsors? As well as, am [I] providing information to my peers around what my team is doing and how they’re performing?”

A signal for culture? While performance reviews are seen as a matter of productivity and the driver behind promotion or firing decisions, Quince also sees an opportunity to revamp them in order to develop a more inclusive culture.

“Anytime you think about a company and its culture, you have to think about all the people processes, you also have to think about those moments, which I like to call critical or pivotal moments in an employee’s life-cycle. [After hiring and onboarding], the next point in that employee’s life cycle becomes the development and promotion of that employee.”

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To execute this adjustment, Quince advises HR leaders to train managers to be more intentionally involved, particularly given today’s increasingly hybrid working world. Within Paradigm for Parity, Quince says she speaks with her direct reports weekly, and then has one formal performance conversation with a midyear check-in for both parties to provide feedback.

“What we’ve seen, especially with the companies we work with, is that they put a process in place by which you have to upskill your leaders. So, those that are managing people have to really understand the importance of the performance planning process and the conversations that they're having with their employees,” Quince said.

Lessons from the past. Quince recalls the effort to update performance reviews at Bank of America, which she modeled her own plan after. Bank of America moved them from quarterly to twice a year.

“We were doing them quarterly,” she said. “What we discovered is that when you meet with someone and you’re having these really critical conversations around their performance, their goals and aspirations, [and] the support that they need, you then have to give them an opportunity to go back and actually make inroads or make changes or shifts.”

She also acknowledges that having a smaller team helps her be a more intentional manager.

“I do it on a very different cadence, because my team is so much smaller…We talk about what they have going on…what is it that I can continue to do to support them and also, what are they passionate about? Are they still engaged in the work?”

These conversations help Quince “understand where I can bring them into certain projects or what additional experience and exposure [they need]…Then I do performance planning with them once a year.”

The payoff. Companies stand to improve their culture, engagement, and retention by updating their performance review processes, according to Quince.

She said employees are more likely to stay because those “who feel as though they’re engaged in their organization, that their leaders care about their career goals and aspirations, and the organization is supporting them along that journey, those are retention tools that employees need in order to signal to them that this is a place where I belong.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.