Performance Reviews versus Focal Reviews: How, Why, and When

Is one type of review better than the other and how are they different? In this piece, we will take a look at how performance reviews and focal reviews are conducted and the considerations to make when implementing them throughout your organization.

There are many performance management tools available to HR professionals. One major staple of those tools is the employee performance review. Many organizations start off with the basic annual performance review, which often falls in line with, or has some connection to, the employee’s start date.

However, performance reviews are often criticized by management for causing an interruption to the workflow of their departments and, over time, can create a coordination challenge, especially for larger organizations. In fact, a survey by CakeHR discovered only 5% of HR leaders are satisfied with performance reviews.This often leads to people-management slipping through the cracks, and performance management problems issues that don’t get addressed until it’s too late.

How are performance reviews carried out against focal reviews?
Standard performance reviews are often conducted annually and in-line with an employee’s start date; for example, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. That means reviews happen sporadically throughout the year. These reviews also often require an employee to stay on top of HR and management to keep these reviews on track. Managers who use this type of review may have a bit more leeway to delay reviews as there is no immediate pressure from HR to get them done unless the review has been flagged as overdue.

This can create tension between HR and management, causing a resistance to conducting performance reviews. This causes dissatisfaction with part of their role as a manager and defeats the purpose of the exercise in the first place.

Focal reviews, however, are gaining popularity. Rather than conducting reviews based on employees’ anniversary dates, focal reviews look at performing an entire department’s reviews at the same time.

Although this may sound daunting to the management of larger teams, it does motivate timely reviews.

Why are focal reviews increasing in popularity?
Organizations looking to make the most of their time should consider focal reviews that reduce disruption throughout the year. Although the focal process requires some tight scheduling, they leave the remainder of the year to continue with regular performance check-ins, allowing employees to focus on individual, departmental, and company-wide goals and objectives.

Because the reviews collect so much data at once, HR teams can analyze the data more efficiently to develop and implement performance-boosting strategies.

Technology can also play a substantial part in facilitating any review process. The scheduling and communication of mass reviews within a short window of time is simplified by using an effective HR system.

With reviews being carried out on the same date using the focal method, organizations benefit in the following ways:
-More regulated check-ins at an organizational level to monitor company objectives alongside annual goals
-Streamlined preparation, as everyone involved is aware of the review date ahead of time
-Better data insights for strategic planning purposes
-All employees’ performances are evaluated against the same measures of success that the company is focused on at that time
-Better overview of an organization at a certain point in time
-Easier to operate and manage because the process is carried out within a small window of time rather than spanning across the entire year
-Greater cost control, especially if reviews fall in line with annual salary increases
-No need for HR to chase down outstanding reviews
-Better aligned business goals and objectives
-Lower chance of employee reviews getting pushed aside or forgotten about
-Easier access to performance data and analytics across all departments

When is the best time to transition to focal reviews?
The transition process from a performance to focal reviews isn’t always easy and can require months of preparation. Transitions can also include a heavy reliance on HR professionals, depending on the size of the company and whether salaries and bonuses need to be changed.

Successful implementation requires a strategic plan that considers the impact the change may have on the business and its departments. The process and timeline should be carefully thought out to fall in line with other significant dates on the company calendar (e.g., organizational goal deadlines, budget reviews, tasks that cannot be put to one side). Communication between HR, payroll and finance needs to be open as each department plays a key role in ensuring labor resources and costs are accurately calculated against the budget.

The focal review doesn’t have to be the only annual review. Semi-formal, continuous, transparent feedback should be made part of your companies performance review strategy to ensure targets are on course, skill-set shortages and issues are identified and addressed immediately, and expectations are being met.

How do you successfully implement performance reviews?
A big problem with any type of performance review is not the systems, but the understanding behind them. Performance reviews are not always considered a beneficial performance management tool, which is why there is often a fair amount of resistance in implementing them. HR will hear plenty of complaints about why they’re an inconvenience to daily departmental operations.

HR professionals must develop the reasoning behind the performance review process to management and employees and clearly communicate it to the entire organization. Providing managers with best practice training for delivering a successful performance review will motivate staff to work on issues with support and provide positive feedback for good performance. Until all employees are on board, no review process, whether it be an annual performance review or focal review, will make a positive difference in your business.

The performance and focal review appraisal systems have clear pros and cons and, although there appear to be more benefits to the employee and organization when implementing the focal review, it really is dependant on the scale and operations of the business and the resources available. Ultimately, companies need to choose the review type that best supports their needs.

Author Bio

Robyn South is a HR professional with over 7 years experience in generalist and complex employee relations matters. A newly established Virtual HR Assistant offering a range of HR services online, who loves to travel and part of the content management team at HR software company CakeHR.

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