How do you review performance of employees you can’t see?

This is a familiar question for Kiddy consultants who deliver performance management development programmes for global businesses.

Across four continents and multiple countries, our consultants hear similar questions: How can I ensure I’m appraising people fairly and objectively when I can’t see them?  How can I ensure my feedback has the right impact, and doesn’t get ‘lost in translation’?

Whether performance managing someone who works from home, or who’s based in a different office, or different country, managers must ensure that they ground their performance feedback in evidence.

What constitutes evidence? 
The most obvious form of evidence is outputs – are they delivered on time, and to the required standard?  When managing remotely it’s tempting to rely on outputs alone, since they’re easy to see.  But it matters how targets were achieved (or not), particularly when individual control over the results is reduced. For example, when project success is dependent on team work and collaboration.

Don’t try to mind-read. Focus on observable behaviours, and include feedback from multiple sources: colleagues, line reports, clients, collaborators.  This could be through a formal 360 degree feedback process, or a more informal process – individuals simply asking others to provide feedback on their performance in relation to key behaviours.

Received and understood? 
No communication involves a perfect transmission – biases and misunderstandings can creep in at both ends.  Clarify the key messages, then shape and deliver messages in a way that’s mindful of the receiver’s frame of reference.

This doesn’t mean that difficult messages should be ‘spun’, or that distance should become an excuse for storing up difficult conversations. Performance feedback is best delivered soon after the action or outcome it relates to, and if that means it has to be delivered by phone, so be it.

Performance management should also be ‘context congruent’; designed and delivered in ways that take into account local cultural norms.  For instance, cultural differences in individualism-collectivism should inform the emphasis placed on individual versus group performance feedback.

Finally, remember: Performance appraisals are not just for Christmas
The web is awash with reports about the apocalyptic ‘end of the performance appraisal’.  But of course, it hasn’t really ended, it just needs to change shape.  Unfortunately, in many organisations, the value of quality performance conversations got lost in what became a very punctuated process.

So schedule regular catch ups, even if for just 30 mins, to make up for incidental conversations you’d have at the coffee machine if in same location.  And resist the temptation to jump straight into task mode.  It’s easily done when not face to face, but you miss out on the relationship building equivalent of “corridor chats”.

When managing remotely, you have to work harder to keep the performance conversation alive.  But it’s worth it.  Research shows that good performance management can enhance organisational commitment and work performance, but only when feedback is given regularly.

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