Beyond Annual Reviews – Making Employee Recognition a Continuous Process

Written by Vladimir Tosic

Corporate and Startup Leader. Culture builder. Marketer and product designer.

December 01, 2023

Company Culture   |   Feedback   |   Recognition

Image by: Circe Denyer from Pixabay

Better late than never sounds like a solid piece of advice – until you realize that in corporate „late“ might as well mean „never“. What good are annual performance reviews when your best and brightest can leave in a space of two weeks?


Reviews are a two-way street – and one you need to cross more than once

Ah, the dreaded annual review. Let’s be honest here. No one enters that glass room to sit across the table from their manager filled with glee. Most of us approach the „performance review dance“ with a mixture of hope and dread. Hoping it’s gonna be over soon, and dreading that it won’t.


Why annual reviews are not enough?

A relationship with your employees, like any other type of relationship needs communication. Imagine waiting the whole year to find out there was a problem, or worse, waiting for twelve whole months to solve a conflict. Performance reviews have the power to point employees in the right direction, revise and plan important goals, and award the key company players for the results they worked on yearlong.

More often than not, however, they are turned into a bureaucratic nightmare, dulled out by worn-out managers who see them like yet another task on their long list. If handled properly annual reviews can be useful, but if handled hastily they can be catastrophic. Think of the annual review as an important message you send to your employees, a recap of all the sweat they poured into your projects.

Imagine then, how a person feels if they feel like the review they got wasn’t fair.


Strange cases of Betty and Dan

Let’s take Betty the Petty for example. She has been with your company for ages, knows all the ins and outs of procedures, and reminds clients about their kid’s birthday parties.

Somewhere along the way, she started believing that rules don’t apply to her, and after a couple of complaints about miscommunication, Betty hasn’t changed one bit. It is so easy to overlook this problem and simply give Betty top-notch performance reviews when it comes to communication, effectively taking Betty off your list and making everyone on the team silently resent you.

Or look into Dan Newkid. He started as a junior programmer and coded his way into more responsibility. He tried hard, supported his teammates, and slowly became a go-to person for an important project feature. Reliable to a fault, Newkid is hardworking but withdrawn. He is dedicated but insecure. He has been too afraid to talk to his manager, and with a lack of one-on-ones ended up feeling uncertain about his position within his team, and the company as a whole. He wasn’t sure anyone noticed his progress and was slowly getting unmotivated because he felt like he was falling behind his peers on the corporate ladder.

By the time the annual review came, Newkid resigned and took all of his potential to the competitor. In his exit interview, he simply stated he didn’t feel like he could grow with the company.


How often should you recognize employees?

When it comes to recognizing your top talent make sure it doesn’t end up being too little too late. Developing skills is a process, and you should pay attention to your employees every step of the way.

Striking a delicate balance between ignoring and recognizing your employees isn’t easy, and it’s not carved in stone, we do, however, have some data about what works best. Try recognizing individuals or teams at least once a month.

Don’t just clap your hands and expect that to be enough, create a newsletter highlighting small wins, and giving teams or individuals a virtual pat on the back. If you lead large teams you can always start your week by going over all the results or people who made that work great.

Strive to make recognition seemless, and be genuine. Avoid waiting until the end of the project to compliment someone’s effort, do it along the way.

Instead of letting the entire team sit in quiet misery over Petty Betty – recognize them for their patience and try to find a solution right away. Don’t wait for Newkid to look for different opportunities elsewhere, congratulate him on his progress and offer new challenges on the spot. Recognition sets the foundation for employee retention and loads of stellar annual reviews for years to come.

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