It goes without saying that as modern workplaces evolve and take changes in technology and new insights relating to staff management into account, certain practices will be relegated to the past along the way.

Right now, it's the often-dreaded, annual performance review in its traditionally accepted form, which looks likely to be exchanged for a more regular form of checking-in for a lot of companies.

It seems many managers and workers have never really liked a process that often involves both parties simply filling in long, often dry, questionnaires, then exchanging them awkwardly at an uncomfortable once per 12-monthly sit-down session.

Employers are realising that on-going communication and regular feedback for each staff member are far more effective, and ultimately beneficial to business.

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A survey, by recruiting experts Hays, appears to confirm that a dramatic change in attitudes is afoot with 63 per cent of the 164 New Zealand managers who were spoken to seemingly keen to ditch the single annual appraisal model in favour of much more regular one-on-one catch-ups – usually in addition to a slightly more relaxed, main yearly meeting.

Looking at the results, it would appear the overriding reason behind this shift is that both employers and employees consider a year to be far too long a time to cover, when it's obvious within an organisation that staff are better engaged, in general, when poor performance is addressed as soon as it happens and good work is celebrated — and built upon — swiftly and meaningfully.

New approaches

It reveals that some have eliminated annual meetings altogether while others have modified their means of appraising workers.

"We've abandoned annual reviews as feedback should be ongoing throughout the year. We're not abandoning the focus on performance, just how it is managed and discussed with employees. By making it more timely and ongoing we see performance improvements throughout the year," says one employer.

Another reports "Work performance evaluation is critical for managers to feel connected with staff and ensure both their physical and emotional needs are being considered. For staff it is imperative that they feel their supervisor listens to them and takes their feedback on board. Staff need to feel they are being heard at all levels."

Jason Walker, Managing Director of Hays Recruitment in New Zealand agrees, having noticed a distinct shift in the approach a of employers over the past few years.

"I think an annual review, around the end of the financial year, has its place as a time to talk about broad objectives, reviewing the past 12 months and providing a sort of re-set for both you and the worker, but I have at least one monthly catch-up with each of my staff in addition to that, because I need to know how to support them here and now.

"I don't want them thinking they have only the one opportunity to talk about their performance and their place within the company and I certainly wouldn't want anyone to worry that I'm saving up lots of negative things to hit them with at once!"

He says a real or perceived lack of objectivity is a frequently-cited problem area with traditional performance review formats, and many employers in the survey group commented that keeping workers engaged, without the benefits of regular catch-ups, is often difficult.Effective communicationWalker believes people can often have a more positive experience and work effectively together in a situation where both feel relaxed and able to communicate effectively and directly.

He says that in the past, many bosses — who may have had minimal training in conducting appraisals — as well as their employees, have found the single review model to be a stressful ordeal, with an attendant fear or expectation of conflict, which means that in many organisations the big moment has regularly been delayed and HR departments are forced to hector managers into action.

"If, as an employer, you do feel you might be biased or not as objective as you could be, with a certain staff member, then I would say, don't hesitate to bring someone else in on the meeting to help facilitate an atmosphere of mutual support," says Walker.

With the fact that the once-yearly system often seems unpleasant or uncomfortable in mind, he says it's important to develop a model of engagement with staff wherein the past belongs in the past.

"If you and the worker have been communicating well month-by-month, that annual meeting should be a positive experience that's all about looking ahead and finding out how an employee sees him or herself in terms of their place in the company. It's a time to recap what they'd like to achieve, what they need to learn and — obviously — improve upon, in the future."

In essence what Walker espouses is a sense that the manager is able to be a coach or mentor to his or her staff, taking their pulse, as it were, on regular occasions and even when a worker is performing well, encouraging them to raise their ideals just a bit further still, in order to be challenged, to grow gravitas, enhance their communication skills, and ultimately feel energised and satisfied.

"Transparency and authenticity are the key words around this relationship in order for it to work well for both parties.

"That annual list of points that you cover and discuss with the employee has to be a living document that stays active and alive.

"This in turn opens up new opportunities for the employee — and for the manager."