SumTotal Blog

5 Ways to Modernize Your Performance Reviews

October 20, 2021 | by SumTotal Blog | 5 min read

Employees need to take ownership of their learning and career tracks using tools such as intelligent learning management systems, and you can help them do so. It's possible that your employees suffer from a mix of imposter syndrome or a lack of clarity regarding their skills and career paths. You may see something valuable in them, but they may be less likely to see it in themselves until they're praised by someone in a position of power.

In 2021, almost 90% of organizations offer annual performance reviews for their employees, but many miss the mark by not attaching an actionable objective for further growth. This directly leads to mediocrity and wasted time on behalf of both employees and their superiors. There's a way to get more ROI out of your performance reviews.

Employee performance reviews should be modernized so that they can be more valuable. Here are some actionable ways to get started.


Performance reviews are often relegated to a once-a-year meeting and are jammed while people are trying to hit year-end goals. In this model, there is no chance for an employee to make intentional improvements at a consistent pace. It's entirely possible for an employee to work somewhere for a year and not be aware of critical areas they need to improve. Continuous feedback allows employees to use a year’s time to make a difference with less stress. It also keeps them engaged.

This is not just a problem with applicant tracking systems. It’s a problem baked into some workplace cultures. A lack of consistent feedback leads to employee turnover, a major headache for HR professionals and functional area managers. Sadly, this is a realization most companies don't make until they're doing exit interviews.

In a 2019 Gallup blog, they noted that a staggering 51% of employees hadn’t been spoken to by their manager or any other leader in the previous three months. Three months, the period of time that many companies use as a traditional trial period, is a long time to hear crickets.

To put that time span into perspective, depending on the season, a 2021 employee can find a new job in as little as five weeks. As we are currently playing in an employee-empowered market where two out of three employees are considering seeking another role, this is something that human resources leaders cannot ignore. Continual feedback means continued engagement. Don’t let your best talent become bored, or worse, interested in another company.


Who says that the only way employees can improve is by hearing from their superiors? A 360-degree approach to feedback casts a wider net to an employee’s peers, direct reports, and manager. As many wise individuals have said, two heads are better than one and that holds true for perspectives as well. Different perspectives provide a full scope of strengths and struggles, which is much more valuable than a singular, possibly biased view.

One of the other ideal parts of 360-degree feedback is that it can be solicited anonymously and tracked regularly. In fact, with certain tools, aggregate data can be analyzed year-over-year without manual effort and employees can grow faster as a result.


81% of performance reviews focus on an employee’s past while just 19% take their future potential into account. People who live in the past are frequently told to “be present” or to consider future goals, so performance reviews shouldn't be based solely on things that are now in the past. While the past helps inform the future, it cannot be the sole consideration.

It's a joint responsibility of the employee and employer to always be on the lookout for ways to improve. If employees have feedback to draw from, they improve quicker.


While performance improvement plans are commonly used to correct underperforming employees, you can make them for anyone. There are a lot of pieces of PIPs that can be valuable, even to top performers. Some of these include a clear path, regular feedback, and positive reinforcement. Taking an active interest in your employees’ trajectory will make them feel valued and will likely result in a more engaged workforce.


While completely avoiding addressing issues with an employee in a review is not a best practice, trying to keep the overall process positive is a worthwhile effort. Managers who focus on strengths engage two-thirds of their workforce whereas those who target weaknesses end up with an engagement rate of just 31%.


  • Be a mentor! Start giving feedback when positive or negative events occur so that employees can see that you notice and appreciate them. After all, over 90% of employees want their bosses to address performance mistakes or development opportunities in real-time.
  • Identify employee strengths and help them work toward being even better.
  • Begin the process of inventorying everyone who should be involved in each person’s 360-degree performance evaluations so that you can be ready next time.
  • Make sure that you continue to build out learning opportunities and that your employees are aware of them. This will allow them to learn where and when they want using familiar, online, and interactive tools.
  • Look into comprehensive performance management solutions to make providing regular feedback easier on your team.

To learn more about changes to annual performance reviews and the far-reaching benefits that come from focusing on your workforce, download our white paper.

Related Blogs

The Role of Gamification in Learning

Although the concept of gamification has been around for decades, it came storming into the public consciousness with Jane McDonigal’s popular 2010 TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make A Better World.” In the…

Read blog post

How to Link Performance Reviews to Your Upskilling and Reskilling Initiatives

Performance reviews are the perfect time to identify gaps in an employee’s existing skills and determine how to propel them forward professionally.

Read blog post

How to Empower Employees to Own Their Learning Path

With so many compelling reasons to encourage employees to drive their own learning and development, managers are finding effective ways to enable them.

Read blog post