When it comes to setting up their review process, small companies are faced with an overwhelming number of products, tools and apps. But when you’re trying to build a true culture of growth and development, the most effective solution is hidden in plain sight.
Around 18 months ago, we released Charlie’s first Reviews feature. But pretty quickly, we realised that feature had missed the mark – missed it so badly, in fact, that we weren’t even using it ourselves.
That was a bitter pill to swallow – but like every setback, it also had its silver lining.
Rebuilding Reviews from scratch meant going right back to basics. What did we want our Reviews feature to achieve? What challenges did we want it to help small companies overcome?
Two reasons why most small companies fail on their team’s growth and development:
1. Your team’s expectations are higher than ever before
In 2020, the days of employees working solely for a monthly payslip are over. Learning and developing at work simply isn’t a nice-to-have anymore – now, people expect their managers to help them grow personally and develop professionally.
If you’re not growing your team, then you can expect to lose them.
2. Small companies usually have less time, fewer resources and less specific expertise
Running a small company is hard. For many, there might not be anyone working on the People side of the business full-time – it can be hard for that person to give review process the focus it deserves.
Sometimes, it can feel like you just don’t have the capacity to do reviews properly, which means it doesn’t get done at all.
These are the two challenges that sit at the heart of the Reviews feature we wanted to build – one that helped people build a culture of growth and development their team now expects, without it becoming a drain on their time.
We needed to build something that made a big impact, but without overwhelming small businesses with process.
But what would that look like? What should the new Reviews focus on?
Performance reviews and the Pareto principle – how to do more, with less
The Pareto principle states that for any action, 80% of the results will be caused by just 20% of the causes. It doesn’t matter what you’re working on – there’ll always be that one thing that yields the highest bang for your buck, that achieves the most output with the least amount of effort.
So what could the new Reviews leverage for that 80% advantage?
Analysing what our competitors were building left us none the wiser. The current state of play within performance review software is a staggering amount of breadth, with no clear focus on what actually produces results.
Right now, our competitors have built everything from:
- 360° feedback – where employees give and receive feedback from their peers (rather than from managers).
- Check-Ins – regular ‘pulses’ that take a regular snapshot of team morale and performance
- Continuous feedback – where feedback is provided in real-time, all year round rather than wait for an annual review
- Self-Review - features that encourage you to self-reflect as the best form of development
- OKR tracking - for tracking team and company goals
- Personal goal tracking - for tracking individual goals
- Public praise features – tools that allow team members to recognise and celebrate success
Most of these companies offer a wide selection of these features and tell you to use all of them in tandem with each other.
But for small companies, this is way too much, far too soon.
I’ve been building and running small companies for the last 8 years and that list is just overkill – the sheer amount of time and effort it would take to implement and maintain that much process means that, in a small business, it simply wouldn’t get done.
We had to hone our feature down to one, impactful point – a single area of focus that would help our users cut through the noise surrounding performance reviews.
Through multiple rounds of in-depth user interviews, hours of research and dozens of user tests, we found our focus.
A culture of growth and development is built on meaningful conversations
The further we dug into growth and development, the clearer it became that the most crucial part of any review process is the conversation between manager and team member.
That conversation is the single greatest factor in whether a review process fails or succeeds.
“The success of any review process hinges on that face-to-face meeting. This is the moment the team member will remember about their review... the best way to help them develop is to get that conversation right.” Luula Abdulkadir, HR Advisor at Charlie
Once we understood that, it started to feel obvious. This is how people learn – if I think about the times in my own life where I’ve really developed, it’s always been with the help of someone I trust giving me feedback in real life.
But that conversation is almost totally missing from nearly every other product out there.
“None of the products I looked at during our competitor analysis spoke about the in-person conversation. Their products are entirely focussed on what happens inside their own features - not what happens in real life.” Emily Kilbane, Product Designer at Charlie
That all-important review conversation is almost nowhere to be seen. It’s almost as if these companies have seen a problem and decided to just throw software at it.
That long, long list of incredibly time-consuming software tools are all chasing that extra 20% – and forgetting that the best way to help people grow is through real conversations between real people.
This is why we built our Reviews feature around meaningful conversations.
Here’s how we do it:
1. Charlie’s best-practice templates mean you can guide conversations towards what’s most important
Too many review conversations end up being aimless and unstructured. By selecting a template your team will have to work from, you can make sure everyone is talking about what really matters to your company.
(If you want to use your own custom template within Charlie, you can do that with our light-touch review builder).
2. Charlie guides your team through a review process that actually works
We’ve built our entire Reviews feature on making sure that review conversations are informed, productive and meaningful.
To do that, we use a three-step process.
A) First, team members answer some initial prep questions
Performance reviews should never be a one-way street. If your team members are going to develop professionally, you need to engage them in that process.
Once you’ve launched a review, Charlie will send over some prep questions based on the template you chose in Step 1.
These questions are designed to encourage team members to self-reflect on their own performance and get them thinking about what they need to grow and develop. Once they’ve completed their self-review, they can save their answers in Charlie and they’ll automatically be shared with their manager.
B) Managers assess their answers and share their own feedback
Next, the manager running the review process will read through the team member’s answers. This makes sure that they are fully prepared for the review meeting and aren’t faced with any surprises.
Then, they’ll reply with their own feedback and share it with the team member via Charlie.
C) Lastly, the review meeting takes place – but only when it’s properly prepared for
3. Charlie makes sure that everyone prepares for the review meeting (so you don’t have to do the chasing)
If anyone hasn’t got round to completing their prep, Charlie will automatically remind people well ahead of their meeting date.
4. Our intuitive overview page means you can oversee your review process at a glance
We also give you the option to quickly ‘nudge’ people along the process if you need to do so.
5. Review notes are saved and stored
Finally, every team member’s review notes are stored exactly where they can find them – on their own Charlie profile. This helps your team to bank the learnings they pick up during their Review process so they can refer to them whenever they need to.
Want to find out more about Reviews? Click this link to set up a free demo.