# 10 - Virtual Performance Reviews
by Randi Brenowitz
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# 10 – Virtual Performance Reviews
The response to Issue #8, Working Virtually
was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Since it became clear that virtual
teams are a major concern of my readership, I decided to dedicate
several issues to that topic. The first in this series was about
Virtual Meeting Etiquette. This
issue deals with the complexities of Employee Performance Reviews
in a virtual organization.
there are other topics about virtual teams you'd like to see addressed
in future issues, please email me at email@example.com.
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performance review is not merely a means of finding out what a
team member is worth, but of finding ways to make him or her worth
more. This is true whether your team is co-located or virtual.
Performance reviews create opportunities for:
some of these uses are in conflict, performance review systems
can be fraught with unpleasant emotion. Both team members and
leaders seem to dread this time, and frequently avoid it or do
a sloppy job. Fortunately, there are creative and innovative HR
and Compensation people who are trying to create new systems for
Performance Reviews. In the meantime, whatever system your organization
has for its co-located employees must be adapted to your virtual
team. In co-located organizations, the impact of a sloppy performance
review can be decreased with regular, informal contact and feedback.
In a virtual situation, where regular and informal communication
is not the norm, the impact of a poorly done performance review
can have huge impact. When team members are not clear about
their goals and expectations and when they don't know if they're
doing things the best way, it is hard to keep up high energy and
motivation. On the other hand, a positive review experience will
go a long way toward team members feeling included in and valued
by the organization.
Since your virtual team members may come from different cultures,
different geographies, or different parts of the organization,
different cultures, you have no way of knowing what assumptions
they have about the performance review process. As part of your
team start-up process, the team should decide what adaptations
they want to make to the corporate system so that it will best
serve their needs. It is helpful here to have the advice of your
HR or Compensation organization. Once the process is clearly defined
and articulated, individual team members will know what to expect
no matter where they are located.
Clear goals are the foundation for every Performance Review system,
as they allow for more objective measurement at the end of a review
period. This becomes more important in virtual teams as team members
cannot actually see what others are working on. The informal hallway
conversations and visits to each other's cubicles that help facilitate
goal alignment are not available in the virtual environment. Clearly
defined goals and expectations must take their place.
is a tendency with co-located teams for the team leader to measure
such things as how late the team member stays in the office or
at what times over the weekend their car is in the parking lot.
Although these are never measures of how efficient or effective
the team member is, many leaders are concerned when they cannot
"see" the team member working. In any team, co-located
or virtual, goals that are results-based will help the team member
understand the expectations and will move your team closer to
high-performance and goal completion.
success criteria is always a good idea, but if your team members
are from different cultures, it is a necessity. What constitutes
completion may vary from culture to culture and the difference
in definition of terms can lead to some comic (or catastrophic)
results. In many cultures, it is not acceptable to ask for help,
so periodic check-ins will help the team leader assess progress
along the way.
If possible, the review meeting should be face-to-face. If that
is not possible, you can still have a meaningful meeting via the
phone if you have prepared well. Although you may be tempted,
do not use a video-conferencing system. The technology is
still awkward and does not really let you see the body language
of the other person.
timing of conference calls is frequently a problem. In this case,
if one person has to be inconvenienced, it should be the team
leader who is making the call at a peculiar hour and not the team
member. Both the leader and the member should arrange to be in
a private area where they will not be overheard or disturbed.
goal should be discussed: the degree to which it was completed,
the quality with which it was completed, and any extenuating circumstances
that made it difficult to complete. It may be necessary to speak
more slowly and carefully than you might in a face-to-face meeting
and to check for understanding more frequently.
level of direct feedback that is considered proper differs from
country to country, and so it is important for the team leader
to know in advance what the norms are for the team member's culture.
Although the review must be an honest assessment, it may be necessary
to modify some language or style in order for the review to be
some one-on-one time together the next time the team meets face-to-face
to review your discussion and to make sure that any concerns are
Development planning (including training, developmental assignments,
and promotions) is frequently the forgotten piece of the review
process. It may be even more difficult in a virtual environment,
as certain training programs and developmental opportunities do
not exist in every location. Team members still want to know that
there is a future for them even if they are located far from others
on the team. Be honest about what is available, but also be creative.
Are there other places or ways for this team member to get what
he or she needs in order to be successful? Ask the team members
and then take their advice.
This is an additional step when working in the virtual environment.
After one cycle of reviews has been completed, ask the team members
what worked well and what they might like to see done differently.
Virtual Performance Reviews is a new phenomenon and your process
may need to be modified to best meet the needs of your virtual
team members help define the process, they will participate in
it in a more energetic and meaningful way.
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Virtually: Managing People for Successful Virtual Teams and Organizations
by Trina Hoefling (Stylus Publishing, 2001), see issue #8.
Virtual Teams by Deborah Duarte & Nance Snyder (Jossey-Bass,
runs a series of workshops (http://www.heiterconnect.com/VirtualLeader.htm)
and free virtual mini-camps related to work in the virtual environment.
Group Strategic Services, Inc. (www.geogroup.net)
offers a unique blend of traditional and on-line tools that can
be helpful in preparing for the review meeting and the final document.
has assembled a comprehensive list of links and articles on virtual
teams and virtual team management.
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