4 Performance Reviews Are Better Than 1

When employees said they wanted performance feedback more frequently than once a year, Ascend FCU introduced quarterly reviews.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • Ascend implemented a quarterly review process after surveys revealed employees wanted more frequent feedback.
  • The credit union is working to strike a balance between the work managers put in and the value employees get out.


Ascend FCU
Data as of 12.31.17

HQ: Tullahoma, TN
MEMBERS: 180,620
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 23.9%
ROA: 1.25%

In February 2016, Forbes ran a scathing review of the annual review. The article called the practice purposeless, pricey, and inconsistent, among other things. But Forbes isn’t the only one. Many articles have popped up in the past few years that suggest there’s a better way to structure employee feedback, and employers across the country are trying out new strategies.

Ascend Federal Credit Union($2.1B, Tullahoma, TN) is one of them.

Starting in the fourth quarter of 2016, the Tennessee credit union changed its performance review. It chucked the annual approach and replaced it with a quarterly meeting between managers and staff. The content has changed, too. Rather than focus on quantitative performance metrics, these meetings promote conversation about an employee’s contribution to the credit union’s core values.ContentMiddleAd

In this QA, Ascend’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Peggy Stubblefield, talks about changing the review process, the value of frequent conversation, and how reviews might continue to evolve in the future.

Why did Ascend want to revamp its performance review process?

Peggy Stubblefield:In the past, our normal annual review process involved the manager rating employees by answering a lot of questions. It was a dreaded time for managers.

We conduct employee satisfaction surveys every other year, and one response we always receive is that employees want more feedback and more conversations with their managers.

How does meeting more frequently provide more value to employees?

PS: With annual evaluations, in some cases, managers tend to remember the past few months. So, if the months were good, then managers might rate employees high. But if the months were bad, the review might not be as good.

Peggy Stubblefield, SVP Chief Human Resources Officer, Ascend FCU

By meeting every three months, performance is fresh. It’s easier for managers to remember what employees accomplished this quarter and discuss the areas employees could improve and focus on and what they can do to support our core values.

This format generates more conversations, which is especially important as we focus more on employee growth and career development. We want to encourage conversations about goals, so we know how to best support their growth.

All that said, if there is a problem, we encourage employees not to wait for the quarterly review to address it.

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As far as content, how do the annual and quarterly version differ?

PS: In the annual review, the employee didn’t answer any questions. Only the manager completed a form. In addition, the annual review assessed the quality of the employees’ performance by looking at the quantity of their output. For example, we took into account the number of loans originated or teller transactions made. We still look at this, but we now track those statistics on a bonus incentive scorecard.

The quarterly reviews are shorter and require input from managers and employees eight questions for managers and three for employees. Employees address what they have accomplished since their last evaluation, one thing they will do in the next quarter to bring more value to Ascend, and how they have supported Ascend’s core values.

What’s the benefit of a qualitative review?

PS: This kind of review allows the manager and the employee to focus on actual accomplishments, actual performance. Our managers have other conversations about the numbers, but if we can focus reviews more on the qualitative and on how employees can improve themselves and how those improvements can better support our goals those are the conversations that will add value to our organization.

If the months were good, then managers might rate employees high. But if months were bad, the review might not be as good.

Peggy Stubblefield, SVP Chief Human Resources Officer, Ascend FCU

What’s been the reaction to this model

PS:We sent an employee satisfaction survey in the spring of 2017, and our score went up slightly on feedback. We’d only had it in place for a short period of time, but employees liked it. We’ll learn more when we send our next survey in 2019.

Anecdotally, I hear positive remarks from employees. The quarterly review is accomplishing its intent of encouraging regular conversations between managers and employees. I think managers like it, as well. They have to review employees four times each year instead of once, so that’s different. But we told them not to write a novel.

What improvements or changes are you evaluating?

PS: We are still tweaking this process. We are evaluating whether to continue to review quarterly versus a different period of time. We’re asking if four times is too much? Is twice enough? We’re evaluating that, although we like having the conversations more than once per year, so it wouldn’t be annual.

Personally, I like the quarterly meetings because of the regular contact and conversation. As you grow larger as an organization, it’s more difficult to have regular conversations with your employees, help them grow, and show how they affect the overall accomplishments of the credit union. This enables us to have more conversations about our credit union’s strategic goals.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

February 12, 2018

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