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Illustration: Janne Iivonen

For decades, Colliers International staff endured the traditional performance review process, meeting with managers once a year to verify that they had fulfilled the mandates set out in their job descriptions. Some employees were promoted and others got a slap on the wrist, but things rarely changed. So about a year ago, management at the 1,500-person firm said enough—and scrapped annual reviews.

That formal process has been replaced with “check-ins,” in which managers and employees meet intermittently throughout the year for unstructured chats about achievements, expectations, goals and concerns. The talks allow employees to give and receive feedback, and and allow managers to guide their career development. There’s no schedule to adhere to and no paperwork to be filed.

A year after scrapping the old system, employee engagement is up 4% and staff has expressed a 9% improvement in how well they feel their performance is managed, according to surveys Colliers underwent with Aon Hewitt.

This year, the company earned a spot on the Aon Best Employers in Canada for the first time. How? “A big part of it is listening,” says CEO David Bowden. In fact, it was employee feedback that spurred the review process overhaul in the first place. “We learned that what employees wanted, ultimately, is ongoing feedback,” says Keri Fraser, senior director of HR at Colliers. “They want to know how they’re doing, and quickly, and they want help in areas where they want to learn.”

Fraser admits she worried employees might be rendered directionless without the formal reviews, but that hasn’t been the case: “Good managers embrace it.” That said, the HR department still offers managers guidance on how to approach check-ins. The company has revamped its management training programs to encourage more proactive interactions with employees. Fraser’s team follows up with managers to make sure they’re talking to direct reports at least quarterly and provides conversation prompts (like, “What do you want to accomplish next?”) for those who don’t know where to start.

Fraser believes the company’s decision to abandon annual reviews is proving effective not just because it eliminates tedious bureaucracy but also because it shows leadership actually listens to feedback. “Employees want to see that you’re embracing [what they say] all the time,” she says, “and you really have to in order to move the dial on employee engagement.”


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