10 Performance Management & Feedback Best Practices

There are few workplace situations more uncomfortable than providing feedback. When employees know they’re about to receive feedback on job performance, they oftentimes clam up. It isn’t any more comfortable from the manager’s side of the desk either. Though it’s necessary, managers frequently dread giving feedback to team members. Providing your team with performance management best practices is key.

Here are 10 performance management best practices from top HR experts:

1. How and when to document feedback

Basic questions about feedback include how often to do it and which format to utilize. Most HR experts suggest a light touch when it comes to the formal feedback process, though each company will differ in terms of structure and timetable.

Karen Weeks, VP of People at OrderGroove, suggests that feedback should have at least some structure. Although her company previously utilized a more open system, it is now adding more structure to the feedback process. Once per quarter, employees’ OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) will be evaluated. Weeks emphasized that the process is intended to provide a holistic perspective on employees: “It’s not about a slap on the wrist or a gold star, but more about, ‘What did you learn? What did you accomplish?’ Then we’ll check in on development goals.”

Weeks also said that OrderGroove plans to focus more on competencies. Managers need to be trained in how to clearly communicate necessary competencies to employees so that everyone understands expectations.

2. Feedback should be helpful, not bureaucratic

Although formal feedback is important, HR experts warn against excessive administration. It isn’t necessary to rate every employee on every skill. Companies should develop a process that fits with their organization. Gordon said, “If process precedes purpose, then that’s the problem. The purpose of performance feedback is to let employees know how they’re doing.”

3. Understand the value of informal feedback

Some experts recommend doing formalized feedback less frequently. Cindy Gordon, VP of People at PolicyGenius, points to the value of informal feedback as a supplement to formal feedback (which at PolicyGenius occurs twice per year). Managers are encouraged to provide informal feedback when appropriate, including once per quarter in one-on-one meetings. It is expected that managers document the informal feedback they provide.

Gordon explained, “If you’re sitting down and know you’re going to have a performance discussion you may be hyper-focused on what you think someone’s going to tell you. So we try to set a norm where you have the discussion and then follow up with an email. It becomes an automatic reflex.”

4. Train your managers to give good feedback

Teaching managers how to give effective feedback is critical. One effective way to do this is through modeling. Karen Miller, Chief People Officer at Pond5, said she spent a lot of time trying to teach managers about the feedback model. But they were struggling to provide feedback effectively because they didn’t understand the basics.

Good feedback practices begin at the top. Recently, Miller did an offsite event with the executive team. Part of the agenda was to practice giving and receiving direct feedback. “Doing this as an executive team is good practice,” she said. “It creates an environment where the team gets used to it and then can turn around and do it for other people. They realize they survived it and maybe learned something.”

Other experts agree. Gordon explained that there are ways to practice feedback in a low-risk environment, such as team reflections where everyone reflects on the team’s performance. Through practice, feedback naturally becomes part of company culture.

5. When to use anonymous vs. direct feedback

One of the most contentious questions in the HR world is whether anonymous feedback is acceptable and, if so, when.

Some leaders take a strong position that anonymous feedback should be avoided. Although Gordon acknowledged that anonymous feedback can be more helpful than no feedback at all, she prefers direct feedback. “Anonymous feedback doesn’t breed trust. It can actually breed paranoia,” she explained. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I’m hearing this about you,’ I’d automatically raise my antenna and wonder who else is talking about me. It doesn’t help to foster discussion.”

6. Normalize a culture of direct feedback

The reason people gravitate towards anonymous feedback, Gordon said, is because they’re uncomfortable giving direct feedback. But while giving direct feedback is certainly uncomfortable, people need to accept it. They should understand they are helping someone else’s development process.

While other leaders agreed on the value of direct feedback, sometimes getting people to a point where they’re comfortable giving direct feedback can be a process. Miller and Weeks both utilize anonymous feedback for 360 reviews. According to Miller, direct feedback requires an evolution of culture. But she also said, “Ultimately the goal is to get to a place where you’re comfortable giving direct feedback.”

Weeks said that giving upwards direct feedback can be difficult for many people. “Many people aren’t comfortable criticizing their own managers,” she said.

HR leaders should push towards direct feedback, even if the transition can’t happen right away.

7. Performance management best practices linked to compensation

Another sticky issue is how to incorporate performance management best practices into employee compensation. Experts propose a variety of methods for performance-based compensation.

For Gordon, it’s important not to have compensation and performance management conversations at the same time. She said, “We carry that out through the structure of programs, but we also have processes in place behind that. First, we have the performance conversation, using skill development rubrics so that people actually know how they’re being evaluated.”

Then, the company utilizes data from databases and networks to determine appropriate compensation in conjunction with performance reviews.

Miller strongly asserted the need to tie performance evaluation to compensation. “If I’m not relying on information about who the best performers are, then I’m relying on who people like and who is nice,” she said.

She calls the system used at Pond5 “executive team validation.” The executive team meets together and goes through every employee, trying to develop a consensus on performance evaluation. She said, “It’s not formulaic, but we use information.”

8. Choose evaluation methods appropriate to your company

Weeks pointed out that companies of different sizes need different ways to determine appropriate compensation. When she worked at a larger company, they used ratings as a starting point for adjusting employees’ compensation. However, the organization also gave different departments the option to set their own compensation methods. The engineering team has different preferences than sales or marketing, which should be accommodated.

Now that Weeks is at OrderGroove, a smaller company, she implements a system that is less formula-driven. “We sit down and figure it out together,” she explained.

While compensation should relate to performance, there is no one-size-fits-all method for how to do this effectively.

9. Some tools for documenting feedback and determining compensation

There are a number of HR tools available that can help to document performance feedback and determine compensation. Here are some of the tools leaders recommend for feedback:

  • Reflektive: This performance management tool ties into Slack, providing a way for managers to document feedback.
  • GoogleDocs and Word: In terms of simple tools that enable employees to give and receive feedback, these are great choices for smaller companies.
  • Impraise: A software tool to provide feedback to employees. Although ratings are included as part of the tool, they are not the focus.
  • Slack: For providing informal feedback, Slack is a useful tool that your employees are probably already using for other purposes.

Leaders also recommend using database tools for information on average salaries:

  • Salary.com for small businesses: Offers data about average salaries for small businesses and early-stage startups.
  • Advanced-HR: There are two options within Advanced-HR, including a paid and free option. The free option allows users access to salary data in return for imputing organizational data.

10. Use survey tools to collect feedback

Simple survey tools like SurveyMonkey can also be useful for collecting feedback on employee performance—and the performance management process itself. Ask employees about their feelings on the feedback process itself. Weeks recently conducted a short survey for both managers and employees asking about the relevance of feedback. “We learned that people thought the feedback was rich but didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.

As a result, Weeks is modifying the performance management performance. Gordon said that by asking employees about the feedback process, her team learned that the performance management software program being utilized wasn’t working for employees.

Through surveys, HR leaders can learn what is and isn’t working for employees. Of course, employees oftentimes vary widely in their personal preferences. Some employees want more performance evaluation, others less. That too is useful information that should be communicated to employees. Miller said, “One of the most helpful things about surveys is being able to explain the results to people. You say, ‘Half of you thought it was too dark in here and half of you thought it was too light.’ It helps open up people’s perspectives and helps them realize others may see the world differently.”

Landing on the optimal performance and feedback process is an ongoing struggle for HR leaders. But with these tools and tips for performance management best practices, you can implement a system that works for your company and employees.

If you are looking for job opportunities in tech, click here.


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12 Contest Ideas to Motivate Your Sales Team

Research shows that healthy competition within sales teams can boost results — often substantially. Sales contests are one way to introduce “healthy” competition into your team. In fact, they can be so effective that the organization who ran that study saw an incredible 45% increase in their bottom line margin the second time they ran a competition. For that, you need sales contest ideas. 

But, to have a positive effect, sales contests need to be given careful thought, or they’ll turn into a playground only lets the top performers play. In that scenario, poor — or even perfectly adequate — performers become discouraged and stop bothering to try to win and the contest fizzles. 

The elements of a good sales contest

So, to combat that, you need to understand what a good sales contest should achieve. To raise everyone’s motivation, your contests should meet a few criteria. A good sales contest has 3 main goals

  1. To improve the performance of bottom performers;
  2. Increase overall team productivity;
  3. And, boost team morale.

 If an idea doesn’t do these 3 things, scrap it, or at least don’t repeat it. 

In line with this, traditionally sales contests reward the best rep in a set period of time — i.e. the rep who generates the most revenue in a month wins. We certainly include that idea, but if you’re striving to achieve those big 3 things, you’ll have to get more creative. 

A few ways to do that is to focus on front-end activities and KPIs — the processes of sales — and reward appropriately. Or, focus on specific thresholds, where anyone who reaches the minimum wins some sort of prize. 

So, without further ado, here are our contest ideas. 

12 sales contest ideas

Milestone-based ideas

1. First to reach X leads/sales/meetings/revenue

This is a more simplified version of the KPI-based contest and can be a great short-term contest. For example, if your marketing team just ran a very successful campaign and there are lots of SQLs just waiting to be given attention, that’s the perfect situation for this type of contest. 

First past the post is typically the rule: the first person to qualify 50 leads a day, or book 10 meetings, or generate $25K in new sales pipeline — you get the idea. 

2. Anyone who reaches X sales in a month receives a prize

Similar to the objective goals, this one has a twist to ensure that everyone gets motivated: whatever goal you set (X sales, Y revenue, etc.), whoever reaches that metric in a month gets a prize — not just the top or first person. It’s a sort of everyone past the post take on the traditional. 

Fun ideas

3. Yankee gift swap

Also known as “Dirty Santa”, this one can be effective around the holidays. Rules are simple: every time a rep makes a sale over the predetermined amount, they can open a gift. Once a gift is opened, anyone else who makes a sale over the set amount can either open a new one or steal. 

Ben Jackson, VP of sales at Voices.com, reported that this contest was so successful that his team opened all the gifts the first week, forcing management to restock. They had a 50% increase in larger-than-average deals. 

4. Short-notice “flash” contest

Everybody loves leaving early on Fridays — why not use that as a short-term contest reward? Jackson found that inside sales reps tended to ration their end-of-month deals to get a jumpstart on the next month. So, he spontaneously announced that if everyone met a certain quota in the last few days, everyone could leave early on Friday. It worked. 

5. Poker

For this one, set predetermined small, daily goals for your team. If and when a team member reaches that goal, they pick a card from a 52-card deck. Throw in a random bonus card for fairness, and at the end of a 5-day workweek, everyone who reached their daily goal each day has a full hand. The best hand wins. 

6. Trade show

If you do trade shows, this can a fun 1-day or week-long contest. It’s simple: whoever makes the most sales during the event wins. Just let your team know ahead of time and make an easy way to track their sales. 

7. Bingo 

Like the poker contest, this one focuses on small, daily goals. Make bingo cards with different types of sales or tasks in each square. Every time a teammate completes a task, they can check off a square. When they fill the row or card, they get rewarded. 

Positive + negative points ideas

8. Points for “carelessness”

Typically, contests are run to reward good sales behavior — what about the poor? Imagine that your team has been giving away a lot of free products added to deals to make the sale — too many. While it works in the short-term, it can lead to buyer relationships that are less likely to last. To cut down on this, reward reps for the deals that contain no free products

To do this, you might consider mounting a board upon which points are added beside each team member’s name for careless sales practices. At the end of the week, the “leader” has to put $20 or $50 in a charity pot or office party fund. It’s a bit of a parody that servers to highlight less-than-optimal practices in a fun, non-accusatory way.

You can also combine the concept of positive and negative points by awarding points for good practices, and removing them for bad. 

Objective-based ideas

Every contest needs a goal: so what are you hoping to improve among your sales team? Picking a specific objective is key. 

9. More new clients

Using this metric, whoever gets the most clients in a set period of time wins. 

10. More revenue for X product

Again, whoever generates the most revenue for a specific product of your company wins. Which product do you need to improve sales of? 

11. Greatest gross profit for the period

Take a metric, like gross profit, and pick a concrete length of time, like the quarter. You can also do per month or otherwise. Again, whoever has the highest gross profit of that period wins. 

12. KPI-based contest

Focusing on improving KPIs a process-based idea. What KPIs are lagging? Sales cadences? “50 meaningful calls per day” could be the goal for a contest. Start with 5-10 metrics and keep it simple. Resist the urge to overcomplicate this one. 


You probably didn’t need us to tell you that salespeople are competitive — it’s a quality that often makes the top performers just that. But while sales contests have proven to be effective, they’re best when they: 

  • Elevate everyone’s performance, especially poor and average performers;
  • Increase overall team activity; and
  • Boost team morale. 

Hopefully, this list helps you get started doing just that. 

If you are looking for job opportunities in tech, click here.


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