How Adobe is updating performance reviews to better manage remote teams

Providing employees with feedback can be challenging in a remote or hybrid work environment, but it’s hugely critical for career mapping, recognizing great work, and assessing areas that need improvement. 

At Adobe, which is permanently allowing employees to work remotely or in hybrid arrangements, global expansion alongside the shift to a hybrid model has prompted the first major update to its performance management model in 10 years.

As the company adjusts to today’s landscape, one that’s marked by less face-to-face interactions, it’s pushing employees and managers to share and solicit feedback on a more frequent basis and with a wider range of people.

Adobe has nearly doubled its headcount since 2012 to 26,000 in over 60 global offices, with significant growth in Romania and India, says Arden Madsen, director of talent management at Adobe.

The surge in employees across the globe has increased virtual cross-team collaboration, requiring a new way of collecting performance feedback. 

Previously, managers provided feedback to employees in person on a quarterly basis, and they had plenty of time to informally gather input through office run-ins. But once the pandemic hit, Adobe employees expressed concern that their direct managers didn’t understand the full scope of their work or the various projects they were overseeing, and were unable to have informal chats or catch information by proximity.

In March, the San Jose-based software company launched a new employee dashboard that manages employee KPIs and career goals, and allows managers and their direct reports to request feedback from peers at any time.

“We heard some feedback that there were areas where Check-In just wasn’t showing up in a way that could best help our employees,” Madsen says, referring to the company’s previous feedback platform. Employees pointed out the lack of “360 perspective” in performance reviews, and said they missed speaking with colleagues about their performance outside of the review process.

Through Adobe’s new feedback platform, employees are now empowered to ask for more feedback from the internal stakeholders they know best and work with most closely, in order to inform performance conversations, Madsen says. They can also customize the questions that are sent to those providing performance input. For example, after delivering a presentation, an employee can send a feedback request to everyone in attendance.

“Now that we work with many more stakeholders than just our direct leader, we needed there to be an easy way for an employee to ask for feedback in real time from anyone they wanted at the company,” says Madsen.

The dashboard also offers career path guidance, providing employees with live data on what internal jobs people in their roles have taken on next. They can apply for jobs with one click, or save a job for later and receive notifications when an opening is available. The feature is meant to be a conversation starter for managers and direct reports.

“It helps you understand what are some nonconventional paths,” Madsen says, “and widens your aperture about what different career opportunities are available.” Adobe sees this as a way to increase retention and improve internal mobility for high-performing employees.

“The point of performance reviews is to help people do their best work,” Madsen says. “Not to produce a nice, neat number that helps compensation be easy.”

Benefits of new feedback system

Madsen acknowledges the shortcomings of traditional performance management systems. Though she considers them ideal “for assigning value to employees for things like pay,” she says companies should not prioritize administrative effort in the feedback process.

“It’s not to solve for operational ease. It’s to help employees know how they’re doing.”

With that goal in mind, Adobe worked with its HRIS provider to customize a new performance management dashboard that provides deeper insight into employees’ needs rather than relying solely on numerical scores to inform raises and promotions. The performance feedback is permanently available in the dashboard throughout employees’ careers at Adobe, and they can choose who contributes to their profile.

The dashboard is ”central, it’s easy, and it’s portable,” Madsen explains. “As employees move across the company, they don’t have to restart their career. All their amazing accomplishments and feedback move with them.”

The dashboard also provides employees with more material to advocate for themselves.

“It empowers employees to drive their career,” Madsen says, “because your boss can celebrate all the things they don’t see. It can also help you recognize blind spots of how you’re showing up culturally, to different levels of individuals and to different teams.”

The new dashboard was the culmination of a two-year journey to revamp the company’s performance management process. Adobe’s leadership started by collecting feedback from employees, then piloting an initial version with around 3,000 employees across functions and geographies, and training managers on how to leverage the new system.

“Performance management is not a topic people get excited about, right?” Madsen says, highlighting the need for a thorough rollout plan. “Communication is half the battle when it comes to building and producing something new.”

That’s all the more important in a remote work environment, she says. “We’re working from our living rooms, bedrooms, and offices, and so where you’re having these conversations has also changed. It was this confluence of factors that really inspired us to rethink how we can evolve for the next decade.”

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