Google rethinks employee reviews and promotions process

Photo: Google
May 12, 2022

Google last week shifted to a new system for “employee development, learning and progression” it calls GRAD (Googler Reviews and Development) designed to streamline the process and reduce tensions around employee reviews and career development.

Changes include:

  • Performance reviews: Employees are reviewed once a year instead of twice. According to a Google blog entry, feedback and check-ins will continue throughout the year, including one check-in focused on learning and career development.
  • Management-led promotions: Management will primarily determine promotions as opposed to a consortium of managers and peers. Employees can still request promotions twice a year.
  • New Ratings System: Employees will now be graded on new ratings levels: Transformative Impact, Outstanding Impact, Significant Impact, Moderate Impact, Not Enough Impact. Google said the updated scale “will reflect the fact that most Googlers deliver significant impact every day.”

The changes represent a significant adjustment to Google’s Perf system that has served as a model for other tech companies.

Under the Perf system, each employee completes a self-evaluation every six months based on shared values, execution, thought leadership and problem-solving skills. An internal grading system, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), helps monitor their progress and accomplishments, but isn’t tied to performance evaluation.

The employee then nominates up to five peers to provide non-anonymous feedback on their strengths, weaknesses and impact. Finally, managers calibrate the feedback and their own observations in a written review and score the employee on a five-point scale (Needs Improvement, Consistently Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations, Strongly Exceeds Expectations and Superb).

The update is being seen as a concession as Google has faced complaints over its three-day in-office policy and recently received lower grades on compensation from its annual “Googlegeist” survey amid the Great Resignation. A survey of Google employees also found only 53 percent considered bi-annual reviews to be “time well spent,” as reported by The Information.

“Under this new process, we expect the majority of Googlers will be modeled for higher pay than they would under the old Perf system and the overall amount paid will increase too,” stated one of the internal documents on the GRAD program attained by CNBC.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Did Google make the right moves in overhauling its employee review and promotions process? What are your thoughts on the frequency of reviews and value of peer reviews and employee ratings for retail frontline and corporate staff?

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"Companies should spend more time developing leadership skills and less time catering to 'softening' constructive criticism."

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11 Comments on "Google rethinks employee reviews and promotions process"

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Michael La Kier

Feedback on performance should not be “an event” but an ongoing dialogue. Gaining insight into one’s perceived performance is a valuable tool. Peer feedback is invaluable. Empowering employees and working under the assumption that most employees deliver is a smart move for Google. Companies with engaged employees deliver better results and higher returns.

Lucille DeHart

EVERYONE GETS A TROPHY! I am all for companies assessing their performance reviews as long as it is driven by management, not the employees. Strong managers should be giving continuous feedback, not just annual formal reviews. Companies should spend more time developing leadership skills and less time catering to “softening” constructive criticism.

DeAnn Campbell

GREAT comment!

Gene Detroyer

Other than peer reviews this sounds exactly like the system which I experienced as much as 50 years ago in two different companies. I can say with great confidence that it was not embraced by supervisors or those that worked for them. But I don’t have a better system. At least Apple moved the review process to once a year versus every six months. Six months is too short to measure an employee’s impact.

David Spear

Continuous feedback on performance is the best way employees can double down on their strengths and tweak or course correct some of their weaknesses. The more feedback the better. Once a year just doesn’t cut it. Companies that are electing fully remote or some sort of hybrid situation need to be vigilant about how they construct and execute their people development plans. I suspect this topic will be on the front burner for the next couple of years as many companies struggle to figure out the best model for in-person/remote arrangements and corresponding feedback mechanisms.

Melissa Minkow

The “non-anonymous” reviews is an issue for me. There’s no way these won’t be biased out of fear of backlash if someone reports any opportunities for a co-worker. The review and development process is extremely important, and I like the amount of scrutiny Google is giving it, but this method feels more political instead of less. For example, if the employee has a tenuous relationship with their boss, now their boss is the one solely in charge of calibration. That also is a huge miss.

Doug Garnett

W. Edwards Deming mounted vocal opposition to employee reviews and ratings. His observation was primarily base on factory observations where what appeared to be weaknesses in individual performance were usually the fault of the system – not the individual.

I find it is rarely different anywhere else in business. I also find that the management theory of “constructive criticism” isn’t so constructive as it often is a way for insecure managers to pass down the way they are mismanaged from above.

No system can fix all this. Instead, we need to give bosses room to just discuss work with their employees and give raises without all the moral trappings which usually surround these reviews.

Ryan Mathews

Once a year is fine – assuming that managers are really managing the rest of the year. That is, after all, I think, their jobs. I’m a little less thrilled with the idea of self-evaluation and peer review. It seems likely that employees will use the time – and then some – they used to use to fill out evaluations to lobby their peers. Talk about a great model for stifling inflation! Promotions should be earned and solid criticism is really the only way most of us get better. The idea that promotion is a given, and that the company is wrong if it withholds it, is a running start down the road to corporate mediocrity.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Peer reviews can provide valuable insights if they are frank and can mitigate “bad boss” situations. Ongoing feedback from all stakeholders is essential to improved performance, skill development and business results.

Mel Kleiman

Did Google make the right move in overhauling the review and promotion process? My answer is yes. Did they do it correctly? My answer is NO.

Once or twice a year, reviews are only a method of scoring performance. They do nothing really to improve it. Recognition of both positive and negative performance needs to be immediate to make an impact and get meaningful results.

If Google wants to help its employees grow, they need to implement an ongoing program of one on one conversations.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m really not in any position to judges this (he says, but goes on anyway), but my impression is that the older process was rather … complicated.

Moving to (what might be termed) more of mangers actually managing — as opposed to management by committee — sounds like a concession to reality.

"Companies should spend more time developing leadership skills and less time catering to 'softening' constructive criticism."

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