Amending Your Performance Review Template for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on September 18, 2020

Agility, flexibility, speed and adaptability are the watchwords

By Paul Falcone
September 10, 2020

When my co-author, Winston Tan, and I sat down to write the book The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit: Redesigning Your Performance Review Template to Drive Individual and Organizational Change (AMACOM / HarperCollins Leadership, 2013), our goal was to raise awareness that a template is a living, breathing document. Not some static form passed down from generation to generation with generic competencies, but a statement about your organization’s values, goals and priorities that have changed over time.

Whether you’re in a startup, a growth company, a mature organization or even an entity in some form of decline, your performance review template represents your core competencies and key values. In short, if you’re not changing your performance appraisal template every few years to reflect that, you’re missing the opportunity to inject strategic imperatives into your performance management program.

Reflecting on the new realities of the coronavirus, there’s no better time to amend your performance review template than right now. New skills, competencies and attitudes are required to navigate today’s changing workplace priorities. It’s critical that you capture and incorporate the drivers of organizational success into your performance appraisal template—the “annual report” that reflects the performance drivers and skills, knowledge and abilities that reflect the coronavirus “normal.”

This can be done by amending the entire template or simply adding an additional module to the existing one. However you choose to reflect the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic on your employees’ performance, take this opportunity to communicate what success should look like when it comes to change management and adaptability.

The Target Competencies

“Agility, flexibility, speed and adaptability are an excellent place to start,” said Tan, managing principal of Intandem, LLC, a compensation consultancy group in Spokane, Wash.  “Most of my clients appreciate the concept of change management now more than ever, yet almost all are challenged by individuals or teams that resist adapting to the new realities of the workplace.”

Where do you start and what should this look like?  That depends on how your organization captures the core competencies that it values in its annual performance review template. Identify first the core drivers that you want to highlight, then focus on building out descriptors that raise the bar and help workers focus on meeting new, heightened expectations.

For example, your pandemic-related competencies and descriptions might look like this in a predominantly professional, exempt workplace:

• Identifies unique ways of creating value and encourages others to employ their curiosity and imagination.

• Demonstrates the ability to multitask and handle pressure or crisis situations. Adjusts priorities to meet team or organizational needs.

• Remains resolute and calm when faced with challenges or seemingly inadequate resources.

• Encourages team members to take appropriate risks and embrace change.

• Regularly combines natural curiosity and gut intuition with sound analysis and reasoning to strengthen our “organizational forecasting ability.”

• Readily develops strategies to reflect our changing business priorities.

• Effectively translates strategies into objectives and action plans.


It likewise might look like this with a team of engineers or others responsible for innovation and creativity:

• Turns ideas into action, puts creativity to work and develops strategies for innovation.

• Rethinks routine processes and finds unique solutions for adding customer value.

• Funnels creative recommendations into practical applications.

• Employs right-brain imagination, creativity, and intuition with left-brain logic and planning.

• Searches constantly for new innovation methods, techniques and tools.

• Regularly encourages greater collaboration and open discussion with peers and team members to foster a culture of innovation.

• Participates in and/or leads diverse product teams to cultivate a broader range of perspective, knowledge, thought and creativity.


The template might take on a more moderate tone in an hourly, nonexempt environment:

• Willingly embraces last-minute changes in direction and unexpected changes in plan.

• Creates a friendly and inclusive work environment when faced with changes in direction or deadlines.

• Demonstrates the ability to multitask and handle pressure or crisis situations. Adjusts priorities to meet team and organizational needs.

• Communicates with management appropriately when faced with changing priorities or the need to pivot away from a preplanned course of action.

• Remains resolute and calm when faced with challenges or seemingly inadequate resources.

• Helps team members embrace change and adapt to a “new normal” when faced with unforeseen challenges.

• Constantly looks for ways of using new technologies in order to increase efficiency.

Raising the Competency Bar

“Identifying the right set of competencies is clearly the critical first step, but the next critical step is to describe them in a way that raises the performance bar,” according to Steve Rumery, director of the Leadership Research Institute (LRI), a global consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development. “People actually want to perform at higher and higher levels, but the next level of performance is often not well-defined. In fact, many organizations match annual performance reviews to employee job descriptions, and that’s a mistake because job descriptions often define performance with the lowest acceptable standards.”

A job description lists basic competencies required to perform a job. “The annual performance review, in comparison, should set the bar progressively higher over time,” Rumery said. “It should reflect excellence so that employees can gauge their performance and conduct relative to the highest, not most minimal, standards and expectations.” Compare sample Module 1 to Module 2 below for a professional, technical, exempt role:

Module 1 (Core Traditional Descriptors)

Demonstrates mastery in core areas of responsibility. Employs tools and systems effectively and efficiently to further business operations. Hones skills to address the changing needs of our business. Remains cognizant of industry trends and stays abreast of changes and trends in policies and practices that affect the workplace. Effectively differentiates key priorities from less critical activities and designs work processes that maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Module 2 (Enhanced Descriptors)

Consistently demonstrates master-level performance and serves as an internal subject matter expert and best practices guru. Leans into changing priorities and adapts expectations to revised goals and deadlines. Demonstrates appropriate curiosity, inquisitiveness and engagement in reinventing the workflow in light of our organization’s changing needs. Willingly transfers knowledge to others to raise performance standards across the department. Stays abreast of industry trends and patterns and positively influences others to embrace change and adopt revised priorities that reflect team’s renewed focus.

“The lesson here is that raising expectations in your core competency categories drives higher levels of performance. It also makes it easier to avoid grade inflation, a cardinal sin in most organizations, where supervisors score employees higher than they actually deserve,” Rumery said. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being highest, the same individual who scored a 5 (“Exceeds Expectations”) under Module 1 would only score a 3 (“Meets Expectations”) under Module 2 above. “In other words, when you raise the bar in terms of the core competency descriptors, it aligns actual performance better with the reality of the individual’s contribution and potential,” he said.

Change is the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating change at an incredible rate. Let your performance review drive the key goals and outcomes you’re looking to foster throughout your organization. Your performance reviews will take on a whole new meaning and level of significance in light of the challenges you’re facing and the strides you’re making in today’s challenging COVID-19-related business environment.

Paul Falcone ( is CHRO at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Los Angeles and author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire; 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees; 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems; and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews. This article is adapted from The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit: Redesigning Your Performance Review Template to Drive Individual and Organizational Change (AMACOM / HarperCollins Leadership, 2013).