What connects review design and The Color of the Year?

Ray D'Cruz
Performance Leader

Every year, about this time, firms move into formal review design mode. This an opportunity to reflect on the current business context and refresh the review process in your firm (not just press the repeat button).

Last year, we set out review design ideas to reflect a world returning to some normality, and a talent market that was out of control.

2023 looks quite different to 2022. Some of the prevailing contextual issues may include:

  • Economic stagnation or recession in some key global markets will cause an increased focus on partner and employee under performance.
  • The talent wars slowing from their dizzying post-pandemic highs in some parts of the professions; and
  • The further calibration of flexible working from both employer and employee perspectives.

The design tips below take place within this context.

At the same time many of us are considering review design, Pantone announces its Color of the Year.  Pantone Color of the Year reflects the zeitgeist - what's taking place in a global cultural sense at that moment in time. It is about what Pantone sees for the immediate upcoming year – the result of extensive collaborations across industries and disciplines and places. Can we take some design inspiration from the 2023 Color of the Year? We think so!

Pantone’s Color of The Year, Viva Magenta 18-750, vibrates with vim and vigor. It is a shade rooted in nature descending from the red family and expressive of a new signal of strength. Viva Magenta is brave and fearless, a pulsating colour whose exuberance promotes a joyous and optimistic celebration, writing a new narrative.
This year’s Color of The Year is powerful and empowering. It is an animated red that revels in pure joy, encouraging experimentation and self-expression without restraint, an electrifying, and a boundless shade that is manifesting as a stand-out statement. PANTONE 18-1750 Viva Magenta welcomes anyone and everyone with the same verve for life and rebellious spirit. It is a colour that is audacious, full of wit and inclusive of all.

In the remainder of this article, we consider five issues for review design in 2023, with a touch of inspiration from Viva Magenta for good measure.


Tip 1:

Balance both employer and employee needs

Reviews have traditionally been employer-led. They’ve focussed on financial and other expectations, agreed goals and firm learning and development.

But flexible work, and the window into personal lives instigated by Covid, draws forward a new range of employee-focussed topics:from personal alignment and purpose, to well-being, to personal goals.

Is it useful, for example, for a manager to know if their employee is thinking of buying a house? Perhaps a graduate who missed the opportunity for a gap year due to Covid wants to travel or work overseas. What if an employer could actively facilitate this through a leave of absence of secondment? What if proximity bias is taking hold and an employee is feeling like they are not being given work or advancement opportunities.

This year, consider letting the employee express their own needs and interests in addition to the usual discussion points. Like Viva Magenta, it can turn a process perceived to be about organisational compliance into powerful and empowering. In the Performance Leader platform, this may be as simple as ‘What else should we talk about?’ prompt, followed by some drop down options:

+ My career

+ Learning

+ Work experiences

+ Hybrid working (see Tip 5 below on proximity bias)

+ Wellbeing

+ Relationships at work


Tip 2:

Discover purpose and meaning in work

Covid has caused many to evaluate their connection to work, and their work identity.

As Bain noted recently, many firms responded in ways that didn’t address the underlying discontentment flowing from a lack of purpose and meaning with firm. (Pay, they argue, is a qualifying requirement for talent – not something that unlocks inspiration and engagement).

We advocate reviewing your review process for elements that either enable to inhibit purpose and motivation.

Here are a few ideas to consider:


Focus on partner and employee strengths

Viva Magenta connotes vim and vigour, strengths, and boldness. We know people want to utilise their strengths every day. And we know that firms that help people utilise their strengths are better places to engage and retain them.

Ditch SMART goals!

SMART goals are firm-centric, and without care for personal motivation and meaning. Replace it with AIMS – a PerformanceLeader method:

Accountability: who will do what, and by when, and how will we measure success?

Impact: how does this goal impact the firm or group strategy? This is the connection between individual and firm purpose.

Meaning: how is this goal meaningful for me? This is the alignment between institutional and personal motivation.

Sharing: who else might support or share this goal? This enables us to collaborate and identify shared purpose and interests.

Give managers the tools to engage in purpose and meaning conversations

Without support, purpose conversations can be daunting. McKinsey have produced this simple diagram that scopes nine potential topics. What we love about this diagram is that it's broad and open, and doesn't make assumptions about people or firms.


Tip 3:

Recognition matters most

The intense focus on reward over the past 18 months, has obscured its partner: recognition! Recognition supports engagement and retention. Recognition also drives motivation, self-esteem, fulfilment and positivity. In a talent war, it’s also important to remember that recognition is free!

Recognition should be a regular practice, not just a feature of formal reviews. Yet formal reviews are a chance to reflect and recognise achievement. In professional firms, where “67-85% of professionals score high on the need for achievement”[1], formal reviews can’t go by without a strong recognition focus.

Generally, this will be a conversation between manager and employee (or partner-leader and partner). Managers might be brave enough to ask if the employee feels valued and recognised for their contribution.

Firm leaders should also celebrate outstanding performance at a firm level. For example, the Performance Leader Peer Points tool is an opportunity to discover those who have actively supported and collaborated with colleagues and celebrate their success.


Tip 4:

Time for honest conversations

We often talk about the importance of honest feedback.

Through the height of Covid, and the talent wars of the last18 months, honesty has taken a hit. Managers have been too wary of offending or upsetting employees to raise performance or career pathway issues.

As we emerge from Covid, and talent wars ease, it might be time to refocus on honest conversations. That’s not to say we need to dredge up things from the past, but goals and future planning needs to be underpinned by an honest discussion about performance and career.

Psychological safety is vital for honesty. Employees (and partners) needs to know that managers (and partner-leaders) care. From the position of care can flow honesty. If the relationship isn’t ready for this, then have a medium-term plan to build that trusting relationship and lay the groundwork for honest feedback conversations.


Tip 5:

Use every opportunity to root out proximity bias

With underrepresented groups favouring hybrid or remote work options in relative terms, proximity bias risks affecting those already at risk of discrimination.

If firms are to build truly diverse teams capable of complex problem solving and producing higher value work, proximity bias needs to be rooted out at every opportunity. Viva Magenta speaks to an inclusive spirit where people can be themselves and contribute to the whole.

Formal reviews, where we reflect on what’s working, and what’s not, from both manager and employee perspective, is an opportunity to identify if proximity bias is hindering work allocation, recognition and advancement.


Not all of these ideas will be relevant to every firm.

We’d love to have a conversation about review design with you. The task at hand is to pick the ideas that might help your firm keep evolving. We look forward to the discussion!

To continue that discussion, please get in touch with me or our Head of CX, Logan Balavijendran.

[1]Tom J De Long, John J Gabarro and Robert J Lees, When Professionals Have to Lead: A New Model for High Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2007),p. 150

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