Why you need to give up on traditional performance management

Amantha Imber


written on November 10, 2017

Giving employees the opportunity to self-reflect and rate their own performance helps them learn faster and retain knowledge.

About a year ago, we got rid of managers at Inventium. We didn’t fire anyone, but we did remove management responsibilities from those who had them at the time. The managers were happy – they wanted to be spending less time managing people and more time helping clients and creating things. And all the non-managers were happy to not have a manager.

Twelve months later, I’m currently halfway through the process of having one-on-one catch-ups with everyone in the team and asking how they are going with what we call BYOB (Be Your Own Boss. Not to be confused with Bring Your Own Booze). So far, the consensus is that it’s going really well.

It’s been quite the experiment to get BYOB to a point where people are happy with it, because even though some very well known companies have adopted similar approaches, there are so many variables and factors to be considered.

One thing we had to think about was: if people didn’t have a manager tracking their performance, how would we know when each person should receive a promotion or pay rise? This is normally pretty straightforward in most organisations. Employees have KPIs (key performance indicators), and their manager tracks performance against these. If an employee meets or exceeds their KPIs, they get a pay rise. But how does this work when you don’t have a manager watching over you?

One of the ways we solved this conundrum was instituting quarterly self-reflection. A big theme that encompasses the type of workplace I have tried to create at Inventium is one that provides a large amount of autonomy. So with that in mind, who better to evaluate performance than people themselves? And thus, the quarterly self-reflection was born.

Every quarter, every team member at Inventium answers several questions about their last three months. They are encouraged to keep a diary of key things that happen in their quarter, so they are not falling victim to the recency effect or the limitations of human memory. And they are asked to answer questions such as:

  • What are the key things you have done/achieved this last quarter which have made you most proud?
  • Reflect on your best examples of where you have made another team member/Inventium “better”. What did you do? (For context: one of Inventium’s values is “make others better”.)
  • Reflect on a time that you may have failed this past quarter. How have you incorporated the learnings from this into your future self?
  • Reflect on your “work self” this past quarter. How would you best describe your attitude, overall demeanour and how you have worked with your teammates? Is there anything you’d aim to change in the next quarter? (“Bring zest” is another one of our values.)
  • Reflect on one thing that you did that had the biggest impact for a client. What was it?

Not only is the output incredibly useful for gaining an insight into people’s performance, but spending time reflecting is something that many of us simply don’t do. Normally, we finish something and move onto the next thing. And this has a negative impact on performance.

A recent article in HBR talked about the importance of scheduling reflection time. One study found that employees that spent 15 minutes at the end of a day reflecting on things they had learned performed 23 per cent better after 10 days compared to those who didn’t reflect.

So before moving onto something else on the interwebs, you might want to schedule a 15-minute meeting with yourself at the end of the day to reflect on what you have learned.

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium and author of The Innovation Formula.

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One thought on “Why you need to give up on traditional performance management

  1. I like this approach based on self management. Certainly is a vast improvement on what has historically been a “top-down” approach to performance management. Two points – individuals reflecting on “lessons learned” is excellent, but I hope organisations have some way of capturing these lessons learned and disseminating them within teams so the wheel is not being reinvented every time someone encounters a particular problem or issue. I believe employees still need an opportunity to get regular feedback from their “boss” on how they are tracking and perhaps this is best left up to the individual employee to arrange a meeting with the boss to talk informally about the recent past and discuss directions and scope for advancement. The frequency of such meetings should be no less than 6 monthly.

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