In recent years, the death knell for the performance appraisal has been sounded again and again. The arguments to “kill” the performance review are generally centered on the fact that many organisations implement the process poorly which can result in employee dissatisfaction and disengagement.
In his New York Times Op Ed piece Why the Boss is Wrong About You, UCLA Professor Samuel Culbert shared some compelling reasons why performance reviews fail. He rightly points out that reviews are often the primary judge of employee effectiveness and that often they are unfair.
But look closely and you’ll see that more than anything Culbert is referring to a process that is entirely broken and does not inspire or engage employees, let alone drive business results. Performance appraisals can be extremely valuable and relevant. They just need to be executed as part of a larger talent management strategy, and become much more than a one-way flow of information from the manager to the employee.
Before throwing out the performance review, why not take a stab at fixing the process?
Performance reviews can be considered a linchpin of talent management, and without them, your organisation lacks critical insight when it comes to other processes like succession, development, goal alignment and even pay for performance. These programs all rely heavily on the information and intelligence gathered on an ongoing basis as part of the performance appraisal process.
Furthermore, there are many compliance requirements in industries such as manufacturing and healthcare that require organisations to execute reviews and to evaluate competencies. Without a performance review process, key certifications may be put in jeopardy.
Often, the performance review cycle is deemed a negative – if not a completely soul sucking exercise – that demoralises employees. Take a long hard look at how reviews are conducted in your organisation and ask yourself if the process encourages and inspires your people to be their best. Or does it critique, rate and rank them as inadequate?
A big part of an effective review process is that it encourages self-awareness. Both the manager and the employee should be taking time to meet regularly to reflect on performance throughout the year. The use of performance journals and self-assessments should be part of the process.
Journal notes provide employees and managers an easy way to keep a record of milestones, accomplishments, successes and challenges as they occur, when the details are fresh in their minds. Not only do these details help you to provide employees with feedback rich with real examples, they can help employees to prepare for these feedback discussions too.
Keeping journal notes helps employees get out of the “I came to work for eight hours” mindset and into the “What did I accomplish that is relevant to my goals?” mindset. It enables employees to take an active part in performance discussions by raising their accountability in the process.
Self-assessments and 360 degree reviews also help to address many of the common concerns about reviews because these tools help to provide a complete picture of employee performance by taking into consideration feedback from multiple sources. This is especially important in organisations where employees don’t work directly with manager.
While self-assessments give the employee a voice in the performance appraisal process, 360 degree reviews help managers and employees better understand strengths and weaknesses as perceived by peers, team leaders, mentors, subordinates, or even external stakeholders, such as customers and suppliers.
Substantiating feedback with input from multiple sources not only makes it more objective, it increases the impact by making it easier to identify areas that need development.
If we want performance appraisals to be a positive experience, we need to take the focus away from ratings and instead focus on providing managers the tools, guidelines and resources to manage feedback and conduct performance reviews in a way that focuses on the skills and behaviours that contribute to high performance.
Instead of ditching performance reviews, why not take the time to reflect on what you are giving up? Strong talent management is built on effective employee performance management practices. Anything less can have a major impact on your employee engagement and development efforts, your sustainable competitive advantage in people, and corporate performance.
Sean Conrad is a senior analyst with talent management vendor Halogen Software.