Ah, the annual performance review process. A much debated, time-honoured tradition meant to accelerate performance via focused goal-setting, and well, if there is time, constructive feedforward/feedback between an employee and their manager in order to enable motivated employees at peak performance aligned with the company’s overall strategic goals. Whew!
At its core, the performance review process is not a bad idea because it requires a manager and employee to discuss throughout the year:
- what are the most important things coming up for the employee’s area of responsibility
- what they need in terms of support to make that happen,
- then at the end of the year, to compare the results with what actually happened throughout the year so that the next round of performance improves/builds on the great things from the previous cycle.
Well, that is not good.
To add perspective though, back in the day, personally I was excited about joining a company that had a strong criterion-based, competency-driven (with research-based supports for constructive feedback!) process based on learning agility, the job now and how I wanted to continue to develop for my career.
Why was I so excited?
Because during my previous work experience there was nothing… dead-air… Along the lines of figure out which these are your tasks and get to it, if you need something, ask a colleague for help. How do these tasks fit in to the overall picture? They just do. Regular feedback? Only if something goes wrong.
Truly my experience was not uncommon — which is why when I implemented performance management globally for the organization, most folks were on-board ala something is better than nothing, right?
Well, then yeah. I am the first to admit the process became cumbersome, tool and documentation heavy, especially after our compensation team thought it would be awesome to align the evaluation directly with pay increases. We could no longer fool ourselves into thinking that the focus was on constructive discussions throughout the year because the process morphed into a high-anxiety, high-tension stakes game of completion rates and securing comp, which resulted in the middle-of-the road performance ratings, little quality feedback and frustrated participants. No matter how awesome the coaching supports were — they did not outweigh the drawbacks.
So, how do we get the magic back into an open constructive discussion between employees and their managers?
By understanding what the real problem or need is — and not assuming that one already knows.
An iVentiv colleague once asked:
If we were to design performance consulting on a blank sheet of paper, would it look like the standard performance review process?
Heck no! So let’s see what comes onto that blank sheet of paper.
For example, together with my colleagues and key leaders derived what would be most critical to longer-term success of Talent Development:
- Grow and place the right talent for today and tomorrow
- Development is employee-owned, manager-led and organizationally championed
- Everyone gets the development they need
- Deepest learning comes from experiences — diverse, challenging and global are best
- Development is enabled through honest, personal and purposeful conversations
Mission critical to success being the final principle. Another example along the same lines is what, my friend and co-speaker at BridgeCon, Instructure’s Steve Arntz together with Troy Anderson found when they asked a slew of people:
- What do you expect of all managers?
- What do you expect of your manager?
- Tell me about the best manager you’ve ever had?
Their key findings were:
- “We thought that people would have the same expectations for all managers, their own manager, and the best managers. We were surprised to find that these were completely different.”
- “In every group of interviews, conversations were key components of what made managers successful. Managers need to be able to have alignment, growth, and connection based conversations.”
This is consistent with the results that HR industry analyst Fosway Group’s CEO David Wilson shared around the group’s latest research on what employees want for professional development and in performance consultancy: job satisfaction (36%), being better at my job (30%), working towards a pay raise (28%), building my CV (21%), personal growth (30%) and preparing for my next role (21%). Meaning focus on today 1st, growth and career 2nd. These are facilitated via meaningful, constructive conversations and actions.
Here is to getting the magic back!