You'd have thought that performance reviews were the new Millennium Bug. Everyone's writing about how to get rid of them and how awful they are.
But they just won't go away.
Why? Simple. Because they're useful. There really is little debate to be had about it. I'm willing to bet that even if your ditched your appraisal system, people would still do appraisals in some form. Most people like to know how well they're doing and what they need to change to get what they want. Most people are not happy to just sit at their desk for years without some kind of discussion about their progress. And most managers appreciate an opportunity to take a step away from day-to-day management, and tell their team what the situation is.
So why the complaints? Why the constant nagging to get it done? The answer is simple. The system is the problem, not your people.
You need two elements for any kind of performance management system to work: it needs to be easy and it needs to provide value... to everyone, not just to HR. Consider this: why would you fill in a form if you're never going to look at it again? Why would you upload a document when you don't know what's going to happen to it? Why would you give a rating when you don't know how it will be used?
5 signs you're not putting managers and appraisees first
Take a look at your existing process, forms, Word docs, whatever you use. If you can spot any of the following thoughts then let me guess... you spend a lot of time chasing people to complete their appraisals:
The most important thing is to get some kind of record of the individual's performance for our file.
Mistake: Thinking appraisals are just a legal formality.
Our HR system has a bolt-on module that can store this data... let's just use that.
Mistake: People will not want to use a half-baked bolt-on, even if it seems like a good idea from a procurement point of view.
The form must be signed off by the appraisee, then the manager, then the appraisee again and then the senior manager and then HR.
Mistake: This is asking for trouble. Is it really necessary?
Let's hand out this 4 page guide to completing your appraisal too.
Mistake: Do you really think anyone will read this?
We changed it last year so we can't change it again for another two years.
Mistake: Thinking people prefer consistency over correctness.
If these sound familiar to you, then something needs fixing.
So, what should you be thinking?
What would be the best thing for the appraisee to take away from their review?
How about: new knowledge about themselves, clarity on where their career is going, a visualization of their progress over the last 12 months.
What system could we provide to our people that provokes delight rather than ire?
How can we get the information HR needs (training needs, overall performance indicators) in the most discreet and painless way possible?
Hint: A system strongly focused on an excellent user experience for employees, not just another HR database module.
What system can we provide that will shape and guide performance management not just once a year but throughout the year?
Hint: A light-touch system with simple workflow that people can use as often as they like.
How are we going to use that data? How are we going to show that we're using it effectively? What can we give back to the employees that shows how we're using it to help them?
Hint: After appraisals, send round some interesting facts you discovered from the data e.g. a visualisation of performance in different competencies, or an analysis of training needs.
Does everything we're asking our people to do provide tangible value for employees, managers and the organisation as a whole?
Hint: If the sales department cares only about sales, don't appraise them on their ability to work as a team.
Are there insights in the data that we're not using?
Hint: How about a mini-organogram for managers, colour coded by progress on objectives? How about a monthly email to the training manager of suggestions employees have added to their personal development plan?
Are we training people effectively?
Hint: Are you taking two hours out of everyone’s day when a one-on-one, targeted web-chat would have a much greater impact at lower cost?
I could go on...
Either way, this conversation is not going to go away. We know people will never stop appraising each other – but what you do, and the framework you provide, can make all the difference between a pain in the neck and genuinely powerful tool that can be a major influence in the success of your organisation.