Classic performance review has been around since the mid 1900s. With the limitations that it has – its amazing that it has lasted this long! According to a recent article in Forbes magazine [March 31, 2015], only 55 percent of employees feel as though performance management appraisals are effective. Earlier articles published in talent management and human resources literature identify 50 problems with Performance Appraisals. A Forbes magazine article in 2012 referred to Performance Appraisal in a strong language as the “a workplace evil that must be destroyed like a blood sucking vampire.”
With today’s workforce of a different generation that is more educated and diverse, it is important to reevaluate a process that has been in place since the last century. Today’s generation works best in collaborative and empowering environments, requiring continuous feedback from managers and co-workers. Without feedback, talent tends to leave and look for jobs with more support and career development. It’s time to abandon the performance appraisal concept of the last century and build a new one. Here is how:
Have a more frequent conversation between you and your collaborator and change the format and content. Call it vertical results process and focus the conversation on improving results through building capacity. Make it a process rather than an event, a process that begins with a conversation followed by action and then reflection and learning. Improving results implies helping the collaborator improve his results, and is very different than evaluating the collaborator and putting him or her on the defensive. Building capacity implies giving the collaborator the support and accompaniment he or she needs to improve competencies. Feedback is at the center of this process. Given in a constructive and positive manner, feedback is a powerful driver of talent improvement. How and when you give feedback is as important as what you say. If done badly it can actually hinder a person’s ability to learn and damage their confidence.
Create an environment in the vertical meeting where hierarchy is not allowed to extinguish valuable contributions by your collaborator. This is different than the environment in performance appraisals where collaborators are on guard and careful about what they say. You want to create an empowering environment where the two of you are exploring how the collaborator can become more competent, and how the results for which he or she is accountable can be improved.
Four Topics for Conversations
In a vertical meeting you can cover four topics: culture, performance, development and other important topics. Culture conversation aims at discussing the values of the organization and encouraging congruence of behaviors with values. By initiating a conversation about culture, you become the agent of change and help the collaborator align his or her behaviors with the company’s core values. You are not only helping your collaborator align his or her behaviors, you are reminding yourself to reflect on how you can lead by example. And when this vertical process is cascaded downwards, your collaborators will have a similar conversation with their collaborators.
The next topic is performance conversation. Here is your opportunity for reviewing the performance of the collaborator over the pervious month. By looking at, highlighting and reinforcing the positive performance, your collaborator gets the energy needed to pay attention to areas needing improvement. Specifically, take the opportunity of looking at and improving the action plans the collaborator has developed. Be sure the environment you are creating is one of collaboration and exploration, where you are helping to improve the action plan already developed rather than evaluating and criticizing it. And, as this performance conversation is cascaded downwards to the next levels, all levels will have the benefit of paying attention to performance and results.
Development conversation is the next topic in a vertical meeting. The purpose here is to ascertain that your collaborator is improving his or her competency on the skills needed to succeed in the job. This is a valuable discussion as it aims to develop capacity at the next level of the organization and aid in succession planning. Your collaborator may or may not know exactly what skills he needs or how to improve on the skills. During the conversation, help your collaborator zero in on the needed skills, and encourage him to develop a self-improvement plan. With your support as the manager and assistance from the Human Resource department, capacities are enhanced that improve your collaborator’s results and through that, the bottom line of the organization. Imagine the impact of this conversation on strengthening the pool of talent and impacting results when this conversation is cascaded downward to cover all levels!
The last conversation covers other topics that are important to either you or your collaborator. We have provided this space to be sure that your collaborator leaves the vertical meeting having covered all the important topics he or she needs in order to stay focused on the job. Ideally, your collaborator leaves the meeting highly focused and motivated.
It is important to remember a few key points in order to get the most out of this powerful process. See your collaborator as an equal who needs your accompaniment to learn, and also one who can provide you with the opportunity to learn. When giving feedback, be sure you focus on the positives, the strengths. Be sure you give specific examples of how his or her performance has added value to you and the organization. When giving negative feedback, remember you are not criticizing the person; you are giving an example of behaviors that are undesirable. Be sure that your style of leadership is appropriate to the development level of your collaborator. If you are too directive when you should be supportive, then you will freeze creative input. Be sure you maintain discretion and privacy when discussing your collaborator’s performance. Nothing ruins trust between a manager and an employee more than a violation of trust and confidentiality. These are the characteristics of an important management process that replaces the existing performance appraisal.