June 30th, 2016

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The traditional way of doing performance management in organisations hasn’t changed for decades – the standard being to set goals at the start of the year, with a review maybe 6 months in, if not a full year later. Often in between these reviews there is very little discussion to be had around the goals themselves, unless someone has negative feedback to give, and the reviews themselves are painful for all involved – with the employee potentially receiving feedback that they haven’t heard anything about up until now, and managers generally finding the process time consuming and stressful. In larger organisations the pain is multiplied by a moderation process since everyone is being in essence ranked and rated and relativity checking becomes a necessary extra step.

So the question becomes why do we choose to carry on like this – acknowledging that feedback and goal setting is an integral part of any business, but the way in which you do it is largely up to you. In the last year or so there have been a handful of big name companies like IBMAccenture and Deloitte all announcing a move away from their current performance management systems, and we are noticing more and more of our clients wanting to manage performance without the cumbersome traditional processes.

We held a meetup in our space recently around a case study from a relatively small organisation who had worked with an HR consultant to put together a process that was all about discussion, development, goal setting, without the standard performance review mindset. One of the key take aways was as simple as changing the language to shift the perception. Much of the language of performance management — and even the term itself — is mechanistic, officious and as far from endearing/inspiring as possible. Not calling it a review and not talking about ratings can make a big difference in getting people to think differently and shake negative associations with performance review. But changing the name isn’t going to make any meaningful difference if the process doesn’t follow suit. Some of the ways you can put your money where your mouth is include:

Approaching reviewing performance as an ongoing conversationrather than 6 monthly ‘out of sight out of mind’ sessions. As a manager you should be having a 1 to 1 with your direct reports at least once a fortnight and this is a great time to give feedback and have performance discussions. There is more about how we do things at HR Shop when it comes to building an informal, regular, accountable performance management process here.

Use the OKR framework (Objectives, Key Results) to hone in on focused goals with measurable outcomes. We see plenty of clients with 8 or 9 key goals to achieve over the next 12 months which often end up buried out of sight and mind until the next performance review. Some of the key aspects of this framework are that you set a maximum of 3 to work on at any given time, they are intrinsically linked with measures for success, and they are always visible to you and the rest of your organisation so that they drive every action of the business.

Breaking large long term goals into smaller ones. The pace of change seems to be increasingly exponentially and 12 month goals can become outdated quickly. Breaking them into smaller 3 month timelines will keep them relevant and front of mind – OKRs can help solve this problem too, as they exist to provide clarity of purpose and manageable steps forward. There’s more on long term vs short term and aligning long term vision with actionable tasks here.

Shift your discussions to looking forward rather than looking back.One of our favourite learnings from the HR Welly meetup case study was about focussing on looking forward rather than looking back – a preview rather than a review. You need to be focussing on the here and now, not what will you be doing 6 months from now, and not what you did 6 months ago. Like Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme has said: “It’s no longer about performance comparisons but about the individual. Stop trying to measure the value of employees’ contribution after the fact and regularly support and position workers to perform better in the future.”

In essence businesses need to identify what key information they are trying to collect through traditional performance reviews and decide whether those current processes are the most effective and empowering way to drive results. Breaking big hairy goals down into manageable chunks over smaller time periods, tracking them in a visible, informal way and ensuring results and learnings feed into actionable change will all be core aspects of making performance (p)reviews an asset rather than a burden when it comes to engaging your team and delivering success.


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