Very often when we are conducting 360 degree feedback or employee surveys, there are often points in the debrief or sharing of the feedback, which prompts the recipient or organisation to say 'Yes, I guessed I might see that feedback' or 'Yes, we already know the employees are unhappy about this'.
It's interesting that we sometimes position developmental feedback as highlighting 'blind spots' when in fact they can be great value in receiving feedback which is expected or anticipated; the question is the same, 'If you already knew this, what stopped you addressing it before?'.
Sometimes we need to hear several times what we already know to make a lasting change and be confronted by our inability to have tackled it previously.
Forgive the mixed idiom, but it highlights a growing topic of conversation around the seemingly 'new' recipe for performance reviews, coupled with a hesitancy at the potential problems that might befall it.
'Crowdsourcing' simply put in this context is inviting peers and others to input into your performance review, outside of your traditional Line Manager's input.
Some of you may be saying 'Isn't this just 360 degree feedback?' and to all intents and purposes it does indeed appear to be a case of the Emperors new clothes.
However, the key difference is what the feedback being collated is to be used for; with 360 degree feedback, you have an almost universal acceptance that such feedback underpins a discussion around an individual's development, and we would certainly advocate this.
With 'Crowdsourcing' for Performance Appraisals, the intention is that such peer/direct report feedback directly feeds into an individual's measurement and reward of performance, and is encouraged to be given continuously.
Without labouring the first point outlined above, what potential problems may arise when co-workers influence your pay and reward directly through the performance appraisal process?
There is great value in co-worker feedback and indeed in continuous feedback, but we have to be careful what we are creating here – just because we have software that makes it possible, and a growing trend towards Social Media approaches to collaborative working within organisations, doesn't mean we should naturally apply such advances to performance management.
This isn't a 'Luddite' resistance to emerging technology and new methods, but if you set out with the wrong intention, you have to be careful what you wish for; expediency doesn't beat effectiveness.
Having recently delivered another training session on how to conduct 360 degree feedback debriefs, I am always struck by the different ways in which the delegates approach the role-plays; in every case some great learning emerges which the group collectively derive much value from.
Often at root is the desire of the debriefer to help or 'fix' the recipient; the conversation moves quickly from exploring the feedback, to trying to arrive at some solution to the perceived issue or development need.
Line Managers can take responsibility and suggest solutions too readily, 'Perhaps you should do this or that?', whilst coaches attempt to move responsibility to the recipient, but are still into resolution mode too early, 'What do you think you might do to resolve this?'.
Either way, the difference between the 360 debrief and any form of coaching is about 90 minutes; that's the time to take to explore their feedback properly; without this time to wonder, be curious, delve deeply, any development plans can be hastily constructed and poorly targeted.
I'm sure a number of us have read Jack Welch's books and management advice. One of the key HR topics has been his advocating of an approach to performance management where the bottom 10% were identified and let go. A recent article in Vanity Fair and referenced here on the forbes website discusses the problems that are reported at Microsoft in implementing this 'stacked ranking' philosophy.
Much of Welch's advise is sound and some humility is required in anyone assessing his career but as soon as I read about something like stack ranking I start to recoil.
I can see what it is trying to do. I can imagine the conversation that says "our performance appraisal process needs some teeth". I can imagine (as Jack Welch says) managers saying it is in the interests of the bottom 10% to be helped into a role they are more suited to. I can see the superficial simplicity of the approach. But I can also imagine screaming in the room "it will set up a confrontational process based on fear".
There are very few companies who would create a set of company value statements that would be congruent with such a process. Perhaps elements of investment banking would make this work? But anywhere creative, anywhere where business risks should be taken, anywhere where long term development of people is useful is going to be hamstrung by this performance appraisal process. When managing large teams or divisions it is hard enough to achieve collaborative working without putting in a systematic competitive approach to performance appraisal.
Well trained managers with the confidence gained from a good process will be able to hold strong performance appraisals that hold people to account for poor performance without a hefty stick being wielded. And they will spend the majority of their time coaching, encouraging, clarifying rather than trying to work out which pot to put the member of staff in.
We have now closed our online survey 'Implementing Performance Appraisals' and have a report available in PDF format; if you would like a copy then just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 63% complete performance appraisals on paper
- 82% report lack of senior management buy-in and employee engagement as primary obstacles to an effective process
- 42% generate a grade for 'Performance Related Pay' purposes
Line Manager skills noted as being crucial for success; comments include:
- Line managers taking more time and engaging in conversations that are meaningful
- Having all supervisors/managers trained on how to perform appraisals properly and with the necessary courage to give honest performance feedback
- Decent ongoing conversation between line manager and staff – daily, in supervision meetings, in appraisal
It's all interesting stuff, and particularly so we feel when there is much debate about the value of performance appraisals; should we scrap them as some people advocate or should we look to engage people in the process, support them with skills training, and get back to basics in having meaningful conversations?
Just reading an article in Training Zone by Tom Quayle of 'The Chemistry Group' which talks about the challenges of creating lasting behavioural change and some pointers as to how to make it happen.
There are some good insights into motivational theory and it is coupled with some practical ways in which organisations can consider using measurement, the surrounding environment and peer influence to create change.
Taking the measurement angle first, we consistently see that once behaviours are clearly defined, there is a clear awareness of them on the part of employees, and they are brought into the realm of day-to-day discussion, the move to some form of measurement or rather feedback becomes critical.
Using 360 degree feedback to provide a structured way for people to give and receive feedback on those behaviours deemed important to the sustained success of the business is a key way to begin to bring about raised awareness and shift in habits.
I think he is right to also highlight environment and community too; there is much to be said in helping people adopt new habits by making it easy for them to do so; similarly, peer influence and social proof whereby such behaviours are seen by a significant majority of influential minority, can further help in the change taking root.
Awareness and taking responsibility precede behavioual change; feedback sustains it.
The news outlined in this People Managment article of proposed reforms to the practice of performance appraisals within the Civil Service smacks of the Jack Welch, GE mindset, of yesteryear.
The 'bottom' 10% of performers could face pay cuts, probation or the sack; the latter option favoured by Jack Welch as a means of conducting a yearly cull within the workforce.
No doubt there are poor performers within the Civil Service as with any organsation, and there should be clear measures and effective management in place to work with those individuals.
However, I wonder what the effect of such a practice will be on the integrity of the performance management process and the pervading culture within the Civil Service? Fear and distrust will feed into the process, rather than something positioned as an opportunity to review, plan and develop for the future.
Such a hardline approach requires very skilled line managers who are able to set absolutely clear, acheivable goals; who can monitor, give feedback and coach througouth the year; and ultimately who can conduct a performance appraisal with rigour, backed by evidence and as a conversation with the employee.