We have touched upon this topic many, many times, and rightly so; because each new article trumpeting the end/death/demise (tick favourite to suit) of performance appraisals has a more nuanced message behind the attention grabbing headline.
Take this latest article in Forbes, about IBM very dramatically ‘blowing Up’ it’s performance review process.
The IBM story is particularly interesting because as you read through, you realise that ‘enhancing’ might be a better description than ‘blowing up’; they will still set objectives, albeit these will be shorter-term in nature; they will still assess at year-end against a number of ‘dimensions’ rather than a singular grade; they will dispense with performance ranking (which has been a trend for some time), and they will encourage a process of continuous feedback & coaching throughout the year.
What is being described is Performance Management.
Realising that a once-a-year conversation/evaluation doesn’t actually work when it comes to getting the best out of people, is not a revelation – it is sensible conclusion borne out of experience, where greater levels of communication and open, transparent relationships between a Line Manager and their team members, is more likely to deliver sustainable results.
The performance appraisal projects we work on with clients, are rarely just about implementing an effective performance appraisal system; invariably, we are deep down into revising their approach to performance management:
- understanding the purpose of performance management
- designing appraisal forms and processes which are ‘fit for purpose’ and include the input of employees
- and ‘Meaningful Conversations‘ training for Line Managers for every aspect of performance management i.e. Setting objectives, giving feedback, coaching and appraisals
If you would like to talk us to us about ‘blowing up’ your performance appraisals, then feel free to contact us, but I suspect you might find we do a better job of ‘building on’ what you are already doing.
In a recent meeting, John and I were asked what we saw as the key trends in 360 degree feedback / performance appraisal. We came up with two ‘off-the-cuff’ and I would add a third below.
The first is a desire for continuous feedback to be included within the performance management cycle. Often attached to millenials brought up on social media and feedback sites such as tripadvisor this is our most common current discussion point. Perhaps not too separate from the age old mantra that discussing performance is ongoing rather than an annual event the challenge for Bowland and others is to reflect this drive in a considered manner that improves feedback as well as making it more frequent.
The second is 360 feedback being integrated into the appraisal process. Many, if not all, of our clients now include some element of “feedback from others” into the appraisal cycle. We see this driven by team structures that no longer have the line manager able to review/comment on all performance and a desire to bring the “how” of behavioural feedback into the standard “what” of performance objectives. At Bowland we have long had the technical capability to support this. The interesting area for us over the coming years is retaining a developmental 360 as a distinct exercise from an appraisal from a range of sources. The two conversations tend to be different and the process should be.
The third and final trend we are seeing is a welcome focus on the conversation. Our meaningful conversations model that looks to assist all managers deliver on the purpose of their conversations while building up trust within the relationship has reflected this focus. Clients are seeing with absolute clarity that whatever the process, however frequent it may be, the best managers hold the best conversations with their team. Accordingly we should focus on supporting that meaningful conversation as much as on the process that leads to it.
Another week, another article, or in fact another series of articles, sounding the death knell of the performance appraisal – Accenture, National Australia Bank, and Deloitte – all deciding to stop the annual performance review process, whilst moving to a more regular series of feedback conversations throughout the year.
However, if you look more closely, what is actually being scrapped is a practice of forced ranking and distribution, which was a key feature of their review processes.
We have long debated the relative merits and pitfalls of ranking individuals and/or reducing their performance over a year to a singular grade or number – but of course, performance reviews don’t have to work this way, and many organisations approach reviews with the idea that it is an opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the previous 12 months as a means to learn and improve performance in the future.
With this purpose in mind, removing a conversation at the end of the year which offers a chance for a Line Manager and team member to come together and discuss past performance in a meaningful way, seems somewhat shortsighted.
Moving to a process whereby there are regular, ongoing feedback conversations throughout the year, is certainly to be advocated and applauded – but these timely, in-the-moment, conversations are often quite tactical in nature; they are helping people track progress and keeping tacking back and forth towards their goals.
Such conversations need to be supported by a more reflective, strategic type discussion, which allows a summing up at the end of a year, and critically, prompts a conversation about learning & their development.
Performance Management is simply a series of two-way conversations, each with a specific purpose – if you don’t like the Performance Review conversation and find it meaningless, don’t scrap it, change it’s purpose to one you do like and is meaningful.
One of the major trends for us over the past few years has been the inclusion of feedback from a range of people as part of the performance appraisal process. From a software perspective we have an integrated system so it may be that we see more of this because competitor’s don’t have the same capability but it does look to be a broader trend in the market.
If we look back 10 years, 360 feedback was something quite specific. There were strong arguments in research and practice that it worked best when it was developmental. It was built around competencies and behaviours and was something quite different from appraisal. We continue to consult, debrief, and provide the software for “360″ but is it the same as the performance appraisal activity?
Often, as short hand, 360 feedback is used to mean any feedback that is received from a range of people. So, we too will refer to a client’s appraisal system making use of 360 feedback. But, I wonder did we lose something in the merger?
Gaining input into the performance review process from a range of people often makes sense. Organisational structures, geographical locations, team-based and project based working all mitigate against the manager having the full picture. Yet, the feedback has a different context when it is linked to appraisal and particularly when it is linked directly or indirectly to remuneration.
There is something attractive in the idea of receiving developmental feedback – that you have asked for, wish to receive, understand the purpose of and all intend to be developmental. You can set up systems, processes, people all geared to the leader/manager being well positioned to receive the feedback, accept it, and draw out actions and commit to them. You can consider all of the recent neuroscience research on feedback and set the process up accordingly.
Appraisal/performance review is a valid process considering performance at work against goals, targets, business values, etc. It is often structure to suit the organisation. As I’ve said, gathering feedback from others on that performance makes sense but it is not what 360 feedback is in its most effective form.
The answer … do them both! Gain feedback on performance annually however you see fit and in whatever way works best. Gain developmental feedback for leaders separately at a different time of the year. That way you have two conversations at different times of the year with a different focus. Of course there will be overlap but better to have two highly meaningful conversations with overlap than miss out on the real benefits of 360 feedback.
Another day, another article saying we should scrap performance appraisals…. It’s time to kill the performance review . The article actually focusses on problems with performance grades but that wouldn’t be as interesting a title I guess! Anyway, here’s my point. When working with individuals who are struggling with some aspect of their role or performance we build from their strengths. We certainly don’t suggest they just give up. The same applies to performance reviews and other organisational processes. Endlessly scrapping initiatives and replacing them with something else leads to cynicism.
Is it a good idea to discuss how things are going, set some goals/plans for the future, discuss training or other support that may achieve those goals, look at where the company is going and the broader themes for the coming period? Yes, it is…well that is a performance review. Now, you may or not believe in performance related pay. Not for me to say – if you do want to use it then you’ll need some measures of success. Your organisational culture might like numbers/grades etc. OK, fine – it can be problematic but people have made it work. Let’s see how we can make it work for you.
Before we throw away performance management or even the annual review, let’s write down what is good, what does work, what we want to retain. Then look at the parts that are less useful or problematic – do we need them, can we improve them. Is it the system or the skills of the people involved that is causing the problem – and so on. Having an annual review doesn’t stop you from discussing how things are going on a regular, informal basis … in fact you’re going to find the annual review difficult if you haven’t been doing that.
Our clients often approach us through some disillusionment with their performance appraisal process … it may be they want an improved system, it may be completion rates are dropping, or it may be people are overwhelmed with the process. When we meet the people involved…the appraisees…they rarely if ever want the process to be scrapped. What they do want is for it to be real, for there to a meaningful conversation about their aspirations, current performance, and goals, and for it to be a simple and fair process.
A recent article on the effectiveness of Performance Appraisals, cited research conducted by Rice University (hence the reason it caught my eye!) – the study points to some inherent problems with the traditional annual review process and suggests what steps organisations can take to improve it.
The key message is that frequent feedback, be that formal or informal, is a better way to bring about performance improvement and behavioural change in individuals
Furthermore the research draws out the benefits of such regular feedback as impacting on the wider performance management process - “The more employers can create a culture that facilitates ongoing communication and feedback among employees, the more productive and beneficial the performance-appraisal process will be, according to the research.”
In our work with clients, this connection between implementing performance appraisals successfully, whilst creating a more effective feedback culture, is becoming ever more intricately linked – our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ training modules extend beyond Line Managers to employees too, as the need for everyone to be adept at writing or giving feedback to others, becomes increasingly paramount.
Our next webinar on Friday 22nd May@1pm BST will be a taster of one of our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ modules, ‘Giving Feedback’ – register below to join us.
No, I’m not going to actually tell you the content of my son’s school report! It was fine and other than him feeling it was ok to open it before sharing it with us the process was all good.
For those of you without children at school, school reports now contain a lot of numbers. After many years of confusion, my wife and I recently got the hang of whether a 4a was better than a 4b and then they changed the system to something called APS … no idea what it stands for. So, Euan (my son) has been targeted for the year with moving up at least 5 APS points in each subject.
So, let’s say in Maths he was 28 last year, then his target would be at least 33. And in this report we are told his current level – let’s say it is 32.
And we get a grade for Effort and a grade for Organisation. No words.
We have a lot of data in the school report. We get 3 of these reports a year and we get one parents evening where we have 5 minute appointments with each of his teachers.
5 minutes after reading his report I could give you the gist of it but I couldn’t remember one number. I know roughly the grades for effort and organisation but couldn’t remember which ones applied to which subject. Its not that I don’t care it is that there was an overwhelming amount of data.
But I remember the conversations with most of the teachers (the ones I can’t remember are the ones where the teacher concentrated on the scores/grades and national averages for those scores) from his last parents evening two months ago.
If you ask most parents what they hope for for their children at school it is that they enjoy it. Yes, we hope our children do well and we support them in getting the best out of themselves but every parent went to school once and so all of us want to know “do they have friends, are they engaged, do they contribute, are they happy”. If a teacher told me “Euan is doing really well; he tries his hardest, works well with his school friends, and always engages with every lesson” then I can’t ask for much more. I can then review the data in that context and it could suggest to us areas he needs help with. But the data alone tells me very little.
What interested me most in our conversation with Euan is that he is engaged with the number. He wants to be a “33″. I do wonder whether the system is starting to train children (future employees) to go for the target rather than focus on the actions that lead to success.
I am a fairly keen cyclist (a MAMIL – middle aged man in lycra). Like many cyclists I use www.strava.com to record my rides. Strava has rather taken over that world and provides you with a massive amount of data after your ride. Essentially it gives you feedback on the ride you did. As well as telling you general stuff like the average speed for the ride and how long you rode for, it will take sections of the ride (segments) and tell you how fast you rode it, how that compares to other times you rode that segment, and how it compares to others (everyone and your friends) performance on the same segment.
Anyone who uses Strava will tell you that this feedback can become obsessive. And it certainly motivates you at times to ride harder than you otherwise would have done. I’ll leave the question of whether it makes the ride more enjoyable for another time.
What really interests me is that sometimes the feedback Strava gives isn’t helpful at all. Sometimes you under-perform against your peers or your own previous efforts and sometimes you over-perform without any relation to the effort that you made. The issue is that Strava doesn’t have anything to tell you the context for your ride. At a simple level it doesn’t tell you
- What the wind was like, for you or the others
- Whether you were riding in a group or alone
- Whether this was your focus for the ride
If you were a coach discussing the data from Strava with a rider then, before you leapt in to give your opinion, you would need to get this context. You may need to ensure the rider wasn’t overly critical of themselves, or you may need to ensure they weren’t complacent with a seemingly good performance. You would need to listen to how the rider felt during the ride, what they were looking to achieve, any obstacles they hit along the road. Only when this was complete would a real assessment be complete and some goals or targets for the future be based on useful feedback.
We receive a lot of data now. Our appraisal processes and feedback systems are full of feedback. But context is everything. And the person who knows the context best is the person themselves – although they may need a coach or trusted person to help them look at the data objectively.
We recently completed a series of our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ training modules for Line Managers who were about to go into their performance appraisal meetings.
The subject of looking back and reviewing past performance over the previous 12 months is naturally covered, with consideration given to what your purpose is, how you should prepare and what is a good structure to follow in that part of the appraisal conversation.
There is always feedback to be given in the appraisal; there should be ‘no surprises’ in this regard for sure, but invariably there is an overall message to be played back to the appraisee, with some significant positive or constructive feedback elements within this.
As we discuss this, I often write up on a flipchart the mathematical calculations you see in the headline image of this post, and ask for feedback please; I will ask the same of you now…..
What did you notice? The final one as incorrect, or the preceding three as being right?
Most of us, which is often borne out in the training session, will spot the error, the break in the pattern first; of course, this is part of the story – however, one might argue, a bigger part of the story is that 75% are correct.
The challenge is to change our default setting; spot what is going right first – get good at giving praise accordingly; it leads to a much more meaningful and productive conversation – you will still get to the error, but you approach it from a very different angle, and ensure that all the learning from what has gone well, is drawn out, celebrated and is used to help an individual do even better next time.
One of the lovely statistics out there (probably an urban myth) is that 80% of us think that we are better than the average driver. There is actually a term for this general phenomena : “illusory superiority”. Here is Wikipedia’s definition
Illusory superiority is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. This is evident in a variety of areas including intelligence, performance on tasks or tests, and the possession of desirable characteristics or personality traits.
Now, there is a tendency within the 360 feedback market (and performance appraisal for that matter) to want to rank people against each other. And anyone who has every debriefed a 360 report will know that many recipients want to know “how do I compare to others”.
Put this together and you get a dangerous mix. The recipient gains information on how they rank (let’s not consider whether this ranking is in any way valid) against their peer group and potentially other individuals known to them. Now, it is highly unlikely that this will be good news for the majority of people thanks to the illusory superiority. Not many of us would take well to being told we are a below average driver, let alone that we are a below average manager in our organisation. We certainly may struggle to be told that we’re worse than Bob or Jane in Accounts!
The only benefit I can see to this ranking is to generate a competitive instinct ‘to prove them wrong’ and to move up the rankings. Is that desirable behaviour in a team – that we compete with each other? I can think of very few industries or sectors where this is long term desirable behaviour.
Some things are best left unsaid and best left to pub conversations. Creating a ranking of people will rarely lead to desired behaviours against an organisation’s espoused values.
With a diverse range of clients it is always interesting to see the changes in the requests made upon us when we are developing a performance appraisal solution for a client. The requests come from the HR team, the senior leadership team, or from the facilitated sessions we run with appraisers/appraisees. So, we get industry trends that HR may have picked up on, the business drivers from leaders, as well as the “grass roots” requirements that evolve from practical requirements for appraisers/appraisees. Here are the top 5 trends in performance appraisal that we have seen in the last few years.
1. A desire to gain feedback from a range of people.
Distinct from traditional developmental 360 feedback around a competency framework we often see appraisal feedback being sought from a range of people. We have gone from this requirement being rare to it being common. The changing nature of the workplace, of teams, and of the manager-employee relationship has driven this requirement. The common aim is to ensure a rounded and accurate picture of performance is gained.
2. A move away from the annual grade.
In the early days of Bowland this was sacrosanct. Now, we are either asked to remove it or in our consultation sessions we come under great pressure from the appraisers and appraisees to encourage the HR team to drop the grade. With inevitable conflicts for those organisations who link pay to appraisal, this is a hot topic.
Letting the system and process get out of the way and allowing the conversation to take pride of place has been a Bowland mantra. New clients and our existing clients are increasingly looking to simplify the form, particularly around objective setting, to quieten down the appraisal process and leave appraisers and appraisees with the energy to have a great and meaningful conversation.
4. Continuous feedback and continuous recording
The twitter and facebook factor. While not yet being seen as a mainstream activity we are now regularly implementing the ability to “keep the process” alive throughout the year by providing performance logs, update sections, and other continuous recording methods.
5. Focusing on the future
Appraisals were very backward focused. What happened? What went well? What did you do wrong? What is your grade? Increasingly (and its a good thing!) there is a focus on the objective setting, development plan, and the future. How will we improve? How do we achieve more in the coming year? This is a particularly positive change that leads to improved conversations.
Carefully implemented I see all of the above as positive trends. While at Bowland we will always support the culture, requirements, and particular drivers of a client we look to share best practice and ideas to help each client make the best decisions for them.
In London yesterday I had four meetings with four different clients/prospective clients. In one of those “this is odd” moments I was asked similarly structured questions in each of the meetings. The questions were around best practice. As we have a lot of experience in 360 feedback and performance appraisal that is clearly a typical thing to be asked but what made me reflect more was that in each situation there was a difference between what I may consider as industry best practice and what I would recommend for this particular client/propsect.
New processes, systems, and ideas need to meet the recipients where they are. Training, guidance, presentations, and other promotional material can and should make a shift from current practice but to ignore the current culture, capability, and expectation is likely to lead to a poorly accepted and poorly used process. So while being aware of industry best practice and having a clear view on the ideal implementation is useful (it’s clearly best to have some direction), adapting that best practice to suit the amount of movement that the majority of the firm/organisation can cope with is a pragmatic way forward.
Our long term clients tend to move over time to better and better processes and practice as the members of the organisation become increasingly comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, build trust in both the process and their management, and develop personally. The first implementation should be the most change in the correct direction that will be absorbed positively by the majority.
I find myself at this time of year, like most people, considering what I might wish to achieve in 2015 – the usual considerations of becoming fitter, losing weight, etc along with writing a Xmas hit record which pays my pension in future years, all feature as New Year resolutions.
However, I realised that these often far reaching resolutions or goals, were left strewn at the roadside of life as I made my way through the year (and let’s be fair, some were chucked out the window by the third week of January).
I wondered if there was a better way to help me stay the course and started to consider what things would I need to do each and every day to make it more likely I would achieve those goals.
For example, a friend of ours Tony Philips of The Coaching Approach, decided he would run a mile a day; he started in 2010, and as they say hasn’t looked back (and he’s very far from home now too…old joke I know).
The idea of starting a new habit, a daily one, appealed to me; I could make the habit bite-size, do-able, and ‘stackable’. The last point there is reference to a growing concept of ‘habit stacking’; a method of placing one habit ‘on top of’ another one which is already well established i.e. Brushing your teeth.
Would it possible for me to write ‘a page a day’ for example, rather than just have ‘write a book’ as my goal? Suddenly big projects have 10-15 minute slots allocated in a day; I feel something which might appear overwhelming take on a different form and I feel motivated.
The proof is going to be most certainly in the doing, but certainly the idea of New Year habits rather than resolutions, resonates for me – the connection to what we do in our work also naturally leads me to consider how setting objectives might be married with agreeing habits with ourselves, with individuals, and with teams.
We often sit with clients in the early phase of a performance appraisal project, before any form design is undertaken, before any process is considered or system implementation discussed, and hold a conversation simply prompted by the question ‘Why do you do performance appraisals?’.
It’s always an invaluable experience for everyone involved, but only if the conversation is held open long enough for the surface answers to emerge and dissipate, and the deeper reasons to bubble up and provide the real meat for the discussion.
Initial answers will offer up a need to catch development needs, rate a person’s performance, feed into pay and reward, set objectives and alike – all perfectly valid.
However, as the discussion develops, principles such as transparency, consistency, informed and meaningful appraisal conversations spring forth, and a realisation that such principles will ultimately lead to better decisions around form design, the process to follow and the system which will underpin it.
Until you have answered ‘Why?’, the ‘What?’, ‘How?’, ‘When?’ and ‘Who?’ of performance appraisal sit on shifting sands.
I go to yoga with my daughter most weeks. I am the worst yoga practitioner in the country with other participants requesting my attendance to make them look good. My toes remain resolutely distant from my hands. What I have found useful though is the concentration on breathing.
Within the class we often focus on the breath and in particular on the pause between breathing in and breathing out and breathing in again. Just by focusing on that pause it tends to stretch out, your breathing relaxes and you take longer and deeper breaths. Now, I breathe every day. Turns out I’m quite good at it – I can do it without even concentrating on it. I can even do it in my sleep. But by reflecting on my breathing I can breath better, learn how to control my breath when under duress (usually when cycling up a hill) and improve my general sense of well being.
It is becoming topical to argue against the annual review. Arguing that you should be reviewing performance all of the time and so there is no need to do it annually. I agree with the need for ongoing review discussions but I believe there is a great benefit for taking time out to take a deep breath, a bit of a pause and a think. You may find that something you’ve been doing naturally all year improves just from the exercise of reflection.
I attended a CIPD conference on Performance Management earlier this week. There was plenty of food for thought – particularly around feedback, when it is useful, when it is not. We will be continuing our own research and updating our thoughts based on the ideas presented. Within the conference one speaker used the sentence “Focus on the conversation and get the system to support it”. As an organisation that provides both consulting/training support and the software to support performance management this is an appealing sentence. If we use system in its broadest sense to mean not just the IT but the process and forms that make up performance management then this sentence summarises our ethos.
When working well, performance management is a series of natural, comfortable, purposeful, meangingful conversations between two people at work. With a trusting relationship they are able to discuss goals and determine what is likely to lead to those goals being achieved. They use the past as guidance, they gather inputs that support that forward looking approach – sometimes from others within or outside of the organisation – and they hold open, meaningful conversations on the future. The conversations matter. They may record those conversations at times to make it easier to reflect back and ensure consistency of understanding and they would willingly hand over some of the data for broader analysis such as organisational training needs. They don’t absolutely need a form or system but they welcome an easy to use, simple method of recording their conversations.
That is our aim. Our aim is to have capable managers and employees holding great performance conversations. So, we should think hard about that conversation, think hard about what is likely to facilitate that conversation and be hard on anything that may get in the way. We should leave them both with the energy to have the conversation. Our ‘system’ should be supportive, only ask what is necessary, prompt a structure that capable managers would find useful, and gather information that is of wider use to the organisation if in doing so we don’t get in the way of the conversation.
For different organisations that system will be different; history, culture, capability, compliance requirements all will dictate what is achievable today. But, if the system would stop the conversation or hinders the conversation why would you do it?
This is the rallying cry according to a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) which is highlighted in this article on HR.BLR.Com; too much of the training is focused on the how to complete the form and follow the process rather than the in the skills required to hold constructive conversations.
Much of it chimes with our own view around the concept of ‘Meaningful Conversations’ and in particular our recent webinar on Performance Appraisals.
A checklist of what will help Line Managers ensure Performance Management conversations go well includes such things as regular feedback, evidence gathering, and developing a relationship with team members that allows for honest and open discussion about performance.
Inform Line Managers around the form & process; train Line Managers around the skills required to hold conversations with purpose and which preserve trust.