I think it is safe to say that the performance review is something that most people love to hate. And I think we hate it because although it starts out with noble intentions it tends to degenerate into an exercise without meaning. Leaders hate it because it becomes just another thing to do. And employees hate it because it rarely acknowledges their real contribution while being a determining factor in how they are paid. In this scenario too, the performance review often becomes something we do to people rather than with them. Like going to the dentist for root canal, it has that tinge of dread about it.
But the reality is that performance assessment is important to both the organization and the people who work for it. To achieve its goals and remain competitive, the organization must maximize on the capability and knowledge of its people. Likewise, to achieve their own ambitions and receive appropriate recognition for their contribution, people need a method of summarizing their accomplishments; identifying their learning needs and; planning their next steps.
Hopefully then, we can agree that while the principle of performance review is sound, where it often falls short is in the execution of the process.
So, what to do? Well, probably a lot of things, but here are a few thoughts to begin with.
- Performance assessment is a cooperative thing
In order for a performance assessment to be effective, both the leader and the individual must participate. That means that each must find a way to connect with the other; discuss and agree on what is to be done and; talk about how they will measure it. If, as leader, you simply deliver targets to people without that kind of engagement then you are giving up an opportunity to not only know what the individual can do, but also to recognize his or her future potential.
And, while on this topic, the leader must also:
- Be Clear about Performance Goals and Expected Accomplishments
Ken Blanchard has some ideas about maximizing individual performance. He believes that the task for leaders is to help people “get an A” on their performance assessment by being clear about what is expected of them. I think he’s right. Here’s a video of Mr Blanchard explaining his philosophy.
- It is unrealistic to approach everyone in the same way
In many organizations I believe we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to level the playing field. In other words we operate on the principle that equity means treating everyone in the same way. But I say that being equal is not the same as being the same and human beings create a much more interesting and varied landscape than a level playing field suggests.
To me, that means that not everyone is going to fit comfortably into the boxes that performance review processes often ask us to comply with. So the challenge for the leader is to inject variety and individual attention into the process in service of achieving optimal results and satisfaction levels for everyone.
- Performance assessment is not a once-a-year activity
In my experience, at the end of any given fiscal year, there was always a flurry of activity around getting performance assessments completed. And, as human nature generally dictates, when it comes to doing things deemed unpleasant, most people tend to put them off until the last minute. Because of this, the quality of a good many of the assessments was, well, questionable. Some people were hard pressed to remember what they were actually measuring. And of course others crammed as much meaningless rhetoric as possible into the reports rendering them impressive but not very useful.
If we are to give meaning to measuring performance and helping people build skill and experience, we have to pay a little attention to it every day. It is part of the leader’s job to create working environments that invite participation and interest. Monitoring and measuring along the way provides performance benchmarks that allow people to see how they are doing at any given point. This does not mean that you have to concentrate on this all of the time. It does mean that you bring the notion of acknowledging individual performance into everyday conversations and routines.
There is of course a lot more involved in motivating others to perform and in accurately capturing the results, than can be covered in one blog post. But, maybe this can be a start of an interesting conversation.
If you have a performance review story or opinion that you would like to share, please do!