Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Still Stinky Performance Assessments

Seems hardly a day goes by when yet another big player announces they are no longer using annual performance assessments.  Basically, this is a combination of clever corporate PR and a recognition that their managers were not up to the job of leading their people.  Performance assessments have moved from once a year to twice a year as a formal construct, to now regular discussions between leaders and the led.  Has anything really changed except the patina of modernity and cutting edge investor relations department propaganda?
The issues are the same.  How do we evaluate our teams, how do we determine who to promote or reward with pay rises, bonuses, higher commissions etc?.  How do we get some consistency across the entire organisation, so that the same performance level is evaluated and rewarded in basically the same manner?  When you have big teams this is tricky.  Whether we are doing these reviews  weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually makes little difference, if it isn’t done well.  Being annoying more frequently isn’t progress.
Employee satisfaction surveys and engagement surveys consistently indicate that most performance reviews are not done well.  Usually, neither party comes out of the affair feeling more motivated, empowered, inspired and better as a result of the process.  Having more frequent poor quality dialogues doesn’t help much.  Leaders who can’t communicate properly, just keep piling on the damage, and now under the new regime, they have the chances to ruin more occasions more often.  
Previously, it was expected that somehow bosses would have regular feedback sessions with staff throughout the year, rolling up in to either annual or bi-annual formal evaluation processes.  This in reality is such a rare event.  Normally, email tsunami, meeting deluge and reporting rampage combine in a perfect storm with poor time management skills and non-existent delegation capability to ensure the boss is maxed out.  Poor or excellent conversations are simply not held, because the boss is too busy.
Moving to a more codified, frequent model of conversation implies there is sufficient schedule availability for this to happen and also that the proper preparation is being done prior to the conversation.  What magic unfolded that a notoriously poor time manager, running a delegation free zone, can now function more professionally?  Actually, none and now they just have an additional level of reporting to complete.  They are already busy.
If there is professional skilling up of leaders on how to handle performance management and reviews, then there is some hope.  The addressing of fundamental time management and delegation issues are closely tied in with that goal.  Just spending time on the conversation model itself is pointless, if there is not the proper boss focus on the employee dialogue.  That focus is a product of time management, communication and people skills.  Training in improving all three would make a lot of sense, but is this the case?  Does the new wind of groovy, corporate change bring forth a holistic fix?
People do make a difference and they are usually the most expensive and valuable component of any operation.  Recognising that the current state of play with annual discussions is not sufficient is a good step forward.  Recognising what is needed is trickier.  Retraining busy, unrepentant bosses to be better communicators is certainly needed but usually not done well enough.  
This is not the quick fix of a two hour workshop.  Of course, the HR function can safely check the box that the training has been competed and move on. The reality however is the people part is still left trailing behind.  Getting bosses to move out of their Comfort Zones and do new things is not achieved by just giving them more or new information.  
Intellectually, they may get it, but what comes out of their mouths will be the same old, same old.  The skilling up process needs to address the risks and fears of doing new things and to have immediate linkage between the theory and the practice.  Knowing about something and doing it, are not the same thing.  
If we all abandon current review schedules for the fashion of permanent reviews, then we have to do a lot better at handling the content of the conversations.  Unless this becomes a reality, this will be another fad that hangs around for a while and then is taken out the back and quietly garroted.
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