Dump the one-shot Performance Appraisal session
I have joined the ‘Dump the Annual Performance reviews’ brigade
I have just completed my annual performance review session. Often my colleagues cannot understand why I would insist on having a lengthy session. “I just want to get it over and done with”, is a common refrain I hear. However, I take my performance appraisal seriously because I believe that I am accountable to myself, the people I serve and the organization I belong to. I would thus make these sessions work for me. However, these once-off sessions become ends in themselves and this is what is becoming more of an Achilles Heel for me. I now too believe that it is time to dump the Annual performance review system in its present form.
Annual Performance reviews are a fallacy
Most of us only engage in the annual performance review sessions because our line managers have to comply with the organisation’s policy on employee appraisal processes. In fact, I suspect many of them would dearly love to scrap this process because they do not like to ‘judge’ their employees. Hello, are our superiors not there to help us develop and become better at our jobs and become better human beings as well? If the performance appraisal is seen as a court case by our superiors, we are already doomed when we walk into that room.
The once-off performance review process is a relic of the past. It is like those ancient tooth-extraction practices before dentists were invented. You sit there, lock-jawed while your superior agonizes to rid you of your liability in record time. Then both of you sign on the dotted line and sigh with relief – that is, till the next cycle resumes. This industrial age practice of performance reviews would have been funny if it wasn’t so demeaning to employees especially; it is a useless, counter-productive exercise. Surely your superior have already glowed in the benefits of your contributions in the past year to help shift the organization or the team? Similarly, if there were serious challenges of poor performance, should these not have been addressed when they were detected?
Performance review frameworks that are value-adding
There is space for the one-shot annual performance review session as part of an organization’s total, integrated, inclusive Performance review framework. Have a look at good performing organisations and you will see their complex real time feedback loops, their obsession with measuring their goal-oriented progress and their high accountability frameworks. They do not wait till the end of the year to assess whether they are still on track. Such organisations depend on continuous reflections or review loops to assess how the organization is doing as an entity, how the teams are performing and ultimately how the individual employees are contributing to their performance. This is how it should be. Individuals work within a system and when appraisal happens, the systems context is a critical lever that should come under scrutiny as well. By the time the annual performance review session takes place, both employee and superior should have had ongoing reflective dialogues at various intervals and thus be ready to conclude the final leg of the appraisal process during this session.
A few guidelines on how to transform outdated performance review systems
This is probably easier said than done especially if our line managers are steeped in the traditionalist frame of managing and leading people. However, our line managers should be mindful that they are expected to be change agents; they have to play a critical role in helping to transform organizational culture. We need to build relational organisations that foster dialogue and flexible systems that lead to happy employees, high performing teams and organizational excellence. Where does one start to reculture our organisations then with regard to making performance reviews a critical element to build employee capacity? As a start, line managers can use the following guidelines:
1. As Jonathan Jansen says, leaders must steer the change. Look for transformational professional review models and replicate them. Ask your team to help you shape such a model.
2. Acknowledge that if you can’t lead, you can’t manage as well. If you keep irrelevant systems like the one-shot annual performance review alive, you may be obstructing real growth in the teams you lead and your organization as a whole.
3. Find a mentor or a coach to help you navigate the change process. Read as much as you can about the area where you want to initiate change
4. Don’t be distracted by sideshows such as opposition by colleagues or the time-intensive sacrifice that goes with changing mindsets and behaviour. Stick to your core purpose and success will follow as a consequence.
5. Finally, as a leader, you have to shape up or get out. This may sound harsh, but it is the reality. To be a leader is a privilege and a responsibility. Let us not glow in the privileges of such positions, but fail to carry out our responsibilities to nurture the people who have been entrusted in our care.