Monday, July 5, 2010

Performance Management is a TOOL and not a CHORE

Many times in my career I have had to revamp performance management systems.  I have blogged on the topic asking if we should just get rid of appraisals altogether.  Last week,  I was chatting with a friend, he said, "I am dreading doing all my appraisals next week."  I had to find out the reasons for all this dread.  He then began his list of reasons why he did not like the process:

1) Nothing is ever done with the information
2) They aren't relevant to his employees jobs
3) They are 8 pages long and it will take all week to do 10 appraisals

WOW, as he kept talking it sounded just like a chore instead of something that could really help this manager out in the long run.

I wanted to know what HR was doing regarding the process.  He let me know this was their brand new and improved process.  YIKES!

I then began to think about another HR VP I spoke to last month.  She said, "I think I am going to change our appraisal form to 3 questions."  Of course that piqued my interest.  I said. "What are you going to ask?

1) Overall all performance rating _____________
2) Reasons for this rating
3) Areas of further development

Well that does take care of KISS.  (keeping it simple).  There has to be a happy medium between the 8 pages and just 3 questions.

Then I began to think of my recent travel experiences and I think you could probably get away with just one question:

1) What have you done to exceed customer expectations in the last year?

I know a lot of service employees who would have a hard time answering that question.  But at the end of the day, isn't that what we need to know at appraisal time.  How we have served our customers and what we need to do to serve them better?

What are your thoughts on appraisals?  Friend or foe?  How would you improve and KISS?


Stever Robbins said...

The three-question version is sufficient. Humans are generally bad judges of others' performance. They're good at projecting their biases and forming gut opinions.

The short version hits the big issues. The manager can focus on what they find relevant. I might give them a suggested list but that risks biasing them towards the wrong things. "Works well with others" seems innocuous, but may not be relevant for a lone engineer who never interacts with others. It may even be counter to the value they provide. I'd just leave it open-ended.

Longer versions will give the same information with an illusion of precision and accuracy where those don't actually exist.

My first boss told me humans can judge doesn't meet expectations, so-so, and WOW. Anything more sophisticated would fail due to our poor measurement skills. I've seen nothing since that would contradict him.

Furthermore, despite the research on strengths-based management, most assessments still work on bringing weaknesses up to average (if successful, giving you a stunningly average workforce), rather than boosting strengths and forging a super-strong team by combining those strengths into a coherent team.

If the goal is job competence, yearly reviews are useless. Use ongoing behavior-based feedback, training and instruction.

If you really want a review process that produces better business outcomes, be rigorous: Design three different review/feedback processes. Try each on a set of randomly selected employees for 3 years. Measure skills/abilities/productivity before and after. Include a control group that gets no reviews. If you don't find a measurable benefit to a review process, stop doing it. If you do see a difference, choose what works best. My money's on the no-review scenario.

Remember that a single company-wide review process is almost guaranteed worthless. Jobs are too different to expect a single process to be optimal everywhere. Even the time horizons are different. Salespeople would probably benefit from quarterly feedback, while engineers on a 5-year project might benefit most from yearly or bi-yearly reviews.

In short: one review process is easy to administer and makes us feel like we're doing something meaningful. Just because we feel that way doesn't make it true.

Even within a single area, managers aren't trained to assess, yet their assessments are treated as relevant. I've seen managers who couldn't form a complete sentence rate others on communication skills. How valid do we think those managers' ratings are?

You wouldn't use a thermometer to measure how fast your car is going. Yet we expect any manager to be able to measure and assess any of their employees skills.

[begin cynical mode]
Most senior managers, who are presumably the best of the best, don't go through this silly exercise, or if they do, it's a mere formality. Many have employment contracts that assure even if they get fired they get paid. If that's the review system that the best and the brightest have designed for themselves, it should say something about what really is and isn't important in performance management.
[end cynical mode]

Rita said...

The problem that I see is that "Use ongoing feedback, training and instruction" is the RIGHT ANSWER! However in HR, we have to make ridiculous performance review/evaluation/appraisal processes in order to get manager's to do once a year what they should be doing DAILY! Am I cynical - perhaps.

If you are evaluating someone in a mgmt role - 3 questions or even one might work fine but how does this work for an entry level or perhaps hourly employees.

I don't know that there are any global right/wrong answers as it relates to this age old question about performance reviews. Whatever you do should support your business goals and overarching people strategies. Hopefully if you have met that objective then Management supports the process.

Barbara A Hughes said...

Cathy, I like your question a lot. Along the lines of our recent discussion about Jack Fitz-Enz's new book, maybe ask one more question and ask it this way of the employee: "What impact has your work made on the company in the past 6 months/12 months?" (whatever the interval). Ask a slightly different question of the employee about the manager: "What impact has (Jane) had on your contribution to the company's results in the past 6 months/12 months?"
Good topic!

Unknown said...


Thanks for reading and posting your insights. I love the idea of the test of the randomly selected employees and seeing if reviews actually impact performance. I think in most cases I tend to agree...that most appraisals and the process are so poorly designed that they do not have any affect on performance.

So, that goes to many of your points to improvement. Managers play a pivotal role and either they are undertrained to conduct and write appraisals or they are uninterested. How do we fix that as HR professionals. How do we get managers to understand that performance needs to be tracked, recognized, and rewarded?

Unknown said...

Rita and Barbara:

Both excellent points. It is an ongoing process and not a once per year CHORE. I wonder if that skill is just in some managers DNA and others don't have it?

I like the word impact both from an employees perspective on his manager and how they employee himself made an impact. That Jac Fitz-Enz is so smart, cant wait to read his book.

Brent Churchwell, Strategist said...

I've tended to shift cultural thinking, as best possible, toward actively engaging in (a) daily observations about behaviors and results, and (b) providing regular and intermitent feedback and coaching which is documented. These behaviors and results should be defined/aligned with competencies and current or emerging business strategy. People begin seeing performance management as not so much an administrative process but rather part of their daily fabric of sustainability. This sets up the likelihood that something is done with the information -- BY THE PERFORMER!

A formal appraisal, regardless of being conducted quarterly, semi-annually or annually, should be a fairly easy regurgitation. Granted, the form or function may have some impact on ease and acceptability, but too often do I see managers view it as "work" because they did not do the real work in an ongoing fashion. High performance units often have a manager that stays involved.

If you care to tie comp/incentives to performance, tear away what is essentially the non-differentiated annual COLA and provide pre-defined spot awards to superior performance at a manager's discretion. I know, the litigious nature of our environments might say that approach is a can of worms. Not if it is set up correctly. What's worse is us continuing to feed the Entitlement monster and gravitating everyone to the mean.

An HR Weaver said...

Cathy, in my experience good managers care about their employees and so they provide good performance feeback no matter how long or short or wisely written the form is. Despite our best efforts, you can't "legislate" good performance management.

Stever Robbins said...

(I mean c'mon. A manager's job is to manage. It's right there in the job title: "manage(r)." What else are they spending their time on, if not managing?)

Stever Robbins said...

Cathy: how does HR fix undertrained, non-performing managers who don't do performance appraisals? The same way we fix undertrained, non-performing engineers who don't do engineering. We explain that it's part of their job and tie their compensation and promotion to successfully doing it.

performance appraisals said...

Performance appraisals can be either a friend or a foe depending on the person who will perform it. Fair judgment should be implemented to all employees.

working girl said...

Oh, I like that question, although could lead to some pretty far-fetched answers from people in the trenches that never actually see or meet a customer.

Gina said...

All our team members complete they own evaluations of their performance based on how they are meeting the clear metrics that are in place. We all know if we have done well- only job for the manager is to review and send out the bonuses earned.

Unknown said...

Hi Gina:

Thanks for reading and commenting. You know, I like the simplicity of your system! Really that's all you need clear metrics, did you meet them or not and here is your check if you did!