Performance Appraisal is Going the Way of the Dodo Bird

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Have you had a performance appraisal in the past 12 months? What did you think, was it positive, beneficial, or meaningful? Is your system working?

Most people, when asked, are not overly enthralled with their company’s performance appraisal process.  A tool that has been created to deliver accountability and productivity is often having the opposite effect. According to David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work”, the brain actually feels threatened when feedback is given in this format, compromising the quality of the exchange and intended impact.

Let’s face it, the idea of the performance appraisal did come out of yesteryear, during a time when managers where more parental in their management style and a little less empowering. The better idea today, is to come up with an approach that treats our most valuable resource – our people – as equal partners in the process of development. We can assume, for instance, that our employees want to be “of service” and are trying their best to contribute each day, rather than the opposite.

Companies such as Adobe, Netflix, American Express, and Juniper Systems have been moving to the simpler, more collaborative systems, which take less time, and are more about ongoing reflection and conversation than about judgement. Adobe found they had been spending 80,000 hours on their previous performance appraisal system. They also found that more people left the company during the time of year that the process was completed – so it was using time of 40 FTEs and not even inspiring retention! They settled on a system that uses Expectations, Feedback, as well as Growth and Outcome, as its four areas of conversation.

In the case of the Juniper Systems, their organization also moved to look at ONLY four areas, using questions designed to calm the brain during their performance check-in or “Conversation Day”:

  1. Career Plans – is this organization meeting your needs?
  2. Connections – how are you connecting with the work? Is there goal alignment?
  3. Capabilities – what skills can you add or build in the coming year?
  4. Constraints – what is stopping you from doing your best job?

At Juniper, 88% of employees find this new system helpful, and 95% actually participate. This is almost double the amount of positive ratings and participation in most companies using performance appraisal, showing a substantial rise in engagement levels.

These examples paint a clear picture that alternative methods are experienced as more meaningful and less threatening.

If you are not working at Adobe or Juniper, and need to deal with the traditional Performance Management (PM) system, as a manager, you still have ample control to make the exchange valuable. In order to help others during the check-in process or PM process here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Don’t give advice – advice makes the adviser feel better and the advisee feel unintelligent
  • Allow the employee to give self-generated insights that make the brain much happier
  • Help the other person notice their own subtle connections by asking questions:
  • Tell me your goal in one sentence
  • What quiet hunches do you have?
  • What do think is worth trying next year?

The goal of performance management is, after all, trying to find a way to motivate employees and improve their performance, in a way that allows them to walk away from the experience in “one piece”, looking forward to continuing to work for you.

If your performance appraisal system needs an overhaul, get in touch with us to see how we can create a system that works for the needs of you, and your employees.


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