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On Employee Performance Reviews

Posted July 8, 2012 11:58 AM by Dylan Miyake

Employee evaluations have always been a pet peeve of mine. I hate giving them, I hate getting them (part of the reason I started Ascendant was so that I would no longer have to get an annual review), and I find them to have little to no value. They're either used to document behavior that's well understood or to create a paper trail to eventually terminate someone. And everyone is above average. So what's the point?

Well, at Ascendant we've grown to the point where we need to put in place things like annual reviews. And, like everything else we're doing here, we're trying to figure out a way to do it where it isn't just a waste of time. Where it can provide real value to both the employee and the manager. Where the time invested in doing the review pays dividends.

Now, I'm not going to say that we've found the holy grail of reviews, but for us, a big a-ha was that we needed to do two things in order to improve this process:

1) Look a leading indicators, not lagging indicators. Duh, right? We should be looking at what the employee could do, not what they did do. Yes, they filed all of their TPS reports on time. But that's table stakes. If they're not doing what they were hired to do, they shouldn't be working here. It's that simple. But what are they doing above and beyond? At the next grade or higher? If they're a new Associate, are they doing Consultant work? Are Consultants doing Manger work? Etc.

2) Building on #1, make the process a forward looking one, not a backward looking one. Yes, everyone does "development plans" as an annex to their performance reviews, but that's where the meat of the conversation should happen. Talk about the goals for the next year -- be they promotion, different work, areas that need growth, etc. Come to agreement about what excellence looks like, and how to get to it. And then (back to #1) put in place measures that evaluate it.

Finally, we realized that performance reviews are not just a point-in-time concept, but need to be part of an ongoing dialog about performance. Just like you need to look at your strategy and scorecard more than once a year, you need to look at your employee performance more than once a year. The cadence of these conversations will depend on the job and company, but trust me, once a year is too infrequent.

So, while I'm not yet a convert to employee evaluations, I'm starting to come around. Your thoughts?

Dylan, not to shamelessly plug my own solution (okay, a little), but we've been tackling this at my company, and developed a system in-house that shows a lot of promise. Struck with the same painful memories of performance reviews (from both sides of the table), we took a different tack. Rather than bundle feedback into a yearly review, we have a system that does deep data mining of the work you do on a daily basis looking for patterns. This way, we can monitor progress towards goals in real-time and call out positive qualities like helping teammates, doing quality work, or being a self-starter as we detect them in the data. It becomes a kind of automated employee recognition system and performance monitoring system at the same time. If your teams work on projects, maybe it will take some of the shock out of the yearly review. We just released it to the public here: http://propstoyou.com
# Posted By Alden Gannon | 7/8/12 8:19 PM
Annual are more than little to no value, they are destructive and a holdover from the school of non-involved non accountable management. The concept in today’s successful business environment is three fold, , have fun, do something that is worthwhile for yourself and society at large, and make money. I see it simply as The Person, The Planet, The Profit. If a group, team, company is not address ALL 3 then they are just going thru the motions waiting to be out of business or for the next job comes along. Annual reviews create non-beneficial stress and pain. Talking at an employee for 10 minutes about going over budget, personal phone calls, poor communication skills or having a messy desk 10 months after the problem was observed will only produce resentment, “players/employees” that simply go through the motions and “Gee, I guess I will be better next year”. Pain may be part of a “training opportunity” but it must be immediate and consistent with the behavior that caused the pain. It’s all about timing and the more immediate the review/pain; the lesser the pain/stimulus needs to be and the greater the acceptance of the stimulus/correction. A Plan for Failure is the thought process of, “We will wait to the annual reviews to see if we made any money this year and like working together.” What Bosses, Managers or “Coaches” are striving to achieve in their leadership is to help the members of their team achieve higher success, to “Win”. We accomplish that though behavior modification. To provide opportunities for behavior modification a Boss/Coach (Trainer) MUST provide immediate and consistent responses to activates, they have to observe and communicate. Coaches/Bosses must also be knowledgeable and specifically comprehend what they want their team to achieve. Third stimulus MUST be positive and that is a combination of the Big 3, We do something worthwhile, I enjoy what I do and We all make money. Annual reviews are not immediate or consistent nor are they typically positive and at the end of the day they only tell you that you failed.
# Posted By Bill Ray | 10/22/12 4:19 PM
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