By all means ditch the Annual Appraisal, but please let’s not stop reviewing performance!

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Like a House of cards

Lately I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting it’s time to abandon performance reviews, claiming they’re a tired relic of 20thcentury manual-work that has no relevance to today’s knowledge-work environments.

There are certainly some obvious problems: how to ensure managers’ views of Excellent, Average,etc are the same; how to link the outcomes to pay without destroying motivation and how to stop staff and managers bending the system to suit themselves. (I worked with a company a couple of years back where someone told me that the staff pooled their Force Ranked bonuses and then redistributed them evenly amongst themselves!)

It’s also true that many managers and leaders can lack the skill or the inclination to conduct effective review conversations, as beautifully captured in the classic “Keith’s Appraisal” scene in The Office https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkYUDQCYGHA

According to an article I found on Forbes from Jan 18 some 35 out of 37 managers would happily give up performance reviews and this is what makes me nervous, because I wonder what they’ll do instead.

Whilst I whole heartedly agree that formalised Annual Appraisal type systems are largely outdated and pretty ineffective, I cannot agree that it is not a useful business process to review performance in an effort to understand what’s going well and what’s going less well.

In my experience, people need five key questions answered as they consider their work performance:

  • What is my job?
  • How well do I have to do it?
  • How am I doing?
  • How have I done?
  • What’s next?

But answering these does not require endless forms (or their electronic equivalent), hours of time in meeting rooms, or complex consistency checks by senior management.

In fact, an annual appraisal is simple if we’ve held regular one to ones, which are easy if we coach regularly, which we can do readily if we talk to our teams often, which we can do if we’re out of our cubicles and engaging regularly around the five questions above.

In that way, even if we do have to follow some kind of organisational process, we can get through it quickly knowing that the valuable stuff has already happened.

I’d be really keen to hear from anyone who’s swapped a formal appraisal system from an informal review approach and seen great results.

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