During a webinar I attended recently, the presenter said that none of his clients use performance reviews anymore because everyone wants feedback more quickly and more often.
In other words, you can provide regular feedback during the year or you can provide it once a year during the performance review. When did the two become mutually exclusive?
This presenter isn’t the only one with that perspective. The CEO of Accenture said essentially the same thing in a 2015 interview, when he announced the elimination of performance appraisals at his company.
Here’s part of what he said:
“If you put this new generation in the box of the performance management we’ve used the last 30 years, you lose them. We’re done with the famous annual performance review, where once a year I’m going to share with you what I think about you. That doesn’t make any sense.
Performance is an ongoing activity. It’s every day, after any client interaction or business interaction or corporate interaction. It’s much more fluid. People want to know on an ongoing basis, am I doing right? Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I’m progressing? Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback. Now it’s all about instant performance management.”
He’s certainly right: performance is an ongoing activity. But if the employees at Accenture actually received performance feedback just once a year, Accenture would have been out of business a long time ago. It isn’t.
That’s because delivering feedback to employees has nothing to do with changing the performance review process or eliminating it entirely.
Do managers deliver feedback as often as many employees would like? No.
But it’s difficult to see how doing an annual performance review is a barrier to providing feedback when it is needed.
Talk to some managers and you’ll find there usually are two reasons they don’t provide feedback as often as desired:
- providing feedback is an add-on to an already busy schedule. It’s not part of the regular work process. Or, to put it another way, it’s not important enough for senior management to insist that it be part of the regular work process.
- most managers don’t like having those discussions and do their best to avoid them. It doesn’t matter that the company spent a lot of money training managers how to coach.
If organizations want managers to focus on ongoing performance management, then that is where effort should be focused.
Blaming the performance review process for the lack of regular performance feedback is a distraction.
This is not to say that the performance review process works well; generally, it doesn’t. There are many reasons – from the enormous amount of time it takes to prepare to questionable ratings to unsatisfying and awkward discussions. There’s lots to fix if you want to. If managers actually had regular performance management discussions and documented the results, much of that could go away.
But you can’t fix something you don’t understand. Performance reviews and performance management are separate processes. Performance management should feed into and support the performance review. Usually performance reviews happen once a year. And, as the CEO says, you can’t really manage someone’s performance by providing feedback once a year. That’s why you have performance management.
To get managers to actually have regular feedback discussions, organizations must
- Establish regular performance feedback as an expectation. Reward it when it happens.
- Senior management should model the behavior – expressing expectations isn’t enough
- Provide an easy to use format like After Action Reviews or Plan Do Check Act
- Design work so that performance discussions (what went well; what needs to work better) are a normal part of getting work done. Project work lends itself to this approach. So do OKRs.
- Or, if you’re not doing project work, have the manager and employee set up work assignments in such a way that there is a debrief scheduled regularly to capture lessons learned and what to do about them.
- Follow-up on the results of the debrief. If development is needed, provide it. If a change in work process(es) is needed, figure that out and implement it. Then follow-up. If you don’t, the feedback will be a waste of time.
Performance management is not the performance review process.
The results of performance management should feed into and support the performance review.
Providing a summary of someone’s performance for the previous 12 months is not an effective substitute for performance feedback related to a current project or assignment.
If senior management actually wants managers to provide regular feedback to employees, establish the expectation, model the behavior, and focus your efforts using the steps outlined above.