Performance Reviews tend to have a bad reputation and companies are quick to make them extinct if they think they are causing more harm than good. Business leaders change performance processes hoping to get a different result, only to create another issue. It’s not unlike one of the definitions of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
After working in organizations with varying performance systems, I’ve concluded it is not the review system that is doing damage, as much as it is the intention and belief system behind it.
One of my clients, a large university department, switched their performance rating from the numbering system (e.g., 3 = meet expectations) to a qualitative system, in which employees receive ratings of either Fully Successful Performance (FSP) or Coaching for Success (CFS). This was after exploring their beliefs and acknowledging using the system as a means of “getting rid of underperforming employees.”
This change opened the door for more honest and less defensive dialogue. The conversations between the employee and the leader modeled the Appreciative Inquiry method developed at the Case Western University Department of Organizational Behavior. This change also gave employees more autonomy over their evaluations, resulting in increased employee accountability, productivity, and positively influenced the workplace culture (e.g., trust, interpersonal relationships, loyalty).
The most effective performance evaluations incorporate the following:
Language grounded in a belief system and intention for success
Performance reviews are often designed, written, and delivered to send a message according to the employee that “everything I’m doing is wrong,” leaving them feeling micromanaged or incompetent. Providing evaluations that allow for conversations between the leader and employee imprints a message of accountability and trust.
Clarity of outcomes
Often performance evaluations are a list of tasks or functions, which can be interpreted differently by the employee and the supervisor. Having clear and measurable outcomes (key performance expectations to be produced), as well as, competencies (what skills they need to achieve the outcome) allow for an easier and more directed conversation.
Have more frequent conversations about performance (good and bad), but not as a replacement for the formal performance conversation. Satisfaction surveys show that employees want more immediate and frequent feedback; being blind-sided at a scheduled interview about a behavior that they could have corrected creates frustration and distrust. Allowing for more frequent conversations about performance improves employee-leader relationships.
Provide training using the new performance review system and allow employees and leaders the opportunity to practice in order to become more proficient.
What leaders believe plays a significant role in the implementation of this conversational approach. The leadership team’s beliefs about performance evaluations, employees, and accountability all impact the process. Working with them to identify and build awareness about whether these beliefs benefit the evaluation process often creates a shift to a conversation-based evaluation process and a more positive work environment.
A culture of accountability, not a punitive one, which most organizations unconsciously possess, requires a leadership team to be capable of balancing employee interests (genuinely care), workplace culture (an exciting place to work), and productivity (organizational goals).
Making these adjustments was a much better approach rather than “giving up” on the performance review system. If your organization really wants to change, it starts within and with a willingness to take these necessary steps to create a system that works.