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So, performance management. A subject that’s very close to my heart. Here I’m going to share what I’ve seen of performance management in different organisations, share some of the stuff I see that’s not helping, and invite you to join me in asking how we could make this better.

So what purpose do performance appraisals serve?

Some organisations use it for everything –
1) assessment of performance to decide whether formal performance improvement measures are needed
2) discussion about future development needs
3) annual performance reviews to inform pay rises and / or bonus payments
4) career / promotion decisions
5) talent development programme appointments
6) redundancy selection decisions
7) a measure of success of stuff – e.g. change programmes, learning interventions
8) any more that you know of….?

And then some use it for just one thing –
1) to force managers to have conversations with their teams about how they’re doing – the bit of paper proves it!

I have a problem with all of it.

It goes without saying that I have a problem with the second type of organisation. To have a process and a piece of paper to compensate for something else just isn’t good enough. If managers aren’t having good, regular conversations with their team members about what the work is and how they’re doing then there’s another solution needed there – improve your hiring solutions to hire managers who can and want to have great conversations and/or improve your training solutions to develop managers’ emotional intelligence while having them connected to the reason WHY these conversations are important.

But these solutions are still just treating a symptom of a much more fundamental problem.

Because I also have a problem with the first type of organisation – and in fact with the whole idea of performance appraisals!

No matter how you dress it up, if an outcome of your performance appraisal is that it could affect your pay, your job security, your promotion opportunities…., then these aren’t going to be good, HONEST conversations. The subtext WILL affect behaviour.

Some people might feel under threat of what could happen, going into a protective, defensive mode, not showing themselves at their best. Cowering from, or fighting for, their position depending on their preferred freeze, fight or flight response.

Some people might feel it’s a chance to shine, going into peacock mode when the boss is around, and especially in their appraisal meeting. Showing themselves as much more than their best actually is. Putting on a great show that the manager buys into. And which then drives the rest of the team crazy when they see said person making no difference to the work – day in, day out.

And these responses might be subtle in some people, but they’re there.

Interestingly, whichever behaviour type people fall into, you can see one classic symptom – the “cc” syndrome! People who feel they need to protect, defend or show off are all likely to fall into the “cc” syndrome trap. Copying all and sundry into every email. This will give them either security that there’s evidence of what they’ve done, or a stage on which they can show off some more, depending on their preferred behavioural position.

And of course the “cc” syndrome will give everyone else extra work. Including extra work for the managers – which then takes them away from having great conversations with their teams!

So, for me, this performance appraisal stuff is not working. What we’re doing today – it’s just not working.

Yes, there are great business reasons why you’d want to know how people are doing. Definitely. I definitely get that and I see that continuing. I think….

But I really don’t believe the way we’re doing it is right.

There has to be something better.

There has to be something which meets the needs of the organisation and the individuals. And in a way which means the people involved don’t feel like it’s a load of extra work, where they don’t feel like they’re being falsely scrutinised, where they don’t feel the need to behave differently from who they really are just to survive or to get on.

And there’s something out there. Something that considers the neuroscience insights about how people will respond at their best. Something that considers the levels of emotional intelligence of managers. Something that focuses on strengths, not weaknesses. Something that has a grounding in coaching. Something that grows people and that has their best interests at heart – even if that best interest is for them to leave. Something that balances the relationship into an adult-adult one. And something that might meet the needs of that long list of ‘purpose’ reasons above – but it might not – there might be other ways for those things to be done too.

So I have an ambition to start a performance appraisal revolution. I have an ambition for the UK to be a world-leader in changing what is currently called ‘best practice’ (but which is actually ‘rubbish practice’) into ‘amazing-future-focused-agile-relevant-commercial practice’.

Want to join in and be part of it?

If so, make a start by asking yourself and those around you – most definitely including asking those outside of HR –
What PURPOSE does your performance appraisal process serve?
How does it help your business to do business?
Is it working?
How do you know?
How does it get in the way?
How else can this stuff be done?
How else can this stuff REALLY be done?
Throw out the handbooks, the toolkits, the rules, the beliefs, the traditions.
How else can this stuff REALLY, REALLY be done?

Performance Appraisals

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