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Hardly a week goes by without another article about how performance management is changing and how the annual appraisal is dead. Indeed, I blogged about my own thoughts on this around a year ago.

In this blog for The HR Director I’ll update you on what happened after that blog and how my thoughts have developed since, and what that might mean if you’re having similar discussions at work.

Last year I said I was about to start having what I was calling “big conversations” in my workplace to find out what people wanted from a PM system and whether my own thoughts were workable.

I met with some apathy and in some cases cynicism for even asking. I believe in empowerment and true, wide and transparent communication and consultation, with employee involvement throughout and a strong voice for managers.

But the culture wasn’t used to this and many employees didn’t trust me for talking to them, and stayed away in the most part, some of whom were content to snipe in the background. Those who did come were small in number but open in their thinking, although not used to being asked for their ideas. They were used to being told what was going to change or happen and being asked for their views on it, but not to give their input into something that was still embryonic and to help the organisation develop it.

When I tested my ideas with the small groups they were received fairly neutrally and with curiosity but I got the impression that if I’d said my ideas were to manage PM through corporal punishment and writing lines that these ideas would also have been met with a fairly neutral but curious response.

For manager consultation I started with a survey which got an extremely high response rate and which backed up my own developing views entirely. In short, the annual appraisal was only useful for career discussions and had no bearing on any other process or discernible impact on performance.

I followed this up with a focus group of managers and I shared a case study I’d heard at #cipdace16 where CJ Green from Servest talked about ditching the annual appraisal. My main takeaway from this was that Green observed her desire to ditch the appraisal was almost a personal crusade and she hadn’t fully respected the views of others who liked it, and therefore empowered all managers to create their own PM system or keep the appraisal, but in either situation be totally accountable for performance and be able to demonstrate that their chosen system contributed to it.

This, I thought, was brilliant. When I asked for views about how this might work, and despite this chiming with views expressed via the survey, the reaction was mixed at best. Despite acknowledging the weaknesses of the annual appraisal, it was held to as a comfort blanket and no one had clear ideas what they’d like to do in its stead other than perhaps change the timings of annual appraisals.

My own views continued to develop also and I built the outline of a system for PM. Here are the objectives for the system that:

Will deliver better performance through improved employee engagement and motivation.
Will make managers accountable for the performance of their staff.
Allows for continuous quality conversations to take place that are owned by both manager and employee, and therefore contributes to cultural change and improvement.
Is able to evidence performance management taking place whilst making the actual process simple and transparent.
Brings together multiple sources of data thereby giving a holistic view of performance.
That gives senior leaders the confidence that performance management is taking place by making it visible
That is linked to and supports corporate objectives and values

In essence it was one single record for each employee, able to be updated/edited by the employee and their manager at any point – but held centrally and drawing together multiple sources of data – a continuous record of individual performance and conversations to manage that performance, updated as a live document by both manager and staff.   The various sub-sections it would contain could all be updated separately throughout the year as and when the need arises, providing an instant snapshot live view of the individuals’ performance.  Individuals and managers would be expected to meet regularly to “check in” at agreed frequencies with parts or all of the record, and update any aspects as required.

To my pleasant surprise, I discovered multiple and completely tailorable software systems that could completely automate this system, and so the software was not being used to drive and design the system but more the other way round.

And yet this system didn’t get implemented. Again the organisational culture wasn’t ready.

So why are organisations continuing to struggle with ditching the annual appraisal despite the available wealth of evidence supporting a move to a more continual and integrated approach to PM?

Cultures often still are years away from that kind of shift
Organisations sometimes don’t wholly trust or have faith in the skills of their managers to be empowered to manage in such ways. In particular, many senior leaders don’t want to relinquish control or oversight of individual performance management, which prevents them focussing wholly on more strategic issues
Employees may want or like to have no control over what happens- possibly coasting along without rigorous PM
Systems in use may not have the ability to talk to each other or present performance information in a coherent format
Behavioural data may be hard to come by but may be the main thing that needs to change
There’s often concern about the time needed to manage a PM system vs the time needed to actually manage performance, and some can’t see a way forward because of this
The issue of whether to link performance to reward is still a thorny and divisive one

And I think these things are widespread, not limited to one particular organisation or sector.

My view now is that it’s better to work on the bulletpoints above before attempting to ditch the annual appraisal – I’ve learnt that over recent times.  The best system in the world on paper won’t work unless you’ve tackled the issues I’ve mentioned above.

Its like putting the cart before the horse.

Until then, we’re stuck with the annual appraisal, foibles and all.

Gary

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