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As we begin to re-imagine a new, better normal and assess how work evolution has been accelerated by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many of the traditional foundations on which employment have been based for generations, look medieval and none more-so than the cornerstone of Performance Management, the dreaded annual performance review.

Clearly it has no place in the present and future frame and arguably, was never fit for purpose. Few would argue that performance reviews were anything other than an anathema to the spirit of creativity and collaboration. But by far the greatest negative of annual reviews was the blunt instrument of either financial rewards for positive or punitive action for negative. In the evolving world of collaborative effort and knowledge share, the reality is that contribution is far more complex, nuanced and discretionary.

So, what is the future of performance management as the world of work transitions into a new era? Lockdown introduced an important dynamic to the employee relationship, with businesses over- communicating messages of trust and value, regularly adjusting performance objectives and priorities, in line with the uncertainty that was in play and unlocking a new level of transparency.

Where firms responded to remote working with technology that can measure performance objectives in real-time, this set the PM framework for the future. So, in this issue we ask; what changes need to be made to performance reviews in a remote-working world? How have performance goals and metrics changed due to the pandemic and, in the new framework of performance reviews, what now should be measured?

The ‘New Normal’ has opened up many questions within our working lives. What changes to we need to bring about to make remote working a true success? How do we systemise these new ways of working? What measures can we put in place to manage the performance of a team we cannot see, and whose goals have changed?

An individual’s contribution to a team is far more complex than numbers and pound signs, so it’s important that we recognise this while maintaining performance and keeping our team engaged.

Traditional Performance Reviews are outdated – it’s time for revolution! Gone are the days of the one sided ‘conversation’ that was the hallmark of the once-a-year review, where which either rewarded the employee with a bonus or pay rise, or punished them with more regular reviews and disciplinary measures.

However, the truth is that the total abolishment of any sort of formal review, no matter how much trepidation they cause, is a demotivating thing to do. As humans we crave(actively or passively) praise, reward and recognition – when this is genuine and deserved, it boosts our self esteem and creates a sense of drive – and we need feedback to grow and develop, to improve the level of our financial recompense, to fulfil our potential.

Removing performance reviews all together would result in employees drifting through their working life from one task to the next  – their only goal to tick things off their to-do list and get through the day. Challenge is important both for well-being and for the success of your business.

They new normal has forced many business owners to question the trust they have in their team. Trust that they’ll work effectively in their remote workspace. Trust that they’ll take pride in their work and ownership for their role. Trust that they’ll continue to contribute to the team and demonstrate its shared values.

But trust is a tall order for many business owners and managers who have always relied on command and control – on the micro-management of their very visible team.

As leaders, our first task therefore, is to take a step back and analyse our own behaviour. Do we really trust our team to perform to our high standards?  Have we given them the training, the feedback, and the resources they need to take ownership for their role? Do we recognise and value their contribution to the team – and do we tell them that we do?

Secondly, we need to make sure that everyone’s roles and responsibilities have been formally updated to reflect any changes that we’ve made due to the pandemic. We can’t measure or review performance if we’re not all clear about what’s meant to be done, and by who.

Thirdly, we need to set, or review both individual and team targets – both in terms of what we want them to deliver (the quantifiable measures) and how we want them to go about their work (the more subjective measures). 

A review which looks at

 – their individual performance and achievement of both personal and team targets

 – their contribution to the team, and

 – their day to day demonstration of the team/business values

will give every employee the holistic feedback which not only makes them a valuable team member, but also a well-rounded and confident human being.

From a timing point of view, we want to be giving feedback whenever it is needed – both for things that haven’t been done to standard, and for things that have been done well.  Communication is absolutely crucial in building a team – even more so when that team is remote – and feedback is a key part of that regular, ongoing communication.

With formal 1:1 reviews or How’s It Going chats, every quarter is the ideal timeframe, in line with your 90 day goals; giving you the opportunity to review the achievements and lessons learned from one quarter, and plan for what can be achieved in the next; building a culture of continuous improvement; developing a learning environment that benefits the individual, as well as the business.

So while we can dismiss the annual performance review as an outdated anachronism, we must be careful not to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’, as my mother used to say.  Our aim should be to create a learning environment in our business, where two-way communication is the norm, and where both informal and formal feedback are focused on inspiring and motivating every team member to improve their performance and fulfil their potential.

Marianne Page, Director – Marianne Page Ltd

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