Performance reviews have been getting some bad press with many high profile companies dropping the performance review cycle.
Why are organisations fleeing from this once-revered approach to development? Back in the old days, there was often total silence in terms of feedback. As a result, performance reviews were introduced to encourage people managers to have feedback conversations with their reports. This is surely a good thing to encourage, right? So what went wrong?
In some organisations, the actual review cycle didn’t bear much resemblance to the planned review cycle. Over years of consulting to various organisations, I’ve heard many tales of feedback woe ranging from non-existent or ineffective feedback to alternate silence and extreme volume.
Often any informal feedback conversations are only held when something goes wrong, and then the feedback is delivered at a volume of at least 90Db (i.e. shouting). So I think we can agree that these six or twelve monthly conversations are an improvement on nothing.
Where the schedule of performance reviews is followed, the issue seems to be what happens in between. In fact, many managers have been using the promise of a six or twelve monthly formal conversations as their excuse to avoid giving good feedback to their reports at any other time: frequent, informal, timely feedback as required. They hold it all back until the official meeting and pile it as high as a mountain.
Others pay no attention for 11½ months then scramble in the final week before the review meeting to think of things to say. Or blurt out.
Six monthly conversations are better than nothing, but people managers, let me break it to you gently, they are not good enough. And feedback delivered badly can be just as destructive as feedback not delivered at all.
The purpose of effective feedback
Banning the performance review is not the solution. If you’ll forgive me for using a well-worn phrase, performance reviews don’t kill people. Working in a vacuum kills people. Waiting six months, or even twelve months, to receive any feedback on work performance can feel like you’re being hung out to dry.
And an hour of developmental feedback delivered en masse? Even if you were the world’s most effective feedback giver, my self-esteem would have been pummelled onto the mat by the sheer volume, and I would find it seriously challenging to act on the feedback - to take it on board with an open heart and mind, prioritise it, and develop strategies to enhance the performance gaps. Which is the purpose of effective feedback after all.
If the purpose of feedback is development, then effective feedback will focus on the needs of the receiver. How can managers deliver an insight into their report’s behaviour that will be considered, accepted and acted upon?
Equipping and supporting managers with the right skills, knowledge and courage to have performance development conversations so they feel more confident to have them more frequently. Which, in doing so, creates a high-performance, continuous development, learning environment culture.
The skill of giving feedback
Giving feedback is a skill which takes learning and practice to become accomplished in. It’s not always a skill we are born with or learn before we rise through the ranks to a people leadership position. Nor is it a skill that we always see role-modelled par excellence in those who lead us.
I wouldn’t recommend jumping in at the deep end by practising on your unsuspecting reports. The consequences of feedback given badly can have negative impact on your staff and your business. As can the consequences of feedback not given at all.
Silence is not an option. Doing nothing will encourage a culture of stagnation, or worse, may drive away good people who want to strive to improve.
What’s the solution?
Performance reviews are innocent. They are a victim of that tried and tested management approach of changing a process to fix a development problem. More process, more forms, more meetings won’t increase the frequency and quality of managers’ performance conversations with their staff.
The focus needs to be on developing the skill of delivering feedback well and the practice of coaching to improve any performance issues.
Managers who are confident and competent in delivering quality feedback will have frequent, respectful, constructive, performance-enhancing conversations with their staff, and understand how to coach for increased engagement and learning with or without a yearly performance review framework.
How prepared are you for the next performance conversation with your team?
Join MFG's Feedback and Coaching Skills for Managers program in Melbourne 8 September 2016, or Sydney on 15 September 2016.