The one in defence of appraisal

Over the past few weeks I’ve read a few things (and sorry I can’t find all the links) slating the idea of performance review or appraisal – whatever you want to call it. I do remember a piece from the Harvard Business Review blogs where the Chief Human Resources Officer of Lear (you know, them what make the posh planes) rails against linking performance review to pay.  There’s a few things in there I really take issue with…

Performance reviews that are tied to compensation create a blame-oriented culture – not my experience and I think he’s missing the word ‘can’ but he goes on to say…

It’s well known that they reinforce hierarchy, undermine collegiality, work against cooperative problem solving, discourage straight talk, and too easily become politicized. They’re self-defeating and demoralizing for all concerned  – my favourite expression ‘it is well known’ up there with ‘they told me’. I think by collegiality he means teamwork (but I had to Google it) and by cooperative problem solving again I think he means teamwork or maybe collaboration. Again not my experience but if the goals they are incentivising don’t promote teamwork then of course the incentive will fail but I digress…

Even high performers suffer, because when their pay bumps up against the top of the salary range, their supervisors have to stop giving them raises, regardless of achievement. Which to me appears to be a problem cocktail of comp & ben, career paths, succession and development

Anyway to summarise it seems in his view (a caveat he seems unable to use) they are bad bad bad and beastly.

My experience of performance review and it’s link to pay is quite different from Mr. DiDonto as some of the biggest turning points of my career have come from performance review both in the positive and negative but by linking performance to pay an organisation puts something into performance management that is otherwise absent: oversight. It’s very difficult to tell someone how great they are and give them a poor performance pay review – they may notice and more than likely they’ll mention it to someone else.

I must admit having read and reread the original blog post it seems to me not to point towards decoupling pay and performance but rather two rather significant issues.

The first issue is cultural – if you have a culture that supports politics, poor feedback, silo working and hierarchical behaviour then I would suggest it’s not the performance review that needs work – it’s the culture.

The second issue is one of my current favourites – that managers are implementing processes correctly and/or aren’t having good performance discussions. The idea that managers need (not just want but need) development is not a new one but it seems to be increasingly overlooked. If you promote someone to a supervisory or management role and just let them loose it’s likely or just possible they will emulate the behaviour of those they’ve seen around them.

If your managers aren’t having challenging performance conversations or at least regular performance conversations it’s probably because that’s the way they’ve been managed. Rather than throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the bath TRAIN people in how to have effective performance conversations and support them to have them regularly and effectively – they’ll see the benefit for themselves.

The idea of a formalised performance review isn’t cool, sexy, fun or anything Zappos would do (who have just removed their managers to form communities) but if you train and support managers to realise that having regular decent performance conversations that ACTUALLY help their team members know how they are getting on then the idea of summarising it once or twice a year will be no big deal. Reframe performance management away from something that you do because HR tell you or because it’s the way to get a pay rise and you may be surprised at the results.

Anyway to summarise – if the process ain’t working look behind what’s causing it not to work don’t assume it’s the process that’s wrong (oh and train your managers – please!)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The one in defence of appraisal

  1. Pingback: A million small things | change-effect

  2. Its my experience that performance reviews drive good performance so I would say they should stay.

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