I have read several articles lately regarding how some companies are abandoning performance reviews. If you are in leadership the performance review is often the thing that you look forward to the most - kidding! The reality is that this process is often cumbersome because the very concept is packed with emotional baggage or is something that sneaks up on us even though we know it happens at the same time(s) each year.
In a Forbes article Eric Jackson highlights some of the more common issues around performance reviews and I want to look at just a few. I want to group them into a couple of basic categories and do a short examination of each.
Often the process of performance reviews are a.) too vague or leaders b.) don't prepare. I suspect these are connected. If you are not sure about what you are looking for or what the company expects from you as a leader regarding performance reviews, then avoidance and lack of preparation shouldn't surprise anyone. What are the kpi's? What is considered good performance and what is not and how do I rate that? Why didn't I try to track these things more consistently or make more notes? Even when I was working with a company that taught teams how to create and track performance metrics my leader walked me through a perfunctory review that was not based on anything related to performance metrics! Needless to say it was an interesting discussion with a lot of "let's just get this done and move on." Sound familiar?
It's All Good, Until it's Not!
This concept involves a few common issues. Jackson writes about the "Recency Effect" where leaders conducting the reviews lean far too much on recent recollections rather that a larger body of indicators. When this happens emotional baggage can get in the way. Few of us like to be criticized and thus we find it difficult to be critical in our reviews of others. Tag on this potential bonus implications or company expectations of "bell curve" results and you get conversations that go something like this; "You've done a good job but I can't give you a perfect score." Or you look for something in recent memory that you can cite as needing improvement so that the review looks balanced.
Unfortunately, this creates too many scenarios where employees go along believing that all is good until suddenly they are fired. Festering issues or minor irritations finally reach critical mass and by then it is too late for the employee to do anything about it. Well-meaning as it may be to gloss over an issue in a review the greatest disrespect we give to our staff is to not be honest with them about their performance and thereby deprive them of the opportunity to fix it.
Can Metrics Play A Role?
I believe that this is where metrics can play a role in bringing clarity to the whole review process and alleviate some of these issues. There are several things that can really help bring clarity to your process; working with your team to help them develop their own kpi's linked (clearly) to company goals and targets, ensuring that they are tracking those metrics daily and taking time regularly to allow them to report on progress and issues.
This approach won't solve all the challenges with performance reviews but it will cover a lot. You will have opportunity to provide recognition for work well done and provide input to address things that need improvement. You will have a much larger data set to draw from regarding assessment and both you and your team will know exactly what is being measured and have clarity around performance. Setting it up will take a bit of time but what it saves you in terms of staying in front of performance for your team will more than compensate for the time invested. Performance Leadership - Think About it!