Dumbing Down Performance Reviews

By Ronald M. Katz

I’m tired of people who talk about getting rid of performance appraisals.

It seems like every time you turn around there’s another article in the New York Times or Forbes arguing to do away with them. The usual reasons are that managers hate doing them, don’t do them in a timely manner, and that they have little connection to the work being done.

In an ideal world, managers would manage performance throughout the year, offer timely and consistent feedback, and ensure that both goals and feedback were aligned with and supported organizational goals. I think we can all agree that if this were done throughout an organization, it would have a positive effect on employee engagement, morale, productivity and the bottom line.

You may also think this is about as likely as an ostrich winning the Kentucky Derby.

So it seems the go-to solution is to shelve performance management and evaluations completely. But since when do we stop doing something that we know can be good for business just because it’s hard and our managers don’t like it?

This is what I call the dumbing down of performance management.

How about instead of complaining about performance management practices and how poorly they are executed, we start doing them right? How about training our managers to do their jobs better because managing people is the most important part of a manager’s job.

Let’s start holding managers accountable for properly completing their responsibilities. If we make performance management a significant element of the managers’ performance appraisal, you know they’d make sure they did this better instead of just complaining about it.

An organization I worked with created this incentive. Completing effective performance management was a full 25 percent of the manager’s overall rating. Managers had to complete a defined list of activities throughout the year to demonstrate their support and adherence to the program. Included was attending a one-day program on managing performance followed by a half-day program on delivering feedback.

One key simulation was delivering a less-than-stellar appraisal to a technically adept employee who lacked the strategic skills to function as part of a team. While the “employee” achieved personal goals, he failed to support the manager and other staff. Based on this, the manager could not give an overall “meets standards” to an employee who had reached all his quantitative goals.

By emphasizing the importance of performing all aspects of the job to managers, they were then able to impart this to employees. Communication, feedback and performance improved at all sites.

If an organization is serious about improving performance, it needs to send a clear message that it’s serious about performance management. This means taking the following steps:

• Have a visible champion among senior management, someone who has the respect of his or her peers and a reputation for getting the most out of the staff.

• Implement a rigorous, year-round performance management process that clearly outlines the steps a manager is expected to complete at every step of the process. No “check the box” forms.

• Train managers on how to follow and implement the process. The best tool is useless, even dangerous, if people don’t know how to use it.

• Monitor both managers’ and employees’ compliance and support of the process.

• Measure the performance of the departments and their productivity as an indicator of the success with which the manager has implemented the process. Departmental performance is a more accurate indicator of a manager’s performance than the performance of any one individual. It also creates better teamwork within the department.

When a process like this is in place and adhered to, you’ll see a marked improvement in the organization’s performance.

So instead of complaining that performance appraisals don’t work and are a waste of time, put that same energy into developing a plan that improves performance appraisals. Let’s start doing them right.

About the Author:

Ronald M. Katz is president of Penguin Human Resource Consulting, which delivers training and consults on performance management. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

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