Fixing the Annual Performance Review – I Recommend More Work for HR Folks

Paul Hebert Culture, Generations, Paul Hebert, Performance, Retention

Dig2 While HR may not be the one doing all the work each year, traditionally they are the "cops" that track and manage it.  The "it" I'm referring to is the annual performance appraisal.  While the individual manager is typically responsible for their team's individual reviews, the HR folks are the ones checking their list twice to make sure every employee gets their appraisal and their salary review on their anniversary date or, in some companies, at the same time each year for all employees within a group.  But, if you want to be seen as a strategic partner – I think you need to redefine the performance review and be the policy "decider" not the policy "defender."  And here's one thought on where you can start.

Use Multiple Time Lines

Charles Green at the Trust Matters blog had a discussion a while back on the process universities go through to determine tenure for its professors and teachers.  The question Mr. Green discussed was …is tenure an outmoded concept?  From the post …

"Is academic tenure an outdated haven for non-performing professors stuck in narrow, irrelevant silos, crying out for the clear air of market discipline?

Or does the onslaught of 'pay for performance' in academia just encourage 'teach to test' and degrade intellectual curiosity?

Not much of a choice, is it? And have you stopped beating your wife?"

The post was discussing the fact that annual reviews of professors (the antithesis of tenure) would…in Mr. Green's words…

  "suborn short-term politicking, brown-nosing, teaching-to-test, and self-promoting schemes for 'customer' satisfaction ('customers' here meaning students and administration). Integration and holistic views take a back seat to self-preservation.

Wow.  Let's turn that thought onto our employees… we don't want self-promoting schemes and we do want them thinking about the enterprise as a whole and what they can do to move the whole forward. 

When I read it, I immediately thought of the process most companies go through with their annual employee reviews.  Does the annual review suborn more "me" thinking and less "we" thinking?  Add to that the ongoing concophany of voices saying today's Generation Y workforce needs more, faster performance information.  Does that just exacerbate the "me" thinking?  Will constant performance reviews create an even bigger challenge for employers wanting to retain top performers?

Hello rock – meet hard place.

It's not about today – and it's not about last year

I think we need to redefine performance reviews and create a two-tier performance metric - one that is short-term, and one that is long-term.  We can debate the length of short and long – but the concept is… 

If our audience wants more feedback, more often – then let's institutionalize it, and make it part of the plan.  But, if the real goal is to develop longer-term relationships with our top performers, we also need a longer-term metric that adequately presents the individual's total performance.  We need both short and long-term measures.

So, from an HR perspective we should lobby for quick, up-to-date, performance "check-ins' that can be juxtaposed with long-term (annual and bi-annual?) metrics in order to create a more rounded view of the employee.

I don't know about you, but I'd hate to think that my 20+ year relationship with my wife was based on last week's inability to remember to pick up milk – nor would I expect that all the years of doing the right thing should overshadow a huge recent indiscretion on either of our parts (purely hypothetical folks!)

As a close for this post, I leave you with another excerpt from Mr. Green's discussion:

"As to motivation, the annual threat of unemployment is like hammering a nail with a sledgehammer. It works so well it smashes the nail.

The great thing about tenure is it permits a team-based, integrated view of things because it lasts more than a year. There's a limit to how short you can make a meaningful relationship and still call it a relationship. It’s ironic that “modern” business insists on applying a single ancient pagan harvest-based unit of time to all things temporal. Why not change tenure to 6.43 years?"

If we want long-term, quality individuals who perform at their best each day, we should be looking at both measures.  I know it might seem like more work – but hey – that's why they pay us.