Do you remember your last review? If you do, chances are it’s not a good memory. The whole event probably left you feeling anxious and helpless. If you received a positive review or a raise that felt good, you still probably wondered, “What about next time? I wonder if I can keep this pace up. What if my boss changes? What happens if I have a couple of off days now?” If your last review was a negative experience, you are probably feeling stressed, unhappy and not sure of what you can do to finally make the boss happy with your performance. Meanwhile, you might worry that others will get all of the new opportunities because you have had a “bad” review. After all, you remember HR saying that those employees who receive a “bad” review are no longer able to transfer to new jobs. In addition, you received a 1.5% raise because of what your boss labeled “poor performance,” so there goes your planned family vacation this summer. Sound familiar?
It should, since many large organizations run a similar annual performance review process. There are different reasons why this process even exists. Senior management will likely tell you it’s to keep people accountable and separate “the winners” from “the losers” or “low performers.” HR professionals will stress the need for a process to reward and punish fairly — but the reality is different.
According to my observations, people on the receiving end of the review do the opposite of what is expected. They start to enjoy their work less and feel like children in a job prison. The wise leader would eliminate non-value added processes like ranking and rating. Microsoft announced that they are moving in this direction to create a more collaborative workforce. Yet other companies such as Intel, with their macho ranking and rating processes, continue. Yahoo does too — with a similar process that has left employees feeling scared and confused. Does this impact business results? Of course it does. Over time, people decide that going the extra mile is no longer worth the effort or risk!
In my opinion, the annual review creates a parent-child relationship at work between boss and employee. The whole process is too focused on past performance versus future development. Worse, salary increases are linked to performance evaluation and this is largely left up to the subjective views of the organization and merit allocation from HR.
Adults do better with positive feedback
One thing that many leaders don’t consider is the fact that adults are more open to feedback if it is positive and forward-looking versus punitive, evaluative, and past-oriented. Many managers will admit they don’t really like to write the annual performance review — just as people don’t like receiving them. In many firms, for example, the annual evaluation ritual takes place between November and January. During the first two months, managers are busy figuring out what to write while trying to interpret the HR guidelines of the month. Then around the first of the year, everyone is busy either giving or receiving reviews. In the end, it is a complete waste of time. Morale is lower, bad feelings rise and overall productivity is stagnant until about March when the pain of the review wears off.
First, leaders and their followers should sit down on a regular basis to agree on goals and how they will measure progress. There should be both formal and informal communication. I think it’s a good idea to write down goals and progress without writing down feedback or evaluations. As adults, we are more receptive to feedback when it is orally communicated with our best interests in mind. We are not so receptive when this performance message is written down and kept in our files. HR professionals will argue that this record keeping is necessary for legal reasons just in case there are issues later. This reminds me of a prenuptial agreement just in case something goes wrong. These relationships are doomed from the start with a defensive position versus one of trust, acceptance and integrity.
Coaching and the humanistic culture
Through coaching, open communication and development-focused relationships at work, people will find joy in their jobs and thrive. The work culture will be more open and will encourage creativity and collaboration. No longer will the threat of punishment or the promise of reward be held over anyone’s head. Some forward-thinking leaders are starting to change their approaches after seeing that the nature of work and relationships have changed. They see a better path to profit which starts with putting people first. These days, people expect more out of their work and will only remain engaged in a work culture where they feel energized and authentic.
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