Boss and employee in meeting

Ignore the performance management system

A better approach to annual reviews

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Boss and employee in meeting

There are human resource managers wincing as they read this headline.

How could we possibly recommend their performance management process, that took months to implement, be ignored?

Do we not know how inept the average line manager is at the annual review and therefore, how much hand-holding they need through a disciplined process that forces them to comply?

A question posed during a presentation by an Australian management expert, Dr Grant Donovan, highlights the flaw in performance management systems - “if performance management systems are such a good idea, why don’t we use them with our spouse?”.

As you attempt to answer this question, a cold chill runs down your spine as you contemplate the reaction of your spouse to “now dear, let’s talk about your performance over the past 12 months and set some goals for you for the year ahead” (good luck!!).

Annual or even six monthly performance management discussions fail because they don’t reflect the real world of the interactions between a manager and their staff.

If you are having daily contact with someone, why would you want, or need, to have a formal conversation about their performance?

As with any healthy marriage, your conversations throughout the year shape each other’s values, help you agree on joint goals, address any problems or respond to changed circumstances.

If you are not having these conversations, then your relationship with your spouse or staff member is likely to be shaky.

This does not address the human resource manager’s concern that many line managers simply don’t have these conversations, so some process needs to be put in place to force them to at least have one meeting on the topic with each member of their team.

Perhaps it is time for some alternative approaches because, despite the enduring nature of performance management systems, they don’t seem to be working.

One option is a coaching model where the line manager is shadowed for a period of time and coached on the missed opportunities for a performance discussion.

Another option is for the manager’s manager to make these ongoing performance conversations an explicit requirement of the manager’s role and then to provide the training and support to the manager to help them achieve this outcome.

One small step in the next 24 hours

Be your own coach and watch out for opportunities for you to have several micro-performance conversations with each member of your team throughout the day.

Use these opportunities to listen as well as talk, to ask questions as well as make statements.

Your listening and questioning will send as many messages about your performance expectations, as will your comments.

These conversations need not be overly formal. They could begin with a general question like “how’s business?”, followed by “which accounts are going well and not so well?”, “what’s getting in your way or hindering your ability to achieve more?”