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    Five alternatives to the traditional performance review

    June 28, 2016 by Alison Hill

    I asked a millennial a straightforward question: ‘Have you ever had a performance review?’ ‘Yes, and it sucked’, he replied.

    He’s a motivated, engaged worker who routinely exceeds his monthly targets, so I’m sure it wasn’t his rating he was unhappy with; it was the process. We know it needs to change; after all, the workplace has changed profoundly in the last decade. We make decisions more collaboratively, we work in global teams, our work is more data-driven and information overload is a constant stressor.

    This young person described his ideal alternative to a performance review to me and it boiled down to three things:

    • Coaching and mentoring to help him reach his own goals
    • A clear understanding of the organisation’s goals and how he is expected to meet them
    • A fair and balanced assessment of how he is doing, from a range of perspectives

    And while these are all really important to him, he doesn’t want them to be onerous or too time-consuming; not for him, his manger or the people in HR.

    I participated in a webinar hosted by Halogen Software, in which presenters Evelyn Watts and Hawley Kane outlined five alternatives to the annual review. I’m sure my millennial mate, as well as any of the other three or four generations in the workplace, will find an alternative that suits their workplace and their people.

    It’s important. Watts and Kane reported that when organisations began to focus on coaching and feedback in their ongoing performance management they reported:

    • increased revenue (70% of companies)
    • decrease in staff turnover (72% of companies)
    • improved customer satisfaction (54% of companies).

    So here are the five alternatives that Watts and Kane of Halogen Software suggest.

    1. Quarterly goal setting

    Frequent revision and updating of goals leads to better business outcomes. It’s common for executive teams to review their goals as often as five times a year; employees are unlikely to do the same.

    Step one is to align individual goals with strategic goals; and step two is to set concrete goals with a target and a measurement. It is then critical to keep on track and stay engaged, which is accomplished by regular and specific feedback and discussion. As Halogen is a software company, it has clever computer-based ways to manage these processes and keep them front of mind.

    1. Development discussions

    In the contemporary workplace, especially for millennials, the reality is that 18 to 24 months in a job is normal. In this time, employer and employee want to get the most from each other. Holding development discussions that challenge everybody is the manager’s challenge. The process should be honest and open, with the manager acting as coach, not boss.

    It is still important that the process be formal and that a solid development plan results from it. Halogen’s career development plan asks, ‘Where do you want to be in two years?’ The manager is then challenged to identify appropriate development plans to help the team member reach their career goals. They must keep the conversation going, periodically asking, ‘how are we doing?’ and at the end of the year asking, ‘did we get there?’ before creating the next plan.

    1. 360 degree feedback assessments

    One of the things my millennial mentioned in describing how his reviews sucked was that although his manager felt she had the full picture of his achievements, he didn’t believe that she did, as he did some of his best work on a project in another team, some of whom were in another city. Well-conducted 360 degree reviews overcome this as workers are far more accepting of performance feedback when it comes from multiple sources. Halogen reports more accurate, credible and reliable performance appraisal ratings, improved performance and higher functioning teams as well.

    These are their guidelines

    • Have employees choose raters with manager approval
    • Feedback should be aggregated and anonymous
    • Rate on competencies
    • Provide training and follow up

    Teaching people how to give and receive feedback is important for this approach to be successful, and feedback should flow up as well as down the company hierarchy.

    1. Project reviews

    Reviewing the success of a project and the people working on it aligns better with the way many companies work now. This method is not limited to the employee-manger relationship and is flexible in that it can launch any time and team leaders can manage their own project teams and set project goals and measurements. Project reviews should incorporate continuous feedback to work most effectively, say Watts and Kane.

    1. Check-ins

    Watts and Kane refer to frequent, regular one-on-one conversations as the ‘Holy Grail’ of performance management. They link coaching and feedback to goals, development, rewards and ultimately career progression. Because they are so important, we will look at these in detail in our next post about performance reviews.

    Progress, not perfection

    In the webinar’s question time a participant said that they presently had no performance reviews, and asked how to get started.  Training people to understand the benefits, linking goals (the what) and competencies (the how) and changing the mindset of managers all formed part of the answer, but what really resonated was Watts and Kane’s assertion that you can start tomorrow with these five methods.

    We know the performance review has to change, and we can take small steps, aiming for progress rather than perfection. Work is changing so fast that we can’t afford not to – improving conventional approaches is not going to cut it and the annual review is becoming less effective at driving performance every year.


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