Don’t Kill Your Performance Review – Reinvent It

As research shows, the performance review process can be costly, ineffective and in the worst cases, demotivating.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that many large organizations are jumping on the trend to abolish the performance review.

However, organizations, with all the best of intentions to do right by their people, may get rid of the review and throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. There are some fundamental needs that exist with performance management, including regular assessment, that are important tenants of maintaining a healthy and productive growth culture. So, as this trend catches fire, it’s important to avoid eliminating core elements of performance motivation.  Instead, consider alternative ways to measure performance, inspire employee development, and provide feedback.

In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, he characterizes some of these fundamental qualities perfectly; Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. Mastery is the desire for continuous improvement. Autonomy is the desire to be self-directed, and Purpose is the need to have work mean something outside of ourselves. An activity that allows employees to connect with these driving concepts is what is needed, and it’s nothing like a traditional performance review.

How can these qualities be applied to performance management, you ask?

Employee engagement: Whatever is done needs to be employee-driven (Autonomy). We all pay more attention to things when we’re the driver, not the passenger.

Highlight key accomplishments: This is the opportunity for employees to see what is working well, and therefore what they should not change going forward (confirming current areas of Mastery). A reflection of success also sheds light on impacts achieved, which can fuel purpose.

Identify areas for growth: Now that a current state assessment has been achieved, people need to identify where they’d like to go next and develop a plan (future Mastery).

Allow for objective feedback: Gathering a panel of people from multiple perspectives (not just managerial) across the organization will ensure dynamic feedback and provide the employee with the understanding of the impact of their work, as well as their professional brand (Purpose).

Keeping those core items in mind, here is one alternative way to have a more formal checkpoint, without all the formality:

Consider a portfolio review approach. In this approach, employees put together a portfolio of their work according to agreed-upon standard content categories and present it to a representative panel of peers and managers. The organization determines core contents of the portfolio, but the employee can choose how to fill in and present that content. The employee’s task is to compile and present the story of their career for the past 6 – 12 months.

The portfolio approach solves several problems:

  1. The responsibility and workload shift from manager to employee, significantly reducing the cost of the process.
  2. This process and end product is employee-driven, so the content and the goals established as a result of the content automatically have more employee ownership and presumably buy-in.
  3. The feedback generated in response to the portfolio is from multiple perspectives, improving accuracy and providing a check on fairness/bias.
  4. Since employees get to choose how they will deliver the content, the method of delivery will fall in line with the employee’s strongest methods of communication. They will get to tell their story, their way.
  5. With varied delivery methods, those on the “reviewing” panel will be able to be more engaged with original content, reducing the likelihood of rote responses.

Whether you take the radical approach to eliminate the evaluation altogether or you decide to give a major facelift to your current process, be mindful of the changes you are making. Begin with your employees and your end-game in mind, then design how you will adjust or reinvent your process to achieve those milestones. Taking the time to strategically craft your new approach will ensure you don’t end up with a Frankenstein’s monster version of an already problematic system.

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