RIP Performance Reviews

By Dr. Ranjit Nair

The eradication of performance reviews is the best thing the modern work world has seen in recent times. RIP! This drumbeat has been building for some time, and now several major U.S. companies, including General Electric, Accenture, The Gap, Deloitte, and Adobe Systems, have bid their adieus to a practice that has done very little to advance company performance, people-centered cultures, and employee engagement.   

Managers and employees alike generally have a negative response to the words “annual performance review.” The reason for this is that companies have focused too much time on systems, compliance, and quantitative metrics—all impersonal measurements. They should instead be focusing on building a culture of trust, respect and gratitude enabled by meaningful conversations, timely feedback, recognition and employee development.  

Today, there is an overreliance on HR performance management systems. These tactical, cumbersome, and administrative-focused systems can never be successful unless the processes that underlie them are fueled by a culture based on mutual respect between employee and manager. 

The Solution: Rapid-Fire Feedback

Modern workers relish feedback and the more frequent, the better.  One way to satisfy the almost insatiable appetite of ambitious, high-potential talent is to help them understand how they’re doing through the use of mini-feedback sessions. Providing short bursts of formal feedback on a frequent basis, say twice a week, can satisfy the thirst for guidance with minimal resources. 

Simple messages such as, “I like what you did at the presentation today. Keep it up,” or, “Thank you for taking care of that customer. Your influence is making a big difference for us,” help boost motivation levels—especially with Millennials and rising stars. In fact, such conversations and interactions are the best way to engage, develop and motivate this new generation of leaders. 

Timely feedback helps employees make necessary adjustments, while waiting too long to provide feedback disengages and surprises employees if they are not aware of what needs to be changed. And the antiquated ranking system of annual performance reviews only exacerbates the situation—no one wants to be labeled a number. Organizations that focus on establishing a two-way dialogue between employee and manager—throughout the year—are those that get the best out of their employees.

Here are some simple ways to encourage an environment of dignity, respect and gratitude in the workplace:

Be genuine. A lot has been made about “authenticity” in the workplace, but trying to fake it will result in drastic failure. People know when you’re being disingenuous. B.S. is not hard to recognize. The best way to do this is to find out what motivates your employees intrinsically.

Keep it brief and simple. This is not rocket science—it’s about the feelings and emotions of people.  There isn’t a need to make this more complicated than it needs to be. A five-minute conversation or a few well-intentioned interactions and observations are the best ways to recognize your employees for the awesome things they do. 

Unfailingly be there. Managers and leaders have to keep working on building trust. Being busy is no excuse. The workplaces of today (and tomorrow) are not like they were yesterday. A real shift to workplace humanization has occurred. Employees need to be treated as human beings who have lives beyond work.  

Rapid-fire feedback requires leaders to recognize both natural and adapted behaviors, and to identify what drives and motivates employees. This new feedback format does require work and effort, but the results of a culture that focuses on people and interacts with them meaningfully are well worth it.