September 27, 2017
It's that time of year — the dreaded performance appraisal season. Ours were due on Monday. At a team luncheon meeting, an immediate oh crap look swept across a few faces when we were reminded. I had completed mine last week, so I didn’t focus too much on the grumbling and complaints about not having time, feeling rushed, or about the entire process being a waste of time.
However, as I did a little research for this post, I have had a change of heart. Not about feeling bad for those who procrastinated, but rather about the process. I actually enjoy the process — yes, I realize that makes me a little weird. But self-assessment is a valuable tool. Looking back on one’s accomplishments and one’s failures or weaknesses can, and should, provide a roadmap for future goals and growth. But the honest truth is that the performance appraisal process does not facilitate that kind of growth.
In our performance review process, much of my time was focused on what I accomplished and how well I accomplished it. I met all of my goals, and I didn’t have any failures to report, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have areas where I should seek to improve. There is no section entitled, “Areas for Improvement,” but that would be the most beneficial section.
Let’s be honest: no one is going to set goals they don’t believe they can achieve, because it will likely impact their eligibility for a raise. That consequence immediately prevents someone from setting goals that might be slightly out of their wheelhouse, which restricts them and their potential.
So, I’ve had a change of heart. I’m not going to swing completely in the other direction and advocate we completely do away with performance appraisals. Many companies, including Adobe, Dell, Microsoft, IBM, and others, have led the way to a performance management-based approach where managers meet with their subordinates on a regular basis to discuss goals, performance, and areas for growth. While HBR is reporting about 12% of US companies have veered away from the traditional approach with another 29% reviewing their performance-based practices, I believe there are aspects of both practices that are valuable to the company and to the employee. Meeting with one’s boss on a more regular basis is highly beneficial as long as the manager is capable of delving into the areas where growth is needed. Let’s face it: it’s easy to tell someone they are doing a great job, but it’s much harder to tell them they are performing poorly. It’s even harder to make suggestions for improvement. The other component is the self-assessment piece. This is a valuable process and tool. It forces the employee to reflect on his/her experiences, and when delving into areas where growth is needed, the process becomes circular, which allows the employee to understand his/her strengths and weaknesses and address both on an ongoing basis.
Recording one’s accomplishments, combined with identifying areas for growth, coupled with more frequent meetings, will produce the most effective results for both employee and employer. For the employee, s/he isn’t waiting for 12 months to find out about a problem from eight months prior, nor is s/he waiting that amount of time to be told s/he is valued. There are shorter windows of time to improve work and get feedback, which allows for continued improvement. For the company, giving workers opportunities for improvement combined with coaching by their superior increases the probability the employee will improve. This coaching method provides more feedback in a shorter period of time, and it encourages the employer to be more empathetic — more engaged with the employee on improving skills and behaviors. Employers are not waiting months and months to track progress, which allows them to make decisions quicker and ultimately to grow business or enhance the bottom line.
None of these practices can exist in a vacuum. It is the combination that makes them effective. Approach your performance review process with enthusiasm and honesty, and if your company offers more frequent feedback, take advantage of that opportunity.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies
Source: Harvard Business Review