Hacking the performance review

There’s this thing happening in the near future, a collaboration with the CIPD and Gary Hamel. They’re calling it a #hackathon. How very interesting.

It’s a project to crack workplace practise, make it meaningful and add actual value.

This week we’ve seen the likes of Perry Timms and Rob Jones get involved in the conversation and give some thoughts on poor performers at work and the unnecessary level of process we are sometimes guilty of putting into place. Both good places to start a conversation and get those grey cells working.

The other day on Twitter I asked what term we could replace the term performance review with. And so, dear readers, I ask you to be involved in this discussion. Let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of the performance review, and the options available.

Performance reviews in most organisation are that formal point of the year when you sit down and have your appraisal with your line manager. There are a lot of people writing about how to perform a good annual review. Even I did once… or twice… or three times…

That’s not the point though. The point is we need to move on. We need to move on from this concept of appraising performance and move towards a concept of appreciation and progression. And here comes the obligatory challenge – what about the retrospective element of reviewing work? Hold. That. Thought. Compadre.

Here’s where I lay out the ideal. Performance reviews need to be one of the first things that get hacked. Into little itty bitty pieces that can be scattered in the wind. It has served its purpose as a way of managing your people. For most people it’s looked on with disdain, and that same majority would much rather it just didn’t happen.

But what to replace it with? Well, there are two main contenders for replacing the traditional manager-employee review. In both instances, the onus is on the individual. That is, if the individual wants to receive feedback on work achieved, it is up to them to do the necessary leg work and provide the evidence. To whom?

Well first option is to have a panel of reviewers. The individual presents their evidence for a job well done over a given period of time, and they are interviewed/interrogated/examined about their work. Based on this, the panel decides on the performance of the individual, provides feedback, and makes recommendation for future work. These reviewers would likely be other managers. What I like about this is it gives the opportunity for other managers to learn about work happening across the organisation and gain better understanding of workplace pressures, challenges and successes. It also presents a real challenge of committing to the process in a regular and consistent fashion in order that fairness of the panel is maintained.

The second option is to have peer reviews. The individual again presents their evidence for a job well done, but in this case to a panel who consist of your peers. That is, no one is in a management role reviewing your work. The feedback you receive is based on the understanding of the work you present, and your work is shared across the organisation. This allows a level of transparency and openness about work practices which may not have been evident before, and the feedback is likely to be objective. The main challenge to this is trusting the word of your colleagues, and being able to identify what development or progression you could benefit from.

There is also a big assumption with both of these models that the pay system is not linked to the performance review process. This shouldn’t happen anyway. It’s a poor excuse for managing staff by coupling it with a pay review and expecting people to clap like sealions when you wave a bit of money in front of them. Such a degrading way of treating people, and yet most organisations are absolutely wedded to the process.

Instead this should be laid out up front in the employment contract. Your base salary is this. Increase in salary is based on specific criteria – most important of these being organisational success. No organisational success = no pay increase. Bonuses are paid under exact circumstances. Submission for pay increase needs to be under these principles. There are very good ways of making all of this happen. It just doesn’t need to be nor should it be linked to the performance review process.

So what about the retrospective element of appraisals? Well, as I’ve mentioned in the posts above, and as I tell every line manager I work with, that retrospective element should be happening regularly and consistently throughout the year. The annual review is then a summary of previous conversations, where the only thing to actually talk about is what’s happening in the future? We’ve summarised everything we’ve been talking about regularly over the previous review period, and we both understand if it’s been a successful, non-descript or poor year. So now let’s focus on the coming review period and what needs to happen tomorrow.

Again, I’ve said this before, but if your annual review is the only time to actually review your person’s performance, then a) you shouldn’t be a manager b) see a) c) your organisation doesn’t believe in the process for it to be effective d) you need better development in this area e) all of the above, especially a).

This also then questions the very relevance of being a manager. If part of what a manager is responsible for is the development and progression of staff, and I’m suggesting this is removed from them and shared with others in different ways, what are they left with? Well, people still need to have a line manager for a host of operational and development based needs. The role of the manager isn’t to hold the hands of every person they’re responsible for, it’s to give support and develop staff based on organisational needs.

So, I’m intrigued by this hackathon, and what it could unleash. It needs people to get behind it, and I’m sure there will be.

And bearing in mind everything I’ve just mentioned and talked about above, what would you call the performance review?