POWERformance Blog


Throw Out the Bathwater, but Keep the Baby

June 19, 2017

Based on my active participation in the Performance Management Innovation conference sponsored by the Human Capital Institute in May, it’s clear the jury’s still out on performance reviews. Keep them? Toss them? Change them?


More than 200 HR representatives, from both large and small companies, attended this conference, and more than 25 speakers shared their company experiences and personal viewpoints. While there was a lot to glean from the expert speakers, there also was much to learn from attendees eager to explore the current PM “revolution.” I’d like to share two major takeaways that my clients and I felt were evident:


  • Frequent check-ins are extremely valuable, well-liked and here to stay.


      While some attendees expressed a need to increase the comfort level of managers         who aren’t sure what to do or say, everyone praised the impact. Some companies           are requiring once a quarter. Others are encouraging once a month or even more           often.


  • Performance reviews still exist in a number of companies, but there are lots of questions about them, and quite a few companies have eliminated them. Here are some of the comments I heard:


We still have them, but everybody hates them.

We abolished them, and nobody misses them.

We’ve surveyed managers, and they still want them.

We’re in the talking stages of what to do with them.

Our compensation analysts want us to keep them.

We think there’s value in an end-of-the-year summary.


Many of the speakers stressed that companies are different, and a decision one company makes is not necessarily the right decision for another company.


If the gurus in the PM field are expressing some indefiniteness about reviews, and if experienced HR practitioners are bewildered, how can you decide what’s best for your company?


Perhaps it’s not a black and white decision. Consider an in-between option.


Initiating frequent check-ins doesn’t mean that annual reviews have to go. There’s room for both. As long as reviews reflect a growth mindset — like check-ins — they can add value to talent development.


The old traditional reviews that took too much time to write and that everyone hated need to be thrown out — that’s the bathwater. The NEW REVIEW that’s easy to write and focuses on what to do instead of what was done — that’s the baby I recommend you keep.


A number of conference speakers pointed out that reviews worked in the “old days” of the number of widgets produced, but with our 21st century knowledge workers, a litany of accomplishments doesn’t fit. With a NEW REVIEW, managers and team members can still reflect on the year. They go one step further, however, by turning that reflection into positive reinforcement and coaching for the year ahead.


In the following example from a NEW REVIEW, the manager uses what has happened in the past in order to coach for the future:


During project meetings when the team is struggling in an area where you have expertise, you tend to defer to the project leader to take or initiate action. While you may be hesitant to speak up, remember that you're there to contribute to the team and have a responsibility to make sure the project stays on track. Next time, share your experience, provide advice, then let the project leader take it from there.


What's the likely outcome of this kind of coaching? Team members understand exactly what to do to improve their performance and act on that understanding. They feel like their managers care about their success. This is the perfect recipe for keeping and developing talent.


As a leader in performance management innovation, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a NEW REVIEW. Let me highlight two of them for you:


  • The most significant benefit is that people remember what they hear when they also see it in print. End-of-the-year conversations can pull lots of good thoughts together; capturing those good thoughts in writing makes it easy for a team member to revisit the manager’s message.

  • A surprising benefit that has impressed my clients is the transference of coaching language from writing to speaking. When managers see effective expressions in print, they internalize what’s good and use the same coaching expressions in one-to-ones.

So, before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, consider reinventing what you have in place.

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