Just before the holidays I was with the HR director of a large partnership – he was late for the meeting and arrived flustered and stressed. “It’s that time of year,” he said. At first I was a bit puzzled; I’ve clearly been out of corporate life for too long! But what he meant was that it was annual review time, or the performance management cycle was taking place. over the last 18months we have seen Performance management become the most talked about topic in HR. hardly anyone seems happy with their system and we are seeing lots of high profile companies make radical changes. Many of these changes are being made without any clear evidence base for the results that can be expected.
That being said most managers I’ve worked with hate this time of year and their teams hated it even more. When I was in a corporate role remember having a conversion with my CEO about how we should completely change performance management. My view was that the end of year conversations should be no more than a confirmation of what everyone already knew. All the discussion, data collection and performance feedback should be happening on the job, all year not during one month of the year.
He was so enthused that he agreed to give it a go. The process would be driven by the employee not the boss, and certainly not HR. So this is what we implemented:
People loved this process and our other key metrics improved too. Unfortunately, it only lasted 18 months. The firm was acquired and the new owners instituted their traditional system. I still occasionally meet my former leadership team colleagues and they still talk about the performance management system that worked.
It seems that we stumbled onto something and neuroscience findings can now tell us why it worked. Most traditional performance management creates a threat response. It reduces creativity, rational thinking and narrows the individual’s perception. Hardly conditions for someone to take on new information and turn it into new behaviours. To make matters worse, feedback impacts the employee’s own sense of certainty about how to be successful, their reputation in the group, and what they thought their options were in how they do their job. It can make them ask “Have I got to do it the boss’s way?” which most staff feel is unfair ( see our CORE model video for more).
Giving employees’ options and control, coaching rather than judgment, and focusing on what is going right rather than what is going wrong is brain-savvy. But how do you move from where you are today to something that works? Well, a good start is to engage senior leaders and appeal to their CORE elements. Oh and of course, the promise of improved performance should convince the CEO.