I’m often asked to give an opinion on performance appraisals. This time, it had to do with a bunch of companies that were replacing the annual or twice yearly appraisal with fortnightly ‘coaching conversations’. ‘Is this a good idea for the future workplace or a fad?’
My first thought was “Who cares!”, but rather than blurt this out, I took a moment to explain why very few people care.
You see, when you work with someone, you have to get a few things right to make the relationship work. The foundations for the working relationship are exactly the same as every other relationship you have in your life.
You have to respect each other. You have to give a damn about each other. You have to have some interest in why you’re together. And, at a minimum, you have to meet each other’s expectations.
So, why did anyone invent performance appraisals?
I think they were trying to bring a bit of structure to the baselines of the working relationship. Let’s have a conversation about a) what’s expected, b) how you’re going against those expectations, c) how I’m going to link that to how I show my appreciation for your contribution, whether that be rewards, or recognition, and d), if you’re not doing well, what we can do to help you get better, and finally, e) how we would both like it to develop as we go forward – Is there anything we need to tweak or change?
So the original intention wasn’t too bad, albeit a little one-sided.
What went wrong with the process was it got really boring. It got legal instead of human. It got attached to MASSES of paperwork. It went ‘on-line’ so people didn’t even have to face each other for a conversation anymore. And it got one-sided – I’m the boss and I’ll tell you how you’re going, but there will be no time for you tell me what’s expected of me and how I’m going. And those last two pieces of the good process – coaching someone to improve and planning to develop the relationship into the future – got left off, and it became a pretty brutal scorecard rather than a conversation to keep a relationship working really well.
So, to the question of whether you toss it out.
Well, it depends. You are still going to need to talk about expectations. It’s still important to give feedback and discuss ideas. It’s important to plan forward. It is still important to coach and develop. Get rid of the process, and you’ll still need to do those things.
So the big sensational new idea is “have them fortnightly – and keep them casual”. Awesome dude, but good bosses already do. The annual or twice a year formal sit down is just a nice opportunity to record what’s already happening. If you’ve ever had a good boss, you know that these conversations are goldmines – ideas, feedback, appreciation, gratitude – it’s all there.
But for bad bosses or those who make these annual or twice yearly conversations boring and useless, then “fortnightly coaching conversations” are probably going to be just as boring and just as dreaded. Instead of two boring and somewhat awkward conversations each year, you’ve now got 26! Eek!
You see – leadership trumps process – always has, and always will. Give a good leader a bad process and they’ll make it work. They’ll keep people feeling supported, connected and appreciated. Give a bad leader a good process and they’ll find a way to make it awkward and a waste of time.
If the question was a different one – Should we have boring conversations with your team? Then the answer would be an obvious “No, absolutely not. You shouldn’t have them yearly, twice a year, and certainly not every two weeks”.
And if the question was the right one – Should you regularly have really good conversations with the people on your team – about work, about expectations, about contribution, about ideas and developing the relationship to be better for the future? Then the answer would be a much more engaged “Yes! Absolutely! Prepare for them. Make them as interesting and relevant as you possibly can. Give them your best efforts to ensure the best possible impact on the other person. Be very clear that it’s a two-sided relationship and you’re listening. And have these really useful conversations as often as you possibly can. Call them whatever you like – except maybe ‘performance appraisals’ because they have a bad rap.
This blog was originally published in October 2015 on the FlexCareers website.
Rhonda has spent her career on the people stuff, working with some of the biggest and best companies all around the world, but she has always thought – “we could do this better. We could make work (and leadership) better for all of us – more inclusive, more real, and more ‘human’.
She fundamentally believes that inclusion, good leadership and treating each other as equals, is not only foundational for good people practices in organisations but equally of more equitable and prosperous economies and communities. In short, if we include as many people as possible in work, then we start to build the sort of community and society we all want to live in.
Rhonda is also co-founder of mwah, a Community, a Toolkit, a Think Tank, and a Boutique Consultancy, all aimed at Making Work Absolutely Human. A knowledge base and a community of all the real stuff you need to lead and work with people, today and in the future.