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From Annual Performance Reviews To Weekly Check-Ins

| September 15, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Over the past few weeks, a number of articles about performance reviews and performance management have made it to my inbox.  Some of these are listed as references below.

Most universities, and most businesses for that matter, have annual employee rating systems that, through a process of evaluating the individual, assign to him or her a score of one to five which is tied to salary increases and promotion.  These scores are often communicated in an annual performance and feedback session with individual team members.  In some organizations, some fraction of those assigned the lowest rating are forced to leave their organizations.  This form of rating seems to have become popular early in the 1980s during Jack Welch’s tenure as CEO at General Electric and spread from there to many other organizations.

Recently, such rating systems, which focus on past performance and not future promise, have been increasingly falling out of favor.  According to the Corporate Executive Board, a management research group, surveys have found that 90% of Human Resource managers believe that current approaches are misleading, cumbersome, complex, and do not yield accurate information.  Many companies, among them GE, Microsoft, Juniper, Adobe, Cigni, Deloitte, and the Gap, are adopting new approaches for several reasons:

1  Most performance management systems can be counterproductive.  Neuroscience research suggests that current practices damage the performance they are intended to improve.  Labeling people with any form of numerical rating and ranking automatically generates an overwhelming “fight or flight” response that impairs good judgment.  Knowing that others were ranked higher than you provokes a brain hijack.  Such ratings are ill-suited as a starter for the thoughtful, reflective conversation that allows employees to learn from a performance review.  [1, 2]

2  Ratings are not an accurate measure of a person’s performance.  Research by Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff led to the conclusion, reported in How People Evaluate Others in Organizations, that “Although it is implicitly assumed that the ratings measure the performance of the ratee, most of what is being measured by the ratings is the unique rating tendencies of the rater.  Thus ratings reveal more about the rater than they do about the ratee.”  [4] 

3  Conducting the rating process takes considerable time.  Studies at Deloitte found that completing the forms, holding meetings, and creating the ratings consumed some 30 hours per employee per year.  They concluded that investing this time in the employees themselves would have greater value.  [4]

Now, few if any of the usual readers of this weekly essay are positioned to impact what particular performance management or rating system your campus utilizes.  And, I’m not advocating a revolt.  What I am suggesting is that you as leaders might consider other ways to review your staff’s on-going performance with them and to lead them to deliver “their very best every day.”

Studies at Deloitte [4] and elsewhere suggest that best practice is for team leads to conduct individual, regular, short (10-30 minute), weekly check-ins on near-term work with each of the team members.  In addition to commenting on the past week and providing course correction, coaching, and new information, such conversations should provide clarity as to what is expected from each team member and why, what really great work for that individual would look like, and how each can do his or her best work in the next week. 

Notes from these weekly meetings can provide helpful input to quarterly, end-of-project, and/or annual discussions to review an individual’s growth and development as well as opportunities for the future.  Information from the weekly meetings will provide both the team leader and the team member a much richer set of information about the team member’s unique contributions and impact leading to more meaningful and future-focused conversations.

One of the leader’s responsibilities is to develop his or her staff.  Focusing check-ins on that objective would seem to be a very effective approach for each of us to consider.

Make it a great week.  .  .  .     jim


1  David Rock, Josh Davis, and Beth Jones, Kill Your Performance Ratings,  strategy+business.  Accompanying video.

2  David Rock and Beth Jones, Why More and More Companies Are Ditching Performance Ratings, Harvard Business Review.

3  Lillian Cunningham and Jena McGregor, Why big business is falling out of love with the annual performance review, The Washington Post.

4  Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, Reinventing Performance Management, Harvard Business Review.

5  Leonardo Baldassarre and Brian Finken, GE’s Real-Time Performance Development,  Harvard Business Review.