6 Things To Do BEFORE Getting Rid of Performance Reviews

We get it, you’re frustrated. You are tired of forcing manager’s to do their reviews (and they are tired of your nagging.) Compiling all the information and then holding calibration meetings so no one is getting more (or less) than they deserve. Working with managers on how to have a conversation that goes like this: “thank you so much for all you do, I think you are excellent…and you won’t be getting more an a cost of living adjustment and we don’t think you are ready for a management position.”

A few years ago, I gave a brief and impassioned talk at a DisruptHR conference in Denver (https://vimeo.com/107315099) that implored companies to get rid of performance reviews. At the time, I had no idea what or how to replace them with something meaningful. Since then I have learned a bit and besides coming up with something to replace them with, we’ve also learned what you need to do BEFORE you go down this road. So here are 6 lessons we learned so you can get started off on the right foot.

Understand the Problem You are Trying to Solve

Are you doing this because you’re tired of doing performance reviews or you think they don’t work? It’s an important distinction. One is for you, the other is for your people and your organization. If it is the first thing, then any approach will work but you’ll likely cause more problems than you’ll solve.

To move to a more effective process think of the problems performance reviews are trying to solve and ask yourself if they really solve them. This will give you a better focus on what you will need in order to replace them. Are you trying to improve succession planning? Individual performance? Focus training? Engagement? Inform compensation? Or protect you against legal action if you terminate someone?

Recognize What You Still Need

Even though reviews generally suck, something is better than nothing. People still need feedback, companies still need data, and you still need documentation. This goes back to the problem you are trying to solve.

  • Trying to improve performance? People need more regular feedback.

  • Succession planning? You need better data from the people who are going to be led.

  • Focused training? Data on talent gaps would be helpful.

  • Engagement? Give your people a voice and connection.

  • Compensation? Comparative data would be helpful.

  • Protection against legal action? Ongoing documentation is what you need.

Gauge Executive Readiness

We like to think executives are more evolved leaders than others. That isn’t always true. They may have more experience (or not) but they are still people and may even be less receptive to a new feedback process. The challenge is inherent to their position. The higher someone ascends in their career, the less likely they are to get the feedback they need. Combined with “imposter syndrome”, a feedback system that includes a 360 component, may be met with a lot of resistance. They may be the ones who need it the most and that does not mean they are ready for it.

Tell People WHY You Are Changing

When I do consulting or training of any kind, or even engage someone interested in Ohos, I always ask, “why this?” and “why now?” The answers not only help you ascertain whether your new system is successful but also help people understand the urgency for the shift. People are afraid of the unknown, it’s an evolutionary response that kept us from going into the cave and getting eaten by the bear. it is natural for people to be suspicious of change, especially when you don’t tell them why. Even when you do tell people why, they will still be anxious.

Train People on Giving AND Receiving Feedback

Most of us were never taught how to give good quality feedback. Sadly, many people have spread the notion of the “sandwich method” or as I refer to it, either the “marshmallow sandwich” or the “shit sandwich”. No matter what you call it, it’s bad. Sure, surrounding negative feedback with two positives seems like a good idea, in practice though, it doesn’t quite work out. Either the person misses the necessary feedback altogether because the message is not clear and direct, or the person fixates on the negative feedback and forms the impression that any positive feedback you give is inauthentic. Train people how to give good direct feedback. It should include three elements: 1 - What happened (what did they say or do), 2 - Why that behavior or action is important to talk about (what is the impact it has on them, others, the team, etc,), and 3 - What suggestions or recommendations you have on what to do differently (make the request something they do, not something they avoid in the future.)

The other part of training needs to be about RECEIVING feedback. It is easy and natural to get defensive when someone offers us feedback. And the knee jerk reaction is to reply or rationalize our behaviors rather than listen to the feedback. This is the primary reason people often push back at anonymous feedback and want to know who said it. Knowing who gave the feedback doesn’t change the feedback…it just changes how you plan to regard or dismiss it. Coaching on self awareness, defensiveness, and receiving feedback more effectively needs to happen. If people are hell-bent on knowing who gave them feedback, they probably need more coaching. It doesn’t matter who gave the feedback, it only matters what you do with it.

Create Accountability For the New Culture

With annual reviews you can track when they are completed and even the robustness with which they are filled out. When you get rid of that mechanism, how do you know people are actually having conversations and how well are they going? Before you go rogue and drop everything, establish or engage with a tool that can help you collect that information, and what happens for those who are not engaging in the new expectation. A mistake I see companies make time and time again is stating that giving feedback or having performance conversations is a required part of the job, but neglect to create a system of accountability or consequences. Accountability for a cultural shift starts and ends at the top. If your executives don’t make it a priority, neither will the rest of the organization.

Build the Net As You Go

Large scale change, especially one that challenges long-held paradigms, is often like getting people to jump from one trapeze to the next. It’s scary, full of unknowns, and often asking people to be courageous in an already vulnerable position. People will struggle, you’ll need to create training and coaching to catch people when they fall…and eventually, for the laggards, you’ll need to cut the old trapeze down if you are committed to the change.

Clear expectations, feedback, data, documentation, and accountability are all a part of performance management. We can all agree that the existing paradigm is often a “check-the-box” exercise that does little to make things better. Whatever you choose, whether it is real-time conversations, monthly check ins, or a data based platform, like Ohos, that enables all of those things, be ready to adjust as you learn. The entire purpose of feedback is to improve an outcome or relationship. So get feedback on the new process to improve. No one expects it to be perfect, but it does need to be better than before. Addressing the 6 things above before you ask people to leap will help build the net, convey the need, and hold people accountable to change their behavior.

If you want us to help, please reach out. We can help you with all of it, make your process more effective, improve your data, and make your life a whole lot easier. Ohos is performance management for smart companies.

Dave NeedhamComment