Fast forward about ten years, when I landed my first head of HR role for a fast-growing tech start-up. One of the first things I did was create and deploy annual performance reviews and ratings. I soon learned that managers disliked the process. But why? It seemed like a great system.
I listened to the feedback and tried my best to improve the experience for managers and employees. Each year, I'd find myself back at the drawing board, making more tweaks, changing forms, competencies, and ratings
Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
With each new and "improved" version I was confident I'd finally gotten it right. Yet managers still complained.
I used to dismiss the complaints from managers about the annual review process. Then I became a manager. Using the process to write and deliver performance reviews forced me to acknowledge two things:
The "awesome" process I'd created was, in fact, terrible.
Do you know the advice HR gives to managers of "give feedback early and often" and "no surprise at performance review time"? Guess who could provide that advice but not act on it? Me.
Just about 6% of managers are skilled at engaging in candid performance conversations. These skills don't come naturally. Everyone, including me, needed help. We hired a reputable training firm to help build our performance feedback skills. We ran into another roadblock.
The traditional feedback tactic ignored a critical issue. Describing a problem, giving examples, and sharing the negative impact is awkward and uncomfortable. Most feedback receivers react defensively to "constructive criticism." The approach leads people to avoid, water down or delay essential conversations.
I came to see that the Performance Management process was broken. We needed a better way to give "feedback early and often". The existing system couldn't be rejiggered; it had to be rebuilt. No more tweaking existing forms and processes or wasting time with annual reviews built on the fiction that we can accurately remember, document, and discuss what happened 12 months ago. Reviewing an entire year all at once was inadequate. Managers and employees needed to have smaller conversations throughout the year and receive guidance about having them.
As a result, I implemented my rating-less performance management and continuous conversations process. No more tweaking existing forms and processes or wasting time with annual reviews built on the fiction that we can accurately remember, document, and discuss what happened 12 months ago. It's just three steps:
First, I replaced the rating system of "meets expectations," "exceeds expectations," etc. with the Employee Performance Continuum, a visual model to assess, track, and plan for performance improvements. Used correctly and applied fairly, this model provides metrics to help inform important employment decisions like pay adjustments, promotions, succession planning, and more.
Second, I created my 10-Minute Questions Conversation framework, a quick and flexible conversation guide to guaranteeing productive performance development conversations.
Third, I developed a program to provide managers with skills, training, and simple tools to analyze employee performance, identifying ONE thing that would help the employee become even more effective. Managers learned to use action-focused words that were "hearable" and "sayable" to address areas for focus and improvement rather than getting side-tracked talking about short-term tasks. See more about the manager's program here.
It was the first time people didn't complain about the process. In fact, employees and people managers thanked me, sharing anecdotal stories about improved performance and work relationships. And over the next several years, I made my program even better, using feedback and more experimentation to fine-tune the process.
A NEW LIFE CHAPTER
My career took a turn after I started my family, and I could not continue in my 9-5 corporate career. I loved being a mother and raising my children, but I still had a passion for evolving performance management. There was more work to do, more to fine-tune. My journey wasn't over.
I knew HR pros everywhere struggled with getting performance management right, and I wanted to share my experience. I started speaking at HR events on how to modernize performance management. To my surprise, people followed up, and I had my first four clients. In 2004, I launched my consulting practice, Employee Performance Solutions, and haven't looked back since.
Today, continuous performance management is no longer a new concept. And given the recent changes in our work and home lives, there's no better time than the present to implement a system that helps managers and employees work together to improve performance and set near-term priorities.
If you're revising an existing performance management system or lucky enough to build something from scratch and want some help with your thinking please get in touch. I'm always happy to talk with another HR pro. Feel free to pick my brain about how to measure performance without ratings, change management tactics, making pay decisions without ratings, documentation without performance reviews, continuous conversations, manager and employee preparation, etc. Any issue you have is one I've probably dealt with, and whether I can help with a solution or not, talking with someone who is working to evolve performance management always makes my day! Click here to schedule a call.