The traditional model of performance review and appraisal has changed – dare we say – improved over the years. Some organisations, and their HR functions, tend to now see it more as a vehicle for identifying opportunities and areas for development than merely as an occasion for belated rapping knuckles. The importance of providing constructive feedback on a timely basis throughout daily working life, rather than saving up painful surprises for a special occasion, is recognised more widely. But what tricks are we still sorely missing? The impact we have on each other seems to have gone missing somewhere along the line …
One truism of performance review is that it is easiest to evaluate performance from the most easily measured metrics. Has X and their team produced, marketed, sold or re-branded more widgets compared to last year? How are the team’s costs measuring against their budget, and are they meeting sales targets? Where the last review suggested a training need, how many of X’s team have been sent on events, and what did the training cost?
All of this is, of course, entirely understandable: these metrics are relatively easy to compile. And the data is fairly cut and dried. The playing field of appraisal is pretty level – at least in as much as the appraisees are judged on a pretty consistent basis. But is everyone playing the right game? And might the governing body not review the rules before re-advising the referees?
We’re making progress, certainly: the perceived HR angle – which was far too often perceived as storing reprimands up throughout the year to deploy as reasons for not awarding pay increments or promotions – has moved from ‘imperial’ (in the negative sense of the word) towards something we can punningly refer to as ‘metric’. (Althought the old measuring system is far from obsolete: performance review is still available in ‘the old money’, even if the recipients might feel short-changed.) But might we not suggest a new angle for the yardstick?
Having (assuming we have) identified that performance appraisal provides an opportunity to identify learning opportunities (and then, necessarily, to manage learning and development budgets to deploy these resources in those cases where the judgement is that they will produce the greatest dividends), shouldn’t we take an important follow-on step?
From the point of view of learning transfer and application, one of the biggest hurdles on the participants’ journey to applying their new learning for the benefit of the organisation (as well as themselves – career structures may have changed, but most of us still appreciate promotions or pay increases) is the working environment that they return to after a training event.
Having identified that it wants change – in so far as it needs or wants particular people to be better at y, or more efficient or effective at x – all too often organisations behave as if the change will happen by some mysterious process solely through the application of training to participant. Their bad old ways will be cured at a stroke. Yet even a facile comparison – training as the workplace equivalent of a nicotine patch – doesn’t hold a great deal of metaphorical water: the nicotine patch, for example, is one support in turning smoked into ex-smoker. Not only do they need to adjust their habits, but those around them need to encourage and support till ‘not smoking’ (or, less metaphorically, not pursuing those bad habits the training was intended to cure) becomes their new norm.
While this is particularly true of line managers – who are the biggest single influence in terms of not just supporting and encouraging participants as they work towards embedding new behaviours in their daily working lives, but allowing them to do so – everyone has a potential helping role. Even at the lowest levels, a team supervisor will be supported in exploring new working styles where their team provide constructive feedback along the way, accept that their will be changes in their working lives and understand that the changes have an ultimately beneficial purpose that their lack of support may undermine.
So, isn’t it time for a new performance appraisal element? “How far, since your last appraisal, have you supported others – reports, colleagues and peers – in applying their learning?” After all, the better everyone performs in this respect, the better the organisation’s return on its training investment (training has – or should have – a lasting impact as well as a finishing date) – and the better the organisation performs.
The metrics aren’t as easy to capture, and those metaphorical waters get a little muddied – performance appraisal starts to recognise that other people’s behaviours affect individual’s performance – but isn’t one enduring element of performance management to make sure that we’re not (visibly at least) afraid of a little hard work from time to time? And why should the statisticians get it easier than the rest of us? We’re all in this together, so shouldn’t our performance review system bear that in mind?
You may say I’m a dreamer, but at least that’s feedback …