Friday, September 28, 2018

Alternative to Performance Appraisals

In many of the conversations I’ve had lately, in which I share that I believe performance appraisals are not only fraught with biases but a double-sin, I’m asked what’s the alternative. The alternative is simple: frequent feedback on performance and the person’s approach or process of achieving that performance. If you want to have a written, defined feedback process, avoid cluttering it up with multiple purposes, like tying it to merit increases and becoming a personal/professional development plan. Simply, give a report on the person’s performance.

In one company, we reduced the performance appraisal to five questions,  only one of which was related to performance: “How did you contribute to the organization’s success?” The question is answered by a report on the person’s goals for the year. That’s it. The only question based on performance.

Another question dealt with future performance, next year’s goals: “How will you contribute to the organization’s success?” Two questions asked about the person’s approach to the job—aspects which rarely changed, especially for people who’ve been in the job for several years. In those cases, the popular 360 reviews become meaningless because the feedback is the same—and has its own bias problems.

The last question was my favorite: “How can I, as your supervisor/manager, help you more or hinder you less?” If I hadn’t been getting my own ‘performance appraisals’ from my staff—again, frequent feedback—this provided a chance for them to suggest some changes.

Some say that a lot of people in their organization don’t have goals. However, many people have ‘efficiency standards’ of some sort—whether it’s parts/hr, calls/hr, order entry errors/wk, etc. Goals can be set according to that. However, if the nature of the work changes frequently—the complexity of the orders changes from order-to-order or over the course of the year—I caution against using efficiency. Most times, the person is not part of setting the standards. It’s set based on group performance or same-but-different work comparison. Those standards are often set at the median. Each person then has a 50/50 chance of being better than the standard.

The frequent—daily, weekly—feedback needs to be specific to the work being done. What did you like about how things were done? How much did the project completion move us along the strategic plan? How much revenue was gained or how much reduction in costs occurred? What disaster was averted?

One expert has said we spend 95% of the time teaching how to give feedback and almost nothing on how to receive it. I believe we’d all get better at giving it, when each of us ask for that specific, frequent feedback: “Hey, boss, how much did this project help the company?” If we’re asking, we’re also going to be listening. We’re ready for the feedback, instead of the ‘drive-by’ feedback that might happen while we’re working on a task.

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