Every year, regular as clockwork, it would come around. Arriving in the calendar like a black cloud, heavy with expectation but holding very little promise. A box ticking exercise, something to be endured by both sides, and enjoyed by neither. A necessary evil for both sides. Performance Management day. 12 months earlier, a list of easily attainable targets had been agreed, any minor issues ironed out, hands shaken and everyone was happy. It was over for another year.
That was Performance Management back then. It had become an inefficient and misdirected way of improving employee engagement. An annual single event, too focussed on past mistakes instead of facing forward toward improvement. It was an awkward and fairly pointless process, stressful for managers and employees alike.
That was then and this is now. That doesn’t mean we should just forget about appraising employees, though. If anything, we’re better equipped than ever for the job. As technology changes the way we work, and as that change gathers pace, it’s time for a new outlook on how we view performance and set goals. Time for a rethink. Time to make Performance Management a continual process, rather than just that dreaded yearly event.
It’s all about the data. There’s no end of tools available to businesses to help them track, measure and evaluate an employee’s performance. Social media, mobile tech, gamified engagement based on reward and incentive, the list goes on. But if organisations are to rethink the how, then maybe this is also a good opportunity to re-assess the ‘what’.
Many organisations have used SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Acheivable, Relevant, and Timed) for some time now. Using technology to support a more flexible, agile and proactive system keeps those key characteristics at its heart. And the new workforce, the modern workforce demands a more fluid, instant way of working. That includes learning and appraisal.
For employees to succeed, and importantly, for them to be supported towards further success, its important for managers to keep the conversation open.
Feedback is everything. Managers should be able to give direction and encouragement both regularly and in good time. Equally, employees need to know that they can raise any issues they may have when they happen, safe in the knowledge that the support is there.
Regular face to face, one on one meetings, short, focused and concise, are also a powerful tool in this. This is proactive, continuous performance management at its best, constantly facing forward, it is consistent, supportive and directive. These effective techniques re-cast managers not merely in a supervisory role, but more as coaches, enabling individuals’ progress through encouragement.
Some organisations, such as Facebook, are even stepping back from including the managers in this process at all, and adopting Peer Reviews as the best method of employee improvement and development. Peers are asked to anonymously review their colleagues’ progress. They work with them every day, they see how they work when the boss isn’t around, and as long as everybody’s asked to do the same, it’s a fair system. Research suggests that employees are more likely to respect this feedback, as it comes from peers. This is some way from being proven, but it’s certainly something organisations are considering.
The days of the annual appraisal are dead and gone. In reality, we don’t do anything on a yearly basis anymore anyway. Time moves on so quickly, bringing fresh challenges and new solutions. It will always be important for employees to know their voices are heard, and to feel that they have support for future progression. And it'll always be important for managers to see their staff progressing and growing in the company. Business just needs to decide the best method, the best way forward.