‘Performance’ reviews all about development

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The performance review process is too often a shallow, ‘box ticking’ exercise according to prominent HR blogger Jessica Miller-Merrell. “Far too often supervisors avoid the crucial, honest, sincere, developmental one-to-one discussions between their employees,” she wrote in a recent blog post, “The Performance Review. Formal or informal?”

To transform it into a more meaningful process, Miller-Merrell advocated the use of informal performance reviews. “The informal review process takes stress off the back of the employee and gives the manager the ability to connect with them on a level that is less daunting,” she wrote.

However, the problem may lie more with a lack of effort on the manager’s part to effectively prepare for the performance review, rather than with its formality. Richard Westney, head of HR Australasia – FNZ (and the blogger behind “Up the Down Escalator), said that the formal/informal distinction is ‘largely irrelevant’. “It’s the effort and preparation you put into the review that’s more important,” he said.

Westney suggested that performance reviews should be spent regarding the future – in fact, they should be more about ‘development’, than ‘performance’. “Acknowledge the past obviously, correct any issues, but spend the time looking forward,” he said. This means identifying challenges in the coming year and what each – manager and employee – wants the latter to accomplish, and specifying what sort of learning and development needs to happen to achieve these goals.

In order to be able to hold such development-focused, forward looking performance reviews, it’s essential that regular feedback takes place throughout the year, according to Westney.

While developments around online, social media style performance review options with real time feedback were exciting, Westney argued that these could not stand alone. “It’s just another way of gathering feedback, and should never really replace the one-to-one discussion in my view,” he said.

Key HR Takeaway:

  • As with boy scouting, ‘be prepared!’
  • Use the performance review to consider an employee’s future development, rather than becoming bogged down in backward-looking performance evaluation
  • Consider future challenges, what the manager and employee want the latter to achieve, and what learning and development needs to take place to accomplish this
  • Don’t dispense with one-to-one discussion
  • Wayne Urquhart on 25/02/2013 3:10:42 p.m.

    On some points, I agree with Jessica Miller-Merrell’s assumption re Performance Management.
    Being prepared and focusing on the big picture, ‘thinking about the windscreen rather than looking back at the rear vision mirror’ is sound advice; and definitely, it is always about development.
    However, a few thoughts which might add some value to the discussion:
    1. The single most effective tool that manager’s possess is their capability to give subordinate reportees ‘in the moment feedback.’ That is, don’t hold back and to step up and discuss what needs to be discussed; and obviously, in a respectful and composed manner.
    2. Whether the commentary is positive or corrective, managers must ensure that their people know exactly where they stand. There should be no surprises!! When the regular performance management discussion rolls around, it should be a simple review of what has occurred of late and what the next horizon in the improvement journey is.
    3. The real issue lies in that managers are not good at developing their direct reports; in fact it is the skill that managers are globally worst at!!
    4. The reason they are not good at Performance Management, and by inference developing capability, is three fold; they don’t want to do, they don’t know how to do it and they don’t actually understand that they have to do it. In fact, I recall that one senior executive said “Capability developing is not in my PD and therefore I don’t do it.”
    5. Organisations get the behaviour they tolerate.
    Therefore understanding and accepting that Performance Management should be a continual process rather than an annualized event begs several questions:
    1. Why is this critical message not being recognised by senior decision makers?
    2. Whose responsibility is it to develop the skill of providing feedback?
    3. What are the real opportunity costs to the business if this does not occur?

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