Next week I’m going to try something different. With companies and HR now questioning the value of formal performance review systems, I’m going to throw some design thinking concepts at it and see what emerges. The question is – can 11 HR professionals radically design think performance management or are they too close to the issue?
The Problem with Performance Reviews
I’ve never had a great performance review experience. I’ve even been part of developing some of those systems. The problem starts with the manager-employee dynamics, is exacerbated by the timelines and it often puts HR in the ‘hall monitor’ role of policing the process. Even if you get beyond the process flaws, you still encounter the interpersonal dynamics of not telling good employees how good they really are for fear they might ask for more money. This is balanced by glossing over weak areas and performance issues because the manager didn’t deal with them in a timely manner to begin with or s/he decides it’s too confronting to have a difficult conversation. We always forget that employees would prefer to know how to change their behaviour rather than being downsized or made redundant.
Involve Your Stakeholders
I really believe the solution to a successful performance/coaching discussion process between managers and their employees has to start with them. If you forgot everything you know about performance management best practices and just set a couple simple expectations, what could that interaction look like? Building buy in around a process has to start with involving those who are impacted by it – they need to be part of the creation.
One caveat: everything I’m saying in this post is predicated on companies already having managers with appropriate people and coaching skills. No company should even consider changing their current performance review system until their managers have the skills to have effective performance conversations. And performance management – responding to inappropriate and unproductive behaviour – is a completely different process from performance reviews.
Design Thinking a Solution
So next week, I am running a workshop where we will do just that as one of our activities. The non-negotiables are that a face to face conversation needs to occur between the manager and the employee once a quarter and that there be some record of what was discussed. What the result looks like – whether it’s an app, a form, a prototype, an interpretive dance or a haiku – doesn’t matter. The best result for any company is what their employees are prepared to do, support, fight for and see value in on their own – not because of HR.
I don’t expect to see a finished solution next week – we’ll barely have time to prototype – but I do expect to have planted some ideas in the minds of the HR participants. The revolution needs to start with them.