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Matt Somers

Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training

Founder & Managing Partner

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Why it’s time to ditch the annual appraisal

There are some issues when it comes to traditional performance review systems but that doesn’t mean we can stop reviewing performance. Matt Somers suggests a more continuous process revolving around five central questions.
question mark neon signage; continous performance review

Lately, I’ve noticed a growing chorus clamouring for the abandonment of performance reviews. It seems they are seen by many as the archaic remains of a bygone era, no longer suitable for the dynamic knowledge-based workplaces of today. 

And it’s an argument of some merit. There are indeed some glaring issues plaguing traditional performance review systems. Questions linger, for example, about the subjective nature of assessments – how can we ensure uniformity among managers' evaluations of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Average’? 

Then there's the delicate matter of tying performance outcomes to compensation without inadvertently demotivating employees. 

And how to stop staff and managers gaming the system to suit themselves. (I worked with a company a couple of years back where someone told me that the staff pooled their Force Ranked bonuses and then redistributed them evenly amongst themselves!).

Moreover, it’s undeniably true that many managers lack the requisite skills or inclination to conduct meaningful performance conversations, as hilariously illustrated in the iconic ‘Keith's Appraisal’ scene from The Office

There are ... some glaring issues plaguing traditional performance review systems

The right replacement

A Forbes article from January 2018 revealed that an overwhelming 35 out of 37 managers expressed a willingness to abandon performance reviews altogether. Yet, amidst this clamour for change, an intriguing question arises: What, if anything, would replace these reviews?

While it's true that the traditional annual appraisal model is largely outdated and ineffective, dismissing the notion of reviewing performance entirely strikes me as unwise.

Because my sense is that the essence of performance review lies not in the cumbersome bureaucracy of annual assessments but rather in the ongoing process of evaluating progress, recognising strengths and addressing areas for improvement. 

I believe that, fundamentally, people seek answers to five basic questions concerning their work performance:

  1. What is my job?
  2. How well do I have to do it?
  3. How am I doing?
  4. How have I done?
  5. What's next?

And answering these questions need not entail drowning in paperwork or enduring marathon Teams or Zoom meetings. 

Defining roles and responsibilities with clarity is paramount

Frequent, proactive and open

In fact, the burden of an annual appraisal becomes quite straightforward when embedded within a framework of regular one-on-one discussions. These conversations, in turn, become natural activities within a coaching culture fostered through frequent team discussions and open communication.

By embracing a proactive approach to addressing these five key questions, organisations can streamline their performance evaluation processes. Rather than viewing performance reviews as isolated events necessitating heroic efforts, they become an integrated part of everyday interactions. 

This shift in perspective not only encourages a culture of continuous improvement but also alleviates the burden associated with traditional appraisal systems.

So let's delve deeper into each of the five questions:

What is my job? 

Defining roles and responsibilities with clarity is paramount for creating alignment and accountability. 

Employees should have a clear understanding of their job descriptions, including core duties, objectives, and expectations and, more importantly, how their job connects to the key results their employer is aiming to achieve.

Reflecting on past performance allows employees to track their growth

How well do I have to do it? 

Establishing performance standards provides employees with tangible benchmarks against which to measure their progress. 

These standards should, of course, be realistic, achievable and aligned with organisational goals, ensuring that employees know what is expected of them.

How am I doing? 

Regular feedback and performance discussions enable employees to gauge their progress and identify areas for improvement. 

Managers should provide constructive feedback, highlighting both strengths and areas to develop to guide employees in their professional development. But, again, this doesn’t have to mean the scheduling of formal meetings.

How have I done? 

Reflecting on past performance allows employees to track their growth over time and identify patterns or trends. 

By reviewing past successes and challenges, employees can learn from their experiences and make informed decisions moving forward.

Employees should have a clear understanding of their career trajectory

What’s next? 

Looking to the future, employees should have a clear understanding of their career trajectory and opportunities for growth within the organisation. 

Setting actionable goals for development as well as job performance ensures that employees are motivated and equipped to succeed for themselves and for the organisation.

In the end, while the traditional annual appraisal may be on its way out, the need for ongoing performance evaluation remains as pertinent as ever. 

By adopting a proactive approach, cantered around the five key questions outlined here, you can cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and empower your employees to thrive in today's work environment.

And, what’s more, you can do all that without needing to tick a single box.

You can read more by Matt Somers here.

Author Profile Picture
Matt Somers

Founder & Managing Partner

Read more from Matt Somers

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