It’s my performance review on Monday. One of my friends said this to me at the weekend. The tone of voice was disdainful. The FFS at the end merely implied.
When you work in HR, people talk to you about their work all the time. I quite like it. I especially like to hear from people on the receiving end of the people stuff that I do, so to speak.
I’ve got to fill in a bloody form in advance about what I do. Shouldn’t my manager actually know that already? And it is called a performance management meeting. My performance doesn’t need managing. What am I, 12?
But I wasn’t surprised at anything she had to say. My first thought was that her manager was probably looking forward to it about as much as she was. Which clearly wasn’t all that much at all.
Here’s the thing. Lots of HR departments don’t like performance reviews either. They make us become something that we don’t really want to be; all about compliance. We monitor how many have been completed, the scores that have been attributed. But for HR, this reduces the conversation with people managers to being all about the what have you done and the when can I expect. A percentages game. And a completed form just tells you precisely nothing about quality, only quantity. Anyone can do a crappy review.
So in the typical performance review approach, we have something that all of the parties involved have an issue with. How did it get to this? I can say with all certainty this is not limited to my friends organisation. It is everywhere.
Performance meetings, appraisals, annual reviews, 121s. Call them what you will. They should be a good thing. Positive. A chance, every so often, to step outside of the operational day to day stuff, and just talk. Talking and sharing. Feedback, learning, what is going well and what is not. A look back and a look forward. Not about the form but the person. A conversation between two people; the most impactful relationship that the employee has on their satisfaction at work. These are not difficult concepts. But we have made them so.
So why is the annual review so reviled? There are many reasons. Sometimes it is the process itself. It has been made too complex, or includes something as awful as stack ranking. Sometimes it is a training issue. Often, I have found it comes down to one simple thing. We aren’t that good at having meaningful conversations at work.
Oh, we can talk about the agenda and the project plan. The latest customer complaint and product development roadmap. An update on the financials and just how is that email marketing campaign working out? Even the price of the coffee in the vending machine. Surface stuff. Day to day operational stuff. But personal stuff? Not so much.
For all the criticisms made of it, to get rid of the performance review, we need to replace it with something better. There lies part of the problem; we haven’t really got anything to replace it with, so we keep plodding on, doing what we have always done. For the most part, what you need to replace formalised performance review processes with, is maturity. Maturity of leadership, maturity of conversation.
And that is much harder than filling out a form.