performance evaluations

What if performance reviews were never invented?

Let’s pretend for a moment that we are leaders in an organisation, and we’re keen to find ways to improve employee performance.  Let’s also pretend that performance reviews and evaluations haven’t yet been invented.  What should we do?

Let’s start with the basics.  In simple terms, a job/role is an exchange between a person (employee) and an organisation (employer).  It is a legal relationship that comes with certain legal responsibilities that can’t be ignored.  In addition to these minimum requirements, we also know that our job as leaders is to maximise the performance of the entire organisation.  The more fair and valuable exchanges that we can create right across the workplace, the better off we will be.

Let’s assume we have a typical structure that includes managers and team members. What are our options?

Option 1:  Supervisors review and evaluate employee performance

I know, performance reviews haven’t been invented yet, but this is a logical place to start. The idea is that we identify people with superior skills and experience to others and make them responsible for managing and judging the performance of less knowledgeable team members.  Because they (surely) know the difference between good and poor performance, they are in a great position to judge performance in a fair and equitable way.  To make it fair for everyone, these performance evaluations can be done at the same time.

Initially, this seems like a good idea, however, there are a few questions that start to appear.  What if performance is below an acceptable standard?  Wouldn’t we want this addressed when first identified rather than waiting for a point in the future?  If performance isn’t addressed in real-time, isn’t it a missed opportunity for the organisation?  Is it fair for an employee to receive a poor rating about things they could have changed if they had known earlier?

In fact the more we think about it, the more we realise that a performance evaluation is actually an evaluation of the supervisor!  We don’t want supervisors acting like judges, we want supervisors helping their team members to succeed. If someone is failing, we would want supervisors to feel at least partly responsible for fixing this. We decide to investigate other approaches. 

Option 2:  Employees get continuous feedback in real-time

To overcome the problem of employees not getting feedback in real-time, we decide to consider an approach that we call continuous feedback.  This approach still assumes that our supervisors have superior skills and knowledge than their team members, and as such are in a great position to give instant feedback about what’s going well and what needs improving.  Now we are getting somewhere!

This approach could work if our supervisors had the necessary skills and experience to give the appropriate feedback. We could always do this through training.

However, we once again identify a few problems.  Do we really want our supervisors giving a continuous barrage of one-way feedback to our employees?  Didn’t we read somewhere that people learn by doing, and mistakes are part of the learning process?  If we have supervisors giving continuous feedback, what impact will this have on morale and employee experience?  Are we creating an environment where people will just come to expect instant praise or reprimands during the day?  Are we strengthening or weakening our organisation?

As we start to work through the possible secondary and tertiary consequences of this approach, all of a sudden it seems less appealing.   We keep searching for an approach.

Option 3:  We adopt an organisational ‘growth mindset’.

Being avid readers and curious about trends and topics that are becoming popular and showing signs of success, we stumble across the work of Carol Dweck and ‘growth mindset’ (type it into google and check it out for yourself).  In particular, we discover that Microsoft has recently come out and attributed their recent run of success to adopting an organisational ‘growth mindset’.  The idea that employees who approach problems as challenges ‘on the way’ to success are more likely to succeed than people who see challenges as ‘in the way’ is instantly interesting. We are starting to realise that options 1 and 2 above might accidentally foster a fixed mindset. We agree that it makes no sense to implement any approach that isn’t going to keep raising the standards of the entire organisation.

We start to think to ourselves…imagine if we had an entire workforce learning to overcome new challenges and solve new problems. It would mean that we would make a few more mistakes, but it would put less stress on managers to have to know everything and be constantly micro-managing performance. If we got it right, we could be fostering a culture that can adapt to new circumstances which in a VUCA world is highly appealing. Our managers could be guiding performance instead of managing performance. We could draw attention away from judgement, reviews and ratings (demotivating), and focus more on creating an environment where people get stuck in, get the work done, and adjust in real-time.  If we could do this properly, this would certainly give us an opportunity to maximise the value of the employment exchange for the benefit of everyone. It could certainly lead to improved performance without having to implement a performance review system.

Whilst we still might have something called a review, it would be more about bringing one period of time to a close and setting a course for the next period of time. We agree that it’s worth considering.

So, which option should we go with?

Let’s agree that in such a short article, each of the above scenarios barely touches on the vast number of factors and nuances that need proper consideration.  However, what we know is that as business leaders, the decisions we make have an impact on the way people go about doing their jobs.  With everything covered in this article in mind, which strategy is likely to improve our chances of improving performance and achieving long-term goals?

  1. Focus attention on evaluating, reviewing and judging performance after the fact.
  2. Focus attention on evaluating, reviewing and judging performance in real-time.
  3. Focus attention on self-reflection, guiding performance and a growth mindset that strengthens the chances of future performance.

If we wanted to choose option 1 or 2, there are plenty of providers and vendors out there at various price points that can provide us with a software solution.  But is this really going to achieve our original goal of improving performance?

If option 3 sounds appealing, then My Employee Life should be on the shortlist to consider.  Why? This option is actually less about software and more about making the necessary decisions about the type of environment that needs to be created.  With this approach, we wouldn’t need the majority of features that most performance review software provide, we would need to focus on driving more personal conversations and having the necessary success habits in place.

There’s plenty of research to support the idea that people who are consistently in their challenge zone are more motivated, and that is what a growth mindset is all about.  It sounds like a sensible idea to consider.

The good news is that we can help you figure out whether this is a viable strategy for your workplace. Contact us for more information.

Software Update – 29 November 2019

Over the last few months we’ve been continuing to update My Employee Life. We didn’t want to bother everyone until we were happy that it was the right time to do so. Here are the highlights.

Introducing Actions

We originally called this Tasks, but decided to call it what it really is – Actions. Think of this as a really simple way to keep a log of important things that need to get done. We tend to use it just like a To-Do list, but also as part of the work log process to keep a record of everything that was completed.

If you are an Administrator, we have created a few new fields when creating new forms that prompt people to list important actions for the following week. This is a really handy field to add to your custom Work Log. Simply by asking ‘what are the most important things you need to achieve next week’, everyone can enter these, they automatically get logged as an Action, and can be updated accordingly. Check it out for yourself.

Improved Experience For Administrators

Administrators were already able to configure system settings according preferences. We’ve spent quite a bit of time making it much easier to add, edit and remove employees and allocate them to groups. Through December we will continue to make a few slight changes but it is now already much easier to use.

We’re now fully SAAS

My Employee Life has grown up and now become a fully-fledged Software-As-A-Service product. This makes it much easier for new customers to trial directly from our website, which has allowed us to keep our costs low. An online payments capability is just around the corner, stay tuned.

We’ve also added to our suite of services

We were a consulting company before we were a software company, and we know that software is only part of the story. Due to popular demand, we have continued to develop a small range of services that complement our software product:

  • Create A Performance Drumbeat. We work with our customers to co-create the cycle of success habits that will get you on the way to achieving your goals. Workshops/templates from just $1,500.
  • Identify Risks & Blind Spots. Instead of doing another employee survey that nobody likes to answer, our technique can identify problems, risks and blind spots with just 3 questions. From just $1,500.
  • Verified Workplace. To succeed, you will need to attract the right people into the team. We can help you answer the question ‘what’s it REALLY like to work here?’. From just $2,500.

We’ve also created an option where we partner with customers to support a continuous improvement program from as little as $500 per month. Contact us for more information.

improve performance

The way you set goals can make or break success

Ever since organisations were created for the purposes of producing a profit, organisational leaders have been interested in finding ways to improve performance. Over the years there have been many theories and methods which have risen and fallen in popularity, the focus most recently being on technology-led platforms that not only support improved performance but claim to be able to predict future behaviour. Of course, there are also the usual suspects like performance reviews, employee surveys, 360 reviews and goal-setting.

Improve performance

So what works? Not too long ago we used our EmployeeLife survey platform to post a single question poll across LinkedIn. What we discovered is that only 30% of respondents agreed that their company’s performance system helped to actually improve performance. This would seem to indicate that performance is less about systems and more to do with what’s involved.

It’s the intention that really counts!
In today’s ‘VUCA’ (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, it’s difficult to plan anything with any confidence. Yet, just like any journey you might set out on, there is usually an intention (goal) that will be important. Whilst most ‘performance’ systems seem to focus a lot of attention on the past to analyse what happened, its the original intention that provides the biggest influence on behaviours and actions. Everything shuffles into place according to what the future requires. If this future isn’t clear, then it’s hard to know what to do next. Our performance drumbeat approach focuses on setting a small number of highly important future goals, and then identifying the key actions and behaviours that are most likely to lead to these being achieved. This is the best way we know to guide the many day to day decisions that team members need to make, at scale!

However whilst setting clear intentions and goals is super important, there is a dark side to goal-setting. Goals are created using imagination and best-guess, and it is almost impossible to know with any certainty how things will play out in reality. That is not to say goals are not useful, they are extremely useful. It’s the blind attachment to them that can severely impact success. Going after a goal even though it is discovered the original assumptions are incorrect is a sure-fire way to waste a lot of time and effort, and then there’s the impact on employees and customers. Not good.

It is for this reason that we suggest a cycle of having everyone regularly self-reflect on how things are going and what needs changing. By adopting a realistic approach to goal setting, the chances of success can dramatically increase.

Why is having a Performance Drumbeat important?
There is a reason Bands have drummers and Orchestras have conductors. Regardless of how good each individual musician is, the magic happens when they play well together. Even freestyle jazz musicians play together with ‘rules’ governing how they will play moment to moment.

And so it is with workplaces. Whilst really gifted teams might be able to make things up as they go, this is rarely a successful strategy. A performance drumbeat is simply a cycle of important success habits that keeps everyone and everything dancing to the same beat. With a simple and clear framework to guide performance, it puts everyone in the best position to succeed (and adjust) together.

The characteristics of an effective performance drumbeat are shown in this diagram.

Performance Drumbeat - improve performance

Notice the important elements:

  • Clear goals/intentions – a small number.
  • Identify key actions and behaviour, and focus attention on these.
  • Agreement about what is important – the ‘rules’ of the game.
  • Clear expectations about performance and standards.
  • Removal of unnecessary ‘clutter’.

The Performance Drumbeat sets in place a foundation of simplicity, clarity and real-time progress towards what needs to be achieved. Our My Employee Life platform was specifically designed to support this cycle of success habits in a really simple way.

Need help?

We regularly help our customers to improve the way they set goals and to create a performance drumbeat that best suits them. Workshops start from just $1,500. Simply book in a time to discuss, we’ll have you on the right track in no time.

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