When we are working with businesses around the world we often tell them that traditional performance management is “dead.” What we mean is the traditional annual performance appraisal needs to be overhauled.
It is not as if the annual appraisal is a bad thing. However, in the 21st century, it is simply not enough. More regular feedback is necessary for 21st-century employees. Folks who have ever heard me speak or have read my blogs in the past know I talk a great deal about “real-time feedback.”
Recently in this space, I also talked about real-time feedback versus instant gratification. Providing real-time feedback is not the same as providing instant gratification. This type of feedback is offered in real time and focuses on ongoing course corrections and affirmations.
During my recent travels, I witnessed a perfect example of why traditional performance management does not work. Sitting next to me on an airplane was a gentleman furiously typing during the five-hour, cross-country trip. Near the end of the flight, he closed his laptop and we began to make small talk.
During this discussion he explained what he was up to. The only reason he stopped typing was because his laptop ran out of juice. What had him typing so furiously at 30,000 feet? His attempt to complete the ten annual appraisals he needed to finish.
I do not know this gentleman, his industry, or his memory capabilities. What I do know, however, is he completed all of these annual appraisals completely from memory. He did not look at a single note or review a single file in order to complete said person’s evaluation.
He did mention how impressed he was with his team and how he loved working with each individual. So I am sure completing an evaluation for such a solid team is easier than most. I am equally sure that there is no way anyone can simply remember everything from an individual’s year-long efforts.
This example is one of the reasons why traditional performance management is dead. Annual appraisals should be a summary from all of the micro and macro conversations that happened throughout the year. Additionally, these micro conversations should, from time to time, have written follow up and documentation.
All of that information then can be rolled into an annual appraisal. I found it to be frightening that this senior manager believed he could remember 365 days of an employee’s efforts. Isn’t it more likely they remembered the last 90 days much clearer than the first 90 days?
At minimum, employees should have one-on-one time with their manager. These conversations should be documented and filed in order to produce a believable annual appraisal. Subtract ongoing feedback and documented conversations and a manager would only be relying on their feelings and recent memories.
Unfortunately, most annual appraisals are completed in the same manner. Maybe not at 30,000 feet. But I’m certain this isn’t the first time an appraisal has been completed from a manager’s memory. Is there any secret as to why these tools have lost their value?
The key for 21st-century leaders is real-time feedback. Some of these conversations will be documented while others may be simply coaching in passing. In either event, employee appraisals need to happen regularly, authentically, and provide both positive and developmental feedback.