The workplace: Reviewing performance reviews

Performance reviews are an annual ritual for most of us.

vectorstock 4117310By Asher Wilson-Goldman

We sit down with our manager, talk through what we’ve accomplished and what we’d like to improve, and work together to find professional development and learning opportunities for the year ahead.

At least, that’s the idea. In reality, performance reviews are often painful exercises where you go through a barely relevant form discussion with a manager who couldn’t care less, talk about things that won’t make a difference and then promise vague things that will be forgotten within 10 minutes of leaving the room.

Is there a better way of doing this? Some big corporates are shifting away from the annual reviews. Recent research says that 12% of the USA’s 1000 biggest companies have stopped doing them. That same study, by the Corporate Executive Board, estimated that a company of 10,000 employees would spend US$35 million (NZ$55 million) per year on staff time and technology for annual performance reviews.

Accenture, a large management consulting firm, made the news earlier this year by announcing they would replace annual performance reviews with timely feedback from managers to staff on an ongoing basis. This sounds logical – feedback on what you’ve done well, or what you can improve on, is going to be most useful when it’s fresh, not nine months later when you can barely remember the piece of work it refers to.

Even a company that previously championed harsh performance reviews is changing. General Electric, seen by many as having been the biggest driver of the concept into corporate American life in previous decades, used to rank all employees during their review, and then fire the bottom 10%. The company has now scrapped this, and has developed an app that facilitates regular feedback from managers and co-workers.

New Zealand companies and public service departments tend to be a few years behind the rest of the world. A lot of new ways of doing things come here a few years after they’ve been in fashion in the USA and UK. This means we can expect to see a shift away from annual performance reviews and towards ongoing conversations in the next few years.

The shift by GE, Accenture, and other large companies including Microsoft, Deloitte and Adobe, could be a positive step, if replaced by a system that is genuinely helpful for workers.

We all want to do a good job – the Workplace Dynamics in NZ Public Services joint survey by the PSA and Victoria University in 2013 showed that 89% of PSA members are committed to making a difference to society, and more than three-quarters are committed to public services.

Constructive feedback and reviews of projects and other pieces of work can be useful, when done in a way that allows lessons to be learned and improvements to be made.

Like all parts of our work, we know best what form of feedback would work best for us, and when we’d like to receive it. We need to make sure that when our workplaces are considering changing or dropping performance reviews, that they are replaced with a system that works for us.

So, get your thinking caps on – talk to your workmates and your delegates, and if you’re passionate about it, put a proposal through to your bosses. That’ll be one less pointless meeting to go to.