Leaders of businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations seem to be all about performance. Performance, performance, performance. After all, if your people don’t “do,” what benefit are they to your organization?
For decades, an emphasis on performance has solidified in organizational leadership the importance of performance measurement tools. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.” Well, it is finally time to stop using some of these tools and start using a system that really works.
Here they are, front-loaded on this post, the five employee performance tools all organizational leaders need to stop talking about:
1) Employee reviews
2) Job assessments
3) Position appraisals
4) Annual evaluations
5) Performance analyses
I know what you are thinking. “Are not these five terms all synonymous anyway, and, if you get rid of them, what tools are left for me as a leader to make sure I am not keeping slackers around?”
Whether you, as a leader, speak of reviews, assessments, appraisals, evaluations or even analyses, you are right in that they all serve the same purpose. They may have different forms, take different approaches, use different procedures, but in the end, these performance tools all serve the same purpose of ensuring that the organization is not keeping an employee who is not contributing his or her fair share to the organization.
Why These Tools Fail by Themselves
Do these performance tools fail? The answer depends on your definition of “fail.” If your purpose in using these tools is, as I mentioned above, to ensure that the organization does not keep unproductive employees, then they can be quite effective.
The problem is not the review or the appraisal or other approaches. These are mere tools. Tools are not, of themselves, good or bad. The problem is in the purpose for which they are used. Allow me to explain.
The Problem with the Approach
Leaders who approach annual reviews as a way to verify “up-to-par” performance do so, whether they admit to it or not, out of fear. They do not want to be stuck with an employee that is taking advantage of their organization’s resources without adding their fair share of toward the organization’s profit (financial or benefit to the community).
When we make decisions based on fear, we tend to say goodbye to rationality. In the short-term, then, we have “saved ourselves” from being taken advantage of. Leaders using these tools want to answer the simple question, “is this employee worth keeping around?” With such a question implicitly understood by the employee as well, no wonder if it a stressful experience. Every employee knows that their job is on the line once a year.
I, myself, have gone through annual reviews from my “superiors” at various places of employment. Personally, I typically find the experiences frustrating, often demoralizing and the epitome of dis-empowering, and I am certain my reactions are common to employee-dom everywhere.
Unfortunately, in the long-term, these tools also tend to put off, eliminate, and dishearten employees with great potential for growth who, with a little be of encouragement, the right resources, and a training session or two, would greatly boost the organization’s productivity and effectiveness over time.
Replacing Fear with Hope
I believe that the opposite tactic of a fear-based approach is one based upon hope. Fear leads to eliminating dangers, threats and anything or anybody who makes us uncomfortable. Fear is based upon emotion, not reason, and rarely on reality.
Hope turns fear on its head. Hope helps the leader to see the potential benefits in dangers, threats and discomfort. The caveman who only felt fear at the appearance of a massive mammoth, did everything he or she could to get away. It was not until a cave man approached such occurances with some hope that he or she realized they could, with proper skill development, the appropriate tools and some coordinated teamwork, turn this scary threat into a source of food and warm blankets.
If you are a leader at an organization utilizing one of these five tools, I am sure that your initial reaction to this post will be that I am dead wrong. Nobody likes to believe that they are approaching employee performance from a position of fear.
For such leaders, I first ask you to read on and then to take a few days to mull over such a possibility. “Am I making employee performance review decisions based on fear or on hope?” It really will change your view on reviews.
What Hopeful Approaches Look Like
Let’s say you decide to change your approach. Let’s say you accept that fear-based decisions are unhealthy for your organization in the long-run. Perhaps you are tired of high employee turnover rates. What tools are left for you to use?
This can actually be a case where putting the cart before the horse helps you better understand the purpose of your journey. The hope-based approach is the cart, and the system is what moves the hope. Rather than going into further theoretical discussions of the supremacy of hope-based approaches over those based in fear, let’s see what a hope-based system look like. Once you can glimpse its potential for long-term benefit, you will be more likely to understand the place and value of hope in your approach to employee performance.
Development Systems Versus Reviews
The key principle here is to replace the idea of performance reviews with performance development.
Review = Fear
Development = Hope
In fact, it is not about performance development so much as it is about employee development.
“Wait a gosh darn minute,” I hear you say. “I am not in the business of helping my employees get what THEY want. That is THEIR business.”
You are going hate me for saying this, but such reactions are, again, based upon fear of being taken advantage of.
Great companies are built on the belief that they are dependent not on their customers but upon the long-term development and growth of their employees. Invest in your employees in a way to make them feel appreciated and needed and hopeful for long-term success, and you will have a workforce devoted in return to your success 24/7.
“Well, that is all fine and dandy for big companies with lots of resources, but we’re no Google. We can’t afford all of that feel-good mumbo jumbo fluff.”
I hear you. This is not about adding an entertainment room to your office or putting in a volleyball court outside. Let’s talk about your employee development “system.” This is no more costly than fear-based reviews. I am going to oversimplify the process, but you will get the idea.
The Continuous Employee Development System
If you have been married to a “Performance Review” system your entire career, you will likely be more than a little nervous about ditching it. Fear not. The Continuous Employee Development System will feel familiar enough so you won’t miss the old scheme.
As the name indicates, the Continuous Employee Development System (CEDS) has for its purpose a perpetual improvement and advancement of your staff. This includes a persistent focus on the skills, resources, knowledge, structures and connections required for your employees to reach mutually agreed upon goals in the context of your organization’s strategic plan*.
While “continuous” may sound like more work for you, this is only true in its initial phase. Setting up a CEDS is like any other system. It requires an upfront effort to organize, document, and announce so that your employees, volunteers and other understand it and are on board with it**.
What does a CEDS look like?
- It looks like employees constantly aware of their annual performance goals, automatically submitting goal-related performance reports to leadership.
- It looks like employees being constantly aware of the resources they have and those they need to achieve their assigned strategic goals without wandering into unknown and expensive territories.
- It looks like focused effort on annual strategic objectives, goals and tactics that are part of every daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting.
- It looks like 360° reviews, set up in advance and automated for minimal intrusion on leadership’s time but maximum practical feedback for staff and teams.
- In summary, it looks like an answer to the prayers of many a frustrated executive: “How can we keep our teams and employees on task and at peak performance?”
The next time you hear yourself or your staff talk or ask about annual reviews, assessments, appraisals, evaluations or analyses, remember that we live in the 21st century. Recognize that any tool that has your team waiting 365 days between setting goals and receiving feedback is a relic from the Jurassic period. It is outdated and a waste of time. With so many tech tools at your disposal – and most of them for free – it is time to get rid of performance instruments based on calendar months and replace them with a Continuous Employee Performance Development model.
I am not the only person that can help you assemble and implement a CEDS for your organization. You can even do it yourself. If you are interest, though, in some help and support, please call me today or submit the form below.
*If you have not gone through a strategic planning session in the past one to three years (or longer), it is time. Your organization needs a thoughtful and clear values statement, mission statement, 3- or 5- year vision statement, annual objectives, measurable goals tied to your objectives, and tactics for accomplishing each goal.
**I recommend you consider a leadership retreat to finalize the planning and launch the initiative.