Most organisations (60 percent) have a performance management process, yet these are widely perceived to be unfair, according to the CIPD and Halogen Autumn outlook survey 20151. Fewer than half of employees (46 percent) believe that the performance management process is very or somewhat fair, while a fifth believe that it is somewhat or very unfair. So what is going wrong? The performance management process in many organisations is a single annual event between supervisor and employee that fails to drive employee engagement, address development needs or improve future productivity.
Traditionally, leaders view performance management as a remedial exercise in managing poor performance. As a result, even the term ‘performance management’ has negative connotations for many employees. Annual reviews, churning out performance improvement plans aimed at correcting unwanted behaviours, are having an adverse impact on employee engagement. The opportunity for a forward-looking process, focusing on employee strengths and aiming for mutually agreed goals is too often lost in the backwards-looking performance management process entrenched in most organisations.
Employees are getting feedback much too late and have very little opportunity to address the issues and change their behaviour. Few employees see this as an engaging process, whereas ongoing performance management that involves constant communication and connection has much more to offer.
Driving a culture of continual feedback
Performance management that is an ongoing and consistent part of an employee’s working life (rather than an intimidating annual event) is not only a means of driving employee behaviour aligned with corporate goals week on week rather than year on year, but it also provides a useful summary record that enables the annual appraisal, if there is one, to be more constructive and evidence-based. This supports a culture of ‘no surprises’, so employees do not meet unexpected and demotivating criticism in a performance review of something they may have done months ago.
Driving a culture of continual feedback is not as simple as just asking people to give more feedback. Many people, leaders and staff alike, don’t know how to give feedback well. Leaders and managers are likely to benefit from specific targeted training as to what is expected of them, both in terms of recognising employees for good practice as it happens and also addressing how to hold difficult conversations aimed at changing unwanted behaviour. It may also be possible to match internal mentors who demonstrate good practice with managers who need development.
The feedback process needs to be much more transparent if it is to have a positive effect on employee engagement, rather than a negative impact. This demands a level of humility from managers who must be prepared to invite feedback to break barriers down and to encourage employees to provide feedback at any level, in support of driving better business performance.
Technology can support communications appropriate to each organisation and group of employees- recording feedback conversations aids with transparency and the collection of comments throughout a certain period of time. However, it is vital not to fall into the trap of hiding behind technology in favour of real conversation. Managers need to talk to employees, face to face– it’s courageous and example-setting, it breaks down barriers, and helps with the handling of more difficult feedback, and also enables quick two-way communications and a chance to ask the employees how they would prefer to receive feedback in future. Establishing an environment of trust between employee and leader, and across all levels, enables an ongoing feedback culture. The transparency, ensuring that everyone knows how they’re doing and what they need to focus on, drives engagement.
Ongoing employee feedback will help organisations make the transition from performance management as a tick box exercise towards performance management as a frequent transparent set of conversations that facilitate talent development. This new approach to managing performance also implies the end of traditional ratings systems that attribute a score to performance, which is restrictive and results in ‘ labelling’, often distracting the employee from the true value of the feedback and the conversation. Also going away are forced distribution approaches to the performance management bell curve – this methodology often force-fits employees, leading to situations where individuals feel unfairly and wrongly categorised.
Most organisations will see quick wins from some easy-to-implement improvements to their staff feedback and performance management process:
- Replace ratings and numbers in the performance management process with space for peers and managers to provide a personalised qualitative assessment of someone’s performance. This type of feedback is more valuable to the organisation and the employee.
- Make the giving of feedback fun and engaging. Posters or emails can use humour to get staff on board with the process of giving feedback effectively.
- Instruct managers to set up a calendar reminder to recognise employees who did a good job this week, creating behaviours that over time will become more natural.
- Implement a regular recorded feedback mechanism to avoid the bias of the ‘recency’ effect of annual appraisals. This ensures the performance management process does not only reflect recent behaviours or single incidents but addresses a broader, fairer view of employee performance. Individuals can connect behaviour with feedback almost immediately and respond to that constructively.
- Aim to create a culture where employees feel safe providing feedback upwards and downwards through the hierarchy. But be realistic about whether this will work in your organisation – buy-in at every level is key.
Supplementing annual appraisal events with mechanisms for regular feedback is a highly effective measure for boosting employee engagement. A sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery in their work are the three factors most affecting employee engagement, when salary packages are at the right level, according to psychologist Daniel Pink2. If employees receive regular feedback they will be able to see that they are achieving their personal goals while contributing to the success of the organisation.
1 Employee Outlook: Autumn 2015. https://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/survey-reports/employee-outlook-autumn-2015.aspx
2 Daniel H. Pink. ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us’. http://www.danpink.com/drive/
About the author
Dominique Jones is Chief People Officer at Halogen Software. She holds a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Certification.