If you asked the general public for the most dreaded events in their lives, most would say illness, loss, colonoscopies, root canals, stepping on a Lego at 3 AM. For us working stiffs, add to the list the annual performance review process.
So, imagine my thrill at reading Vauhini Vara’s piece in this week’s New Yorker applauding Accenture and others for banishing the process. If 330,000 Accenture employees are taking a pass on formality and instead embracing more regular check-ins and feedback, I say, good for you.
You see, to me that sounds like the makings of any good relationship. You can probably surmise from the list above that I’m 50+, and that means, among other things, that I’ve spent 20+ years working, leading, managing, self-assessing, and participating in performance review processes from 1-1 to 360, primarily with people in creative organizations. From my perch, creatives bristle at processes like the annual performance review, happening as it does like some kind of employee rite of passage.
Cue brief self-promotion: the performance reviews we conduct at my company consist of 2 short items, with credit to HBS for the inspiration: 1) What I like and 2) What can improve. This pretty much sums it up, and it dispenses with the additional busywork required. Yes, we do ask for a self-evaluation so it’s a give and take conversation. And, we do seek feedback from others. In general, it works.
But here’s where it falls down: the employee/manager relationship is really not unlike relationships you have outside the office. They are, whether we want to admit it or not, relationships. This is particularly true with creative organizations, which by definition rely on frequent communications, brainstorming, spitballing, call it what you want: they like to engage and engage frequently in search of the perfect solution, answer, brilliant idea. And relationships — assuming, of course, you want to stay in them — require frequent communication, feedback, correction, and “this is how what you did made me feel” moments.
Companies operate with many new rules these days – we’re remote workers working with 9-5ers in the office, channeling thoughts and ideas through email and text, rarely picking up the phone, even. So why do we promote an anachronistic model of performance reviews when all you really need to do is seize each moment of every work relationship to make you and your team better?
Like Accenture’s recent move, I’m equally smitten by what Globoforce (the self-described leader in employee recognition, and a Greenough client, I should add) proposes: you develop and retain employees by frequent acts of recognition, not just once a year, and not by checking boxes, but by having authentic conversations based on crowdsourced feedback.
You don’t wait a year to tell your friends, family or partners that they’ve either messed up or done something phenomenal. Why not apply the same thinking to your relationships at work?
Jamie Parker is president of Greenough Brand Storytellers