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New methods + new thinking = new day for performance management

Nearly everyone has opinions—and complaints—about performance management. The annual performance review in which employee and supervisor fill out a form and sit down for a talk is rapidly going out of style. Although that system addresses an employee’s strengths and weaknesses and may even include a discussion of goals for the future, it’s increasingly seen as an unhelpful, time-wasting exercise that benefits no one. 

Major employers including Microsoft, Deloitte, and Adobe have famously ditched old-style reviews in favor of more informal and frequent talks between employees and their managers. Technology, too, has changed the performance management landscape as employers use new tools to track performance and provide feedback.

In January, software maker Adobe released a survey showing widespread discontent among U.S. office workers participating in traditional reviews. Many respondents to the survey said such reviews often result in competition among coworkers, increased personal stress, and dramatic reactions such as crying and quitting.

Adobe noted that it abolished the old-style review process in 2012 and moved to what the company calls its “Check-in” system, which focuses on ensuring that employees and managers set priorities, give and receive feedback, and chart career growth on an ongoing basis, according to a statement accompanying the release of the study.

Natasha Bowman, a human resources consultant focusing on performance management, notes that a wave of U.S. employers are ditching traditional reviews and turning to new thinking. She presented a program called “Performance Management Reloaded: Ditching Appraisals in Favor of Revolutionary Ways to Reinforce Positive Employee Behaviors” at the Business and Legal Resources THRIVE 2017 conference set for May 11-12 in Las Vegas.

Adapting to change
Bowman says employers are turning to new ways to evaluate employee performance because the traditional performance management process is often ineffective in that “it provides a minimal amount of insight into a team’s true output.” And that’s not surprising, she says.

“If you think about how much the work environment has evolved over recent years, it’s unreasonable to believe that an outdated system of management can keep up with today’s agile workplace,” Bowman says. “With so many powerful and accessible methods to track both quantitative and qualitative performance metrics, there’s no reason to stick to the limited view that the old system provides.”

That doesn’t mean that rating systems have no place in today’s world of work, but they don’t do the job on their own, Bowman says. “For those systems to be truly effective measurements of performance, they need to be integrated into a process that gives you a holistic view of individual and organizational success,” she says. “I do think that we should ‘ditch’ the mentality that there is one solution to performance management—anything dealing with the complexities of human performance won’t be as simple as that.”

Hybrid system
So what’s the answer for employers looking for the ideal system of evaluating and driving employee performance? There’s no one size fits all solution, Bowman says.

“The most effective performance management system is a hybrid of multiple systems—one that is completely tailored to the needs and realities of the organization,” Bowman says. “It should give you a complete picture of what is working and what is not working.”

Devising a system to identify what works and what doesn’t isn’t the only challenge, Bowman says. Getting buy-in is another important part of the equation. Employers have to “make sure that the process that is put in place makes sense and is understood by all stakeholders,” she says. “Processes that are too complex are likely to be misunderstood, misused, or abandoned.”

Data is key
Data should drive an organization’s efforts to develop an effective performance management system, Bowman says, and it’s up to human resources managers to access, understand, and communicate the right data that will accurately demonstrate an organization’s health.

“Without access to the right data, HR managers are not able to identify the causes of problems the organization is facing, nor can they effectively develop or implement plans to address those problems,” Bowman says.