The problem with most employees’ performance reviews and its solution path

 

Recently, I read an article by Sameer Patel (Senior VP – Products at SAP Cloud, @SameerPatel) that provided interesting insights on Employees Performance Review Processes (EPRP). “More than 75 percent of managers, employees and heads of HR feel that PM (Performance Management) results are ineffective and/or inaccurate. Additionally, study after study has shown that the performance review is dreaded (e.g. feared) – it is not only perceived to be of little value but it is highly demotivating to employees, even the highest performers.” [Read the full article here] Questioning the status quo or the order of things would actually help make many people’s workday better than yesterday’s. Including yours. Here’s why.

THE UNHAPPIES

Imagine a set of marbles in your hand. It’s actually your employer’s biggest seller. Although the quality of Toyco’s marbles and the small size theme figurines they contain are important features, it’s not what makes kids want them. It’s actually Toyco’s marbles container; a short and curved wooden tube. With it, kids can put the marbles in their schoolbag, pants’ pocket or else without the fear of damaging or “losing them” after a while. Like it would happen with the competitors’ nylon fishnet pouch.

Overall, as an employee of Toyco’s marbles team, your tasks are pretty simple. You open a tube, take one marble of each color or theme, put them in the tube, close the tube, and send it to the quality control / testing team. Every year, the Employees’ Performance Review Process (EPRP) measures the same items: how many tubes you filled – compared to the goal your manager had set for you, how many of your tubes didn’t meet the quality requirements (because of a missing marble color, a tube not completely closed, etc.), how many days of work you missed, how many complaints your colleagues had against you, and the list goes on. In many ways, Toyco’s process respects the industry’s standard EPRP. Every year, that same process provides Toyco’s execs with similar insights (the management team can then use to better manage your team) and results: stability in work’s quality and increase in productivity. The company shareholders are happy, so are the execs and management teams. Not the employees. You’re one of the unhappies. Why? Different reasons that translate in a low morale in your department, an increasing number of sick leaves and a turnover rate that remains higher than the industry’s average. You’re actually considering leaving if things don’t change soon. Still, it doesn’t seem to bother the execs or the managers. “Sales are good, number of customers’ complaints is low, the pay is competitive, and we let you work with some of the best equipments in the industry. What’s the problem?

The problem isn’t in what Toyco’s managers are measuring; the mechanic side of your work. That is how many marbles you can put in a tube (physical skill) without losing track of the varieties that need to be in (mental skill). The problem is in what’s left on the table, unattended, not reviewed: the Human factor. That is what makes it enjoyable and reassuring (in some way) to be around and work with you.

WHAT MOST EPRPs ARE ABOUT

As Sameer Patel points out in his article, there are many companies where both managers and employees are unhappy about the EPRP. Yet, if you ask around (to your friends in other companies) not much is really changing in the performances review practices. In part because companies themselves review their own performances, as a whole, using a set of unit-based metrics: how many units of these products or services have we made this year, how many did we sell, what was the total cost, how much profit did we make, what are our market shares. You get the picture.

Most EPRPs are based on a mechanic approach to work. Think of them as a physical check up. It’s great to assess an employee or a company’s physical functions and capacity to carry out certain tasks. What it fails at, though, it’s telling you how driven or confident that same employee is in doing the work he/she does. That’s the Human factor.

So most EPRPs work great with machines. As all they consider are things that can be numbered, counted – like units or tangible goods can be. Even if a service, you can still count how many times you’ve provided it.

A LACK OF COMPATIBILITY

On the other hand, if you ask someone to use that same mechanic approach and measure an intangible like “trust”… then the dire approach shows its limits and the review process starts to bug. First leaving the employees unhappy. A little later, the managers, execs and owners tend to follow and become unhappy as well. Mostly when the products’ quality and the bottom line reach a plateau or start to go down.

Yet, because trust is key in any social relationship’s development, it plays an important role in any team’s ability to either thrive or decline. Even more when people are unhappy about an EPRP’s results.

In such situation, many managers and execs will doubt there’s a real problem in the first place. “The sales are good, the pay is competitive, etc.” After a while, most will lean back and stick to what they know best: their comfort zone. That is the same EPRP they used in the past and ask for another round of it. Even if it proved to have missed what led to a lower quality and bottom line in the first place. “Someone might have asked questions in the wrong way”. At best, some doubtful managers will try another EPRP. Because, by default, such assessment process isn’t made to measure things like trust in the first place, the new EPRP won’t bring much change to the results. That lack of change will simply feed both parties’ frustration. Making it a recurring problem. Turning it into a disengaging situation, at some point. Enough for an employee like you to consider leaving the company, as mentioned above.

Intangibles like friendliness, reliability, accountability and trust are simply not compatibles with most performance review processes. Because they are in the realm of human emotions and perceptions. Not in the one’s of actions.

QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO

Although trust and the others intangibles can’t be measured in the same way as an action (like “how many tubes did you completed this year”) would be, emotions and perceptions can still be assessed. That’s the fun part of questioning the status quo.

As I wrote in a previous post, the 1st step in solving a problem isn’t to look for an innovation. It’s about finding where’s the pain point. [You can read the post here]

If a physical check up can’t deliver what is needed to know about a mental health state, there’s no need (sic) for repeating the diagnostic process as is. It will only make things worse.

In a common Employees Performance Review Process, the pain point is quite simple to identify. None of the questions usually address the Human factor. They tend to only cover the Mechanical one.

From there, a simple solution path would be to ask both the employees and the managers what is it they’d like the EPRP to take into consideration, to assess, atop what is already measured. As you ask different people, key ideas and trends will come to surface. At some point, you’ll have enough material to either build yourself, or submit to either your boss or the HR team a new set of questions. Ones that could be included in an extension to your company’s existing review process.

What type of questions? There are many. Here are two (2) examples. The first is about you: “To what extent do believe your work provides opportunities to give your best every day?” The second is about your team’s co-workers: “How likely would you trust _______ to come and genuinely help you if you had a task-related problem?

WHEN SOMEONE STARTS TO CARE

Yeah but we don’t have the time or the resources to change how things are done”. It’s possible. Still, how long can your team / company afford the costs of “trying to grow a healthy business” with only half of a health status, year after year?

Performance management tends to only measure an employee’s efficiency. Not how driven he/she is to do a job. Keeping things as is won’t make tomorrow’s workday better than today. For someone to question the status quo, the order of things, can sure help make today’s day of work better than yesterday’s. Because caring for someone or being cared for makes a whole lot of a difference. It happens when someone goes beyond only asking how many tubes of marbles have you filled this year.

When you look at your own company’s Employees Performance Review Process, what topic would you like to see assessed through its extension?

Signature PF