Written by:

Holly Macdonald


July 29, 2010

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We’ve all heard that everyone hates performance appraisals, haven’t we? Even the New York times has outed them as psychologically damaging (but they have a hate-on for PowerPoint, too, so perhaps there’s an anarchist somewhere in the ranks).  But, to hate the process is one thing, to ditch the whole thing, now that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.   And, it just might be wrong.  For those of you in the learning sciences (liked that one from Clark Quinn), why would you even care?

What if no one had performance feedback?  Would you get the best out of people?  Would removing the dreaded twice-yearly discussion mean performance would go through the roof?  Would people be able to discuss their skill gaps or express their interest in exploring a career path without performance feedback?

Too many organizations focus on the ratings – which is what people really hate – and I’ve also read some stuff recently that the rating scale that many organizations use are counterproductive.  Many organizations use the 5 point scale with the intent to provide a range of ratings.  But in practice, it creates a bell curve where the majority of people fall in the middle of the scale and they perceive it as a “C” grade.  Moving to a 4 point scale apparently puts less emphasis on the rating itself.

There’s a difference between performance “management”, “review” and “feedback”.  If you are concerned about performance management, then you’ll have a more robust approach to the output (performance) than the process (the review).  If you are interested in the output, then you’ll put more emphasis on the content (feedback) than the process (the review).  The forms is what people hate.

Some folks believe that killing the performance review will hamstring your more strategic HR work.  Performance management gives you information on succession management, deployment, and training needs.  How will you ever know that there is a need for training if there is no performance management?  True, you can figure it out, but used properly performance management can be an early warning system for the training department.  If you are smart, you’ll use the data in a performance management system to help the organization become more successful. If your managers are good at the whole thing, then you’ll have input to what the training needs of the organization are.  If not, then you have some managers to train!  If the gap between what managers and employees perceive is large, then voila, methinks you could do some communication training.

Web 2.0 tools can provide more real-time feedback opportunities.  You can use a product like Rypple,or sonar6 if you don’t use one of the big guns (Halogen, SuccessFactors, Taleo, etc).