“I think in many cases, the traditional approach of appraising performance is a waste of time and can even cause more harm than good.”
The End of the Performance Review: A New Approach to Appraising Employee Performance presents an alternative to the despised annual performance review. Baker suggests instead of an annual review with employees, that managers engage in five conversations that better reflect the changing needs of the employees and organizations. Each conversation is focused on a set theme and lasts about 10 minutes each month. Throughout a year, a manager and employee would have 12 of these conversations.
I have always been uncomfortable about work performance reviews. Even in positions where I was surpassing expectations, I felt sick before meeting with the HR manager and my supervisors. I felt like I had to say the right things and held my breath the whole hour. Baker’s suggestion of consistent, short, monthly meetings sounds like an improvement. In reading his book, I felt many of the conversations were pertinent to situations outside of organizations – they can be used within households and with those who are self-employed.
Focus on the strengths
"You will get a far greater rate of improvement in capitalizing on an existing strength than in working to overcome a weakness."
The theme of the second conversation is about employee strengths and talents. This conversation focuses on identifying the existing skills and talents of the employees and talking about how they can be used more in the workplace. Baker references a study that suggests that “employees who are given the opportunity to utilize their strengths are considerably more committed to their work than those who are not given the same opportunity”. This makes sense.
In my current role, I don’t manage any employees. But, the idea of focusing on other people’s strengths can be used beyond the workplace. I started to think about the talent and skills of my family. There are some chores that some of us just hate doing. My daughter hates doing the dishes. While, she still needs to do them occasionally, there are chores she is naturally suited to and would enjoy more – like walking the dog, washing the floors (while listening to music) and doing her sister’s hair. The idea that work is only work if you hate it, is silly. Work can be great work if you are using your natural and special skills and talents often.
This idea of playing on your strengths is also useful for entrepreneurs. Everyone is trying to be everything. If you are the only person (or the lead person) of a small venture, remember… it is your strengths that are the most valuable asset to your project. Play them up.
You don’t need a course
"The Learning and Development conversation needs to be much broader and more useful than ‘What training courses would you like to do this year?’"
Baker suggests that instead of asking employees what courses they want to take this year, ask how the employee wishes to develop over the year. This makes the conversation participant-centred and the employee can think past just taking courses.
I am an education junkie. I get antsy if I am not in a program or taking a course, and sign up for free and paid online programs all the time. I finish some. I lose enthusiasm for most. This is a great reminder that there is always something to learn, but learning and development is much more than a course. This month, after having a few free evenings I thought about signing up for another HR course. I took a moment to think about what I really wanted to focus on this year, and it’s on relationships. I called a friend instead and set up a dinner date. I had a great time, loads of laughs and learned something. I’m not suggesting instead of going to school you should hang out with friends, but just think about if you really need a course to accomplish your goal this year, or do you need a mentor, a book, or simply some time alone.
The importance of questions
"The best and quickest way for a manager to demonstrate that they care is for them to shut up and 'bite their tongue.' Giving employees a chance to elaborate by asking questions and then summarizing what you have heard builds trust."
Baker generously supplies the reader with many questions to ask through-out the five conversations. The questions probe the employee to go deeper than any performance review I have been part of. Usually, a performance review asks something like, “what did you feel proud of over the last year”. The employee fills out their form and talks about it with their manager during the annual performance review. Then, they move on to the next question. In Baker’s model, every time an employee talks about their strengths, interests or an idea for developing more on the job, the manager asks questions. It is about taking the conversation seriously and co-creating a successful plan. Common questions are:
- How would you go about doing this?
- What support would you need from me and others?
Even if you are self-employed and have no staff, you can ask yourself these questions about your development. How would you like to reduce costs this year? How would go about doing this? What support do you need from yourself or others to make this happen?
The five conversations is a model that feels riskier to implement into organizations, because it comes with the responsibility of listening to employees and paying attention to what they are saying. The pay-off is that people feel heard, have the opportunity to develop past their job descriptions and use their skills and talents to feel good about themselves and the work they do for the organization.
How about you? How do you feel about the annual performance review? Do you think this is a better model?