The Employee Performance Problem
Ask any well-meaning manager what an employee performance appraisal should accomplish, and you’ll usually hear answers along the lines of: “to categorize the organization, improve employee performance and boost motivation.”
While these are all critical aims for an organization if the answer to how they currently accomplish this is through an annual performance review—then there are problems with the system. Namely, those annual performance appraisals generally only serve one of the three purposes listed above—and it isn’t performance or motivation.
So, How Did We Get Here?
The long and short of employee performance reviews is that they are derived from military practice, were never designed to foster improvement, and have long been used as a tool to cull an organization of their bottom performers. According to the Harvard Business Review, they also serve to punish past behaviour at the expense of achieving the desired future performance that is critical for organizational survival.
So, the question begs: If employees hate them, managers don’t see their value and an organization isn’t benefiting from them—why not ditch them all together?
The Elimination Problem
Well, while I was going to title this post “The Stone Age Called and They Want Their Appraisal Back,” that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as ditching the yearly recap isn’t always the best solution either. So many initiatives are tied to it, including, planning and compensation. However, the employment landscape over the last few decades has made it clear that the conversation needs to shift away from the metrical to the malleable.
Anyone familiar with the psychological principle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs knows that motivation comes in various levels: from the basic (like food, shelter, and wages), to psychological (belonging, achievement, respect of others, etc.) and finally to self-actualization (morality, problem-solving, creativity, etc.)
Although this theory has its critics, the basic premise is that human beings are striving for self-worth and acknowledgment—and if you aren’t creating an environment where this (and the resulting performance growth) can occur—your employees are going to look to another organization to fill those needs.
The take-home is it’s no longer realistic to rank an employee with performance metrics once per year, give them either a raise or a performance improvement plan, and expect that the basic needs you do satisfy (like a regular paycheque) will be enough to sustain them and motivate them to perform to a level that will grow your organization.
So Where Do We Go from Here?
It’s no secret that supported, engaged employees do better—and when they do better, you do better. The goal of employee performance is to elicit behaviour that supports the organization’s bottom line while fulfilling some of those psychological needs your employees crave—and giving them the tools to do it effectively. There are several ways to get this done—and yes, you can keep your year-end appraisal—if you focus on its value as a recap of the year. A good rule of thumb is that there should never be anything in a performance appraisal that is a surprise for the employee. Other strategies could include:
- Linking goals to key company objectives like the mission/vision (they “why you exist” stuff)
- Tying goal achievement to collaboration and communication (not every task needs to be a group project, but increased collaboration and information sharing leads to increases across the board)
- Training managers to check in consistently (this allows for accurate course corrections throughout the year while retaining employee autonomy. The key here is manager training)
- Allowing the employee access to the tools, resources, and training to allow them to successfully fill any knowledge gaps they have.
Of course amended performance measures won’t solve all team issues (for an idea of what other issues employers regularly encounter and how to fix them, read this page) but it’s a good support system for overall team engagement. And of course, we’re more than happy to help with any issues you do have in finding the system that’s right for your business.
How about you? How do you facilitate the employee performance process, and what challenges have you encountered along the way? What do you find helpful? Let us know in the comments!