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Letters to a Young Manager

Rewrite Performance Reviews, #76
LTYM > Managing People -- How to Begin

Dear Adam,
So this is your first year doing performance reviews. It's hard, but worse, it doesn't drive performance and teamwork.

During one of my leadership presentations I asked the audience for a show of hands, "Who found their last performance reviews motivating?" Maybe 1 or 2 raised their hand. I tried it again at the next presentation. No hands raised. If reviews are supposed to drive better performance, we are failing miserably.

Perhaps we've lost sight of the goal, motivating performance. An antiquated process won't suffice. Even Dr. Deming, quality guru, recognized this in 1986 [1]

I know you can't change the entrenched process. But you can supplement it. Here are some suggestions:

1) Offer coaching whenever and as frequently as possible. This is Ken Blanchard (of The One Minute Manager fame) approach in Situational Leadership: the four phases of employee development: directing, coaching, supporting, delegating. [2] Coaching is the conclusion of a recent Fast Company article [5]

2) During your 1:1 meeting with your team members, help them update their resume. Yes, you read that correctly. Why? A resume talks about accomplishments and value-added; it's the right focus. This is management guru Tom Peter's recommendation [3]

3) Look at the context and ask how the data can help your team members evaluate where they are and need to be. This is Deming's approach [1]

4) Focus on collaboration and teamwork. Ask more how the team is doing, not the individual. See the Harvard Business Review article by Rock and Jones [6]

I've added some extra references and quotes below. Let me know what you think.

[1] Deming on performance reviews:
"Dr. Deming Called for the Elimination of The Annual Performance Appraisal," by John Hunter, The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog, October 29, 2012,
"In Out of the Crisis, page 101, Dr. Deming states the following as one of the seven deadly diseases:

"Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring. the sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise."
Out of the Crisis, by W. Edwards Deming (1-Sep-1986)
What to do instead: change the context: the surrounding systems account more for performance.

[2] Ken Blanchard, Leadership and the One Minute Manager Updated Ed: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership II, October 15, 2013

[3] Tom Peters idea that annual resume writing replace the performance review, what he called resume-ing
"What type of system excites both employees and leaders? The work of business guru Tom Peters suggests the ingredients of one promising approach. In discussing how bosses can get employees to grow more on the job, Peters proposes a system of "résumé-ing." In place of performance reviews, bosses should sit down with an employee once a quarter and review that employee's résumé with him or her.

The basis for the review would be the list of "résumé-ables" accomplished by that employee over the previous three months: completed projects, new contacts, client testimonials, and new skills. The beauty of this outcome-based approach is that it is a win-win situation. Employees win because they are improving their résumés and thus their long-term career prospects. Employers win because it encourages employees to start and complete "résumé-ables," which by definition bring value to the company." See Tom Peters, The Tom Peters Seminar and Tom Peters, The Circle of Innovation: You Can't Shrink Your Way to Greatness (New York: Knopf, 1997).

"A MEASURED ADVANTAGE: Creating a Smarter Company Through Employee Skill Certifications,"
By John Nicholson, October 08, 2001,

[4] See the book by an HR exec and lawyer:
Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead, by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins (Author), Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (September 9, 2002)
Excerpts are here:

[5] Also see: "Why The Annual Performance Review Is Going Extinct," Kris Duggan, Fast Company,
Regular coaching is the substitute; Cf. the Ken Blanchard approach to situational leadership!

[6] "Why More and More Companies Are Ditching Performance Ratings," by David Rock and Beth Jones, HBR,
SEPTEMBER 08, 2015,
Some quotes:
"conventional ratings systems inhibit collaboration, making a business less customer-focused and agile."
"In short, standard performance reviews, delivered once a year, are just not relevant to the ways we work anymore."
" As our forthcoming research will show, when Microsoft removed its ratings, employee collaboration skyrocketed."

[7] "Why Adobe Abolished The Annual Performance Review And You Should, Too," by Drake Baer,
Business Insider, Apr. 10, 2014,
"I would say that people should have the courage to disrupt a process that might no longer be providing the company with value."


Create the process for the goal: motivating performance

Discussion Questions:

1) What was the worst performance review experience you've had? The best?
2) In your daily work, what motivates you to learn, grow and improve?
3) Why is work different than school when it comes to grading?

For Further Reading:

See "Strengths, not Weakness," Letter #69

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