A 2014 survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) finds that 70% of organizations use annual performance reviews and 16% use semi-annual performance reviews. However, only 32% of surveyed organizations believe that managers are able differentiate between poor, average, and strong performers. Such stats can help us understand why there are mixed feelings when the topic of performance reviews is mentioned. In this Astronology®, we discuss the current trend of replacing or enhancing the annual performance review with regular communication.
Why are performance reviews conducted? Performance assessment became popular in part due to labor union contracts requiring annual reviews to grant merit raises. Over the years, performance reviews became the go-to method to help organizations formally set goals for their employees, make employees feel valued, and keep employees focused on the organizations’ visions. Performance reviews also served as a critical source document – proof of legitimate grounds for terminating an employee.
Times have changed, however. Depending on the nature of the work and organizational culture, performance reviews can be viewed as time consuming and / or too complicated to properly conduct. As a result, confidence can wane on whether the assessment not only is accurate…but also if the feedback and goals are worthy of consideration.
In some cases, the nature of work can change so frequently that a yearly assessment may not be sufficient to engage employees. In response, The GAP INC conducts regular coaching sessions between employees and management, replacing the need for yearly feedback. Rob Ollander-Krane, the Director of Talent and Performance at GAP INC, explains in a Forbes online article that “We call it GPS. If a GPS waited until you got to the destination to tell you that you took the wrong turn, you would never get where you wanted to go. This is how individuals benefit from regular feedback; there is an alignment and re-calculation that helps them get to their goal. From a company perspective, there are parts of our company that are doing well and some less so. I am more of the mindset that we should use performance management to help individuals achieve their goals.”
Another company that uses continuous communication in performance assessment is General Electric Co. (GE). Last year, GE introduced a phone app called “PD@GE” that employees use to assess both employees and managers, replacing the once-a- year performance assessment conversation with rolling feedback. The new system is being tested on the company’s 185,000 white-collar employees. This frequent communication method also allows for immediate adjustment if a goal or method to complete a task is working – or not – for an employee.
Back in 2012, Adobe made waves by revealing it was replacing the annual performance assessment with a program called “Check-In.” Donna Morris, in a 2014 Business Insider interview, explains “The check-in is far more informal. While the check-in process is regular and on-going, it starts at the beginning of the year, since it’s tied to people having yearly expectations.” After that initial meeting, an employee has established the year’s expectations. With regular on-going feedback, employees can perform better with the understanding of where they stand. Adobe boasts that within the first year of using the “Check-In” approach to performance, they saved 80,000 manager hours (equivalent to 40 full-time employees).
Astron National Director Jennifer Loftus notes that she regularly encounters the “should I eliminate performance reviews in my organization?” question when meeting with HR professionals across the country. “That question doesn’t necessarily have an easy answer,” explains Loftus. “The most effective advice I can provide is this: if your organization’s culture is supportive of honest, open, and regular weekly communication between managers and employees, then eliminating annual performance appraisals might be the right move. If, however, this switch will lead to even less communication between employees and managers, stay where you are. Strong communication systems are essential to making a performance review-free environment successful.”
While it looks appealing to completely scrap your performance assessment method, it’s important to think of how such changes could affect your organization. In some cases, perhaps adopting a hybrid method of constant communication included with an annual overview maybe more suitable. We here at Astronology® would love to hear your insights on the trend of changing annual performance reviews. Feel free to share in our comments section below!