A leader at one of our schools remarked that when done right, performance reviews can be energizing and uplifting but when done wrong they are demoralizing. It appears that the latter is what is happening in most organizations. David Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and the “Godfather of HR” just published an article in the latest issue of Talent Quarterly titled “Resolving the Performance Management Paradox.” He cites that 90% of HR professionals are unhappy with their review system, only 14% of CEOs believe that the review system is working and only 8% of HR executives believe that performance management makes a contribution to the success of the organization. Yet, he also cites a long history of studies that clearly indicate that accountability makes a difference. In fact one study identified that just the presence of a performance review system is the greatest predictor of success for hospitals. What can a leader do?
Ulrich recommends that regardless of the process or forms used, leaders embrace conversations: conversations focused on what he calls “positive accountability,” conversations emphasizing learning and improvement opportunities rather than evaluating what went wrong, and conversations primarily focused on the future rather than the past. He suggests that leaders look for opportunities to engage in “real time” conversations that are ongoing and revolve around work events (projects, semester start or finish, work cycle periods, annual milestones, etc.) Leaders should focus on asking questions to discover how employees can sustain success and prepare for the future and help their people look forward to apply what they have learned and address new opportunities or challenges that arise.
A simple conversational model for leaders to use with their performance review process includes the following three steps:
- Know Yourself – ask about and discuss each person’s strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests.
- Action for Growth – ideas and concrete action to leverage individual strengths and interests to support success and on-going development.
- My Value – dialogue focused on the value that each employee provides to the work unit, institution, students, stakeholders or overall organization.
By focusing less on the process and more on the conversation we can make performance reviews a more uplifting experience.