The end of a performance review

by 02 Mar 2016
Most managers are locked into the belief that they need to conduct annual or bi-annual performance appraisals with their staff. Yet they acknowledge, on the other hand, that the system is not working.
There is currently a plethora of comments on the value of the performance review.
Performance management is increasingly being spoken of in articles, blogs and management books and is the topic of conversation at management conferences all over the world.
Not all this commentary is positive; many people are seeking answers to the perennial challenges of getting the best from people in their role at work. The ‘5 Conversations’ Framework answers some of these questions, particularly in relation to offering an original and comprehensible alternative to the old performance appraisal system. As we increasingly recognise the value of human capital in the modern workplace, fresh insights and new approaches to manage people’s performance are undoubtedly needed.
When it comes to performance reviews, my involvement with organisations, big and small, indicates it’s generally not a positive experience. In fact I regularly hear the following complaints about performance reviews or appraisals:
• They are a costly exercise
• Performance reviews can be destructive
• They are often a monologue rather than a dialogue
• The formality of the appraisal stifles discussion
• The infrequency of reviews
• Appraisals are an exercise in form filling
• Performance review are rarely followed up
• Most people find the appraisal stressful
Please don’t get me wrong – I am not against performance feedback. In fact I believe it is one of the most important things a manager should be doing.
Organisational psychologists tell us time and time again about the importance of feedback and its link to performance improvement and motivation. You would be hard pressed to find a book on management and leadership that doesn’t extol the virtues of timely, tactful and specific feedback on performance. Performance management is central to the role of manager.
Here is an approach called The ‘5 Conversations’ Framework that I think you will find very helpful. It is easy to implement, constructive and not bureaucratic.
Essentially, it is based on five conversations each lasting about 15 minutes between the manager and his or her employees.

Let’s look at each conversation briefly.
Climate review conversation
A climate review is about determining the current atmosphere in a particular workplace. It is mainly concerned with employees’ job satisfaction, morale and communication. Although people’s opinion about these matters can fluctuate over the course of a year, it is important to take a snapshot of the business occasionally. This assists managers to get a handle on the current state of the business. Information from these conversations can be a rich source of information for planning purposes in the business.
Strengths and talents conversation
Most performance appraisals are fixated with what is going wrong; in other words, it focuses on the weaknesses and sometimes neglects to discuss particular strengths and talents. Tom Rath in the #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller Strengths Finder 2.0 states:
“Society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings has turned into a global obsession. What’s more, we have discovered that people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies”.
Apart from being a far more positive place to start discussing performance, as Roth points out in the above quote from his book, building upon strengths has a higher payoff than working on overcoming weaknesses. This does not mean that we shouldn’t discuss deficiencies.
Opportunities for growth conversation
This conversation focuses on strategies for improved performance from the employee’s individual perspective. It provides the team member with an opportunity to consider how they may improve their own work performance. The manager is able to use this conversation to gain a common perspective on areas for improved performance. From here, the pair can discuss some tangible ways and means of improving individual productivity. This conversation is important to reflect on the individual’s role in the business and how to improve their contribution. Many of the strategies can be implemented on the spot with the assistance of the manager. Other ideas can be discussed and put in practice later.
Learning and development conversation
The learning and development conversation is designed to discuss the learning needs of the employee now and in the future. It may include formal opportunities such as attendance at courses, programs and seminars. Informal opportunities may include skill development within the business, or further coaching and mentoring. These discussions are important to establish some short-term goals for personal and technical growth and career development.
Innovation and continuous improvement conversation
Conversations around innovation and continuous improvement are about practical ways and means of improving both the employee’s own efficiency and effectiveness and the business in general. It focuses on ideas for developing new and improved working arrangements for the individual and organisation. It is likely that a conversation with all staff during a particular month about this topic will lead to the immediate generation of some practical and cost-effective ideas that can be used to enhance systems and process improvements in the business.
I’d recommend you try this approach if you either have no performance management system in place or the current system you have is not working.

Dr Tim Baker helps managers develop productive workplace cultures. He is author of several books including The End of the Performance Review.