These Blind Spots Are Ruining Performance Management

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is being chased by predators through the woods? He quickly arrives at a cliff screeching to a halt and nearly falling off into a river far below. He now has a choice, stay to face the predators, which will likely kill him, or take a chance and jump into the river below risking possible serious injury or even death. He jumps.

In my opinion, this describes the decision many major organizations made when they changed
their performance evaluations. They were being chased by the poor results of the typical
appraisal. These include significant wasted time, complaints by employees (especially
millennials) about the quality and frequency of feedback, and the lack of development discussion time. These companies jumped. Some went into the “river of software” where the hope was to spend less time and remove much of the paperwork angst. Some jumped into the “no ratings” river to avoid the difficult and often damaging conversations which managers dread and which upset employees.

The acknowledged reasons for change are not always the root causes of that change. The predators chasing the companies to the cliff’s edge are mostly just symptoms of the real root causes. Unless we know the real reasons for dysfunction how can we be sure our jump is not just a reaction instead of a proactive strategy? The predators chasing the large organizations through the woods include significant wasted time on preparing and delivering the typical performance review meetings and the high percentage of employees and managers who are frustrated and disappointed.

Many of the employees (especially millennials) who are unsatisfied with the typical appraisal process claim the feedback is poor and doesn’t help focus on developmental needs. As high as 65 percent say it is not relevant to their job (Meinert, 2015). Only 8 percent of HR executives believed their performance management systems made a significant positive improvement in employee performance (Rock, Davis and Jones, 2013).

Accenture, GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Deloitte (to name just a few) have changed, but why are employees/executives still unsatisfied? There are two reasons: the lack of appreciation for a system – we call this scotoma –  a spot of blindness. The second is the idea that a manager is THE one who must provide feedback. I call this the omniscient manager scotoma.

Recent brain research suggests that the typical appraisal meeting creates an environment that can prevent creativity and innovative problem solving. This clearly is one of the root causes of the dysfunction, but it’s just not enough to ensure a valuable, sustainable redesign.

One of the main reasons the typical appraisal fails is because it is inconsistent with systems thinking. Rarely does one hear this explanation from one of the major organizations. Systems thinking requires the placement of responsibility for results on the design and functioning of the system and the avoidance of placing responsibility for performance on the individuals or parts of the system.

Many organizations still attempt to provide consistent and frequent feedback to the individuals within their organization. Organizations are social systems with interdependent parts. Any attempt to evaluate the parts ignores the influence of the system on those parts and will either frustrate managers and employees by wasting their time and/or make performance worse.

Why do organizations continue to insist that managers deliver the frequent feedback? This idea is a holdover from the hierarchical view of organizations. Why not design a performance management process that provides opportunities for everyone to learn from each other? Why not allow everyone to innovate their service and performance to improve the quality and speed of the system interactions?

A manager cannot possibly know enough to help employees with all their interactions. This approach in performance management is the false belief that managers must be omniscient and omnipotent simply because they have the big title.

A redesign that offers the option to speak to multiple employees would provide significant opportunity for those who desire frequent quality feedback. In a future article, I’ll share my ideas on how to do a redesign.

If an organization is ready to replace their appraisal process because the leaders find themselves at the edge of the cliff, it is important to recognize the two scotomas and redesign the process to address the two root causes of dysfunction. If not, you’re just jumping off that cliff because the predators have caught you. That’s not strategic leadership. It’s reactionary and deadly to company and employee success.

Photo Credit: douglasreeves Flickr via Compfight cc