How can we improve our annual review process?
It’s a question the Board will often ask of a harassed HR Director, who has just moved heaven and inertia to complete this year’s appraisal round. Fighting for time ahead of Any Other Business and Date of Next Meeting, the question comes laced with a heavy undertone of ‘how will you get more out of our people?’
The subsequent conversation represents nothing so much as a pendulum, swinging away from the current status and towards its exact opposite.
There will be more, or less, of everything from senior involvement, direct line manager involvement, form-filling and SMART goal-setting to 360 feedback and time spent in the meeting itself.
Adjustments will be made and incremental improvements may well follow.
But organisations and Boards don’t want incremental steps forward in an age of incessant change. And nor do employees want to labour under a judgemental system that year-on-year fails to meet slightly fewer of their needs and leaves untapped just a little less of their overall potential.
Both parties want quantum leaps.
And the way to deliver them might be found by adding one letter to your review process.
Make it a Preview process.
The Preview conversation would have three component parts: purpose, contribution and help.
The first part is perhaps the most challenging because it requires the company to be very clear about its organisational purpose, goals and strategies for the forthcoming year.
The employee would then outline how they can best contribute to that cause. Which might mean carrying on with some of the things they are already doing and perhaps deploying skills and passions previously excluded from their role.
The focus on contribution is significant.
It brings a sense of the collaborative nature of the times and suggests a focus on what the employee is willing to give, rather than the performance level that the employer can expect automatically in lieu of compensation package.
It suggests an exchange of goodwill – which is what the company will rely on next time the ‘extra mile’ is requested. The employee’s willingness to give will increase if the they can match their own personal and professional purpose with the corporate vision.
The final stage identifies the help the employee needs from the company to achieve their projected contribution. This might include anything from skills training and behavioural development to a boss who listens or a team structure that better calibrates accountability and responsibility.
The subsequent stage would be for the business to align the roles and potential contribution of all employees, allocating not only development budgets but also compensation and incentive packages accordingly.
Such a process moves the focus away from the past and moves towards a more authentic communication in which employer and employee work together to realise a shared vision of the future.
As well as the employer articulating a corporate vision, the process would also require a working environment in which real-time feedback was constant and meaningful. In which people were able to give praise, encouragement and constructive criticism, and to handle difficult conversations. It demands a learning style of management that corrects performance issues and prevents the build-up of resentment and misunderstanding that might otherwise explode during annual appraisals.
The Preview mentality moves the mindset of the employee from ’what I did’ to ‘what I can do in the future.’ And the results might well help the HR Director demand a slot further up the Board agenda as they clarify how ‘our people’ are going to contribute to achieving ‘our vision.’