Joining the Anti-Review Crusade? Equip Yourself for the Conquest!

April 28, 2016
Chief People Officer

The big HR push is to eliminate annual performance reviews and as companies, one by one, announce their allegiance to this movement, it’s being celebrated and shouted from every rooftop loud and proud. As someone who manages the annual review process, I’m the first to dream about joining the movement.  

Although my company streamlined processes, managed to avoid the rank and yank method, and transferred the focus from performance missteps to growth opportunities, the time, effort, and hounding of employees to complete the reviews is a headache beyond measure. So, yes, eliminating annual reviews seems like an incredibly carefree idea! But before we all get swept up in the anti-review frenzy, we must remember that the reasons behind performance reviews—the reason companies implemented them in the first place—cannot be replaced, only the processes can. So if your company is the next in line to join the anti-review crusade, equip yourselves by answering these three fundamental questions.

Before your company abolishes performance reviews, your entire organization should prepare to change habits and embrace new processes.

How do you prepare and encourage managers to continuously provide real-time feedback?

To me, this is the primary question because, let’s face it—managers are busy. And although managers are often the first to embrace the idea of abandoning annual reviews in the name of saving time, they’re also the last to except that the success of a no-review culture rests largely at their feet. Continuous, real-time feedback means that you’re not only meeting with employees, well, continuously, it also means that you possess the discipline and will to consistently deliver performance coaching to each one of your employees. Days and weeks of no contact or contact absent of meaningful discourse isn’t acceptable.

In this scenario, managers enter a virtual contract with their employees. The contract is a promise to meet regularly and frequently, recognize shortcomings and challenges, provide coaching and constructive feedback, supply support and assistance, and track progress and improvement. This is no easy task. Think carefully if your managers are up for the challenge and if you, as a company, are prepared to supply the training, tools, and support necessary for managers to be both disciplined and effective.

Eliminating annual reviews doesn’t necessarily save time or effort, it’s simply a matter of reallocating how that time is spent and redefining what that effort looks like.

Do you have the tools and methodology in place to capture, track, and compare performance trends? 

Reviews formalize a process to record progress. Although we can all agree that the review system is inherently flawed, their intent is to provide equitable guidelines for tracking performance, rewarding compensation, aligning goals, and monitoring job progression and career advancement individually and across employees. I don’t think anyone would argue that this exercise isn’t valuable. In a world where reviews are eliminated, however, how do managers capture and track this incredibly indispensable information? And how do they ensure that employees throughout the company are being treated in the same way?

Companies need to determine, adopt, and rollout a two-pronged approach for success: a comprehensive coaching methodology and the tools necessary to track individual and company-wide performance. Before dumping the annual review system, companies have to supply their managers with universal continuous feedback training and processes, as well as implement a structure that provides shared visibility and performance metrics. Without these in place, the most difficult challenge yet is fundamentally impossible to face: In the absence of performance appraisals, how in the world do people get paid?

How (and when) do you distribute equitable pay increases?

It’s true that good managers who are closest to their people and know their work best should be driving compensation decisions. If the employee is struggling, the manager helps to realign strengths or focus on skill building and if the employee is flourishing, the manager rightly rewards through pay and promotion—formal review or not. But companies that eliminate reviews, and in turn eliminate a formal method, have to ask if leaving the pay distribution solely to each manager’s discretion is the best way. And, if so, what instructions and standards are in place to help the manager throughout the process?  To pay for performance, you must appraise performance and trust me when I say that salary and rewards are handled best when they’re handled equitably across the company.

Before your company abolishes performance reviews, your entire organization should prepare to change habits and embrace new processes. Managers and employees may not look forward to the rigor of completing an annual review, but without it, a solid system still needs to be in place to effectively examine performance and distribute rewards. Eliminating annual reviews doesn’t necessarily save time or effort, it’s just a matter of reallocating how that time is spent and redefining what that effort looks like. So before you join the crusade, equip yourself: Are you destroying the existing system for something simpler, or are you simply resurrecting a new system in its place?