How to fall in love with the Annual Performance Review

Piers Bishop · November 16, 2015

Hands up who loves the Annual Review?  Anyone?  Well, most of the many people we speak to find them uncomfortable, embarrassing affairs, that even break a few hearts.  And it’s true that their main output can be a year’s worth of brooding resentment.  The tide has definitely turned against the review, and many hip young companies are now doing away with them altogether. But while we wait for a viable replacement that meets the needs of large organisations, there are things you can do today that will make your reviews work to your advantage and the staff’s.

It’s easy to see why employees dislike reviews – especially when they are tied up with salary negotiations. This is a particularly poisonous state of affairs, where the process of setting learning goals collides head-on with the emotional consequences of not getting a pay increment.  But the (mostly) unspoken secret is that line managers hate reviews at least as much as their staff. There are several reasons for this – a huge amount of the working year is taken up with a process that most people are suspicious of; they know that finding viable goals to put in for next year is going to be tricky; the business of explaining who will and will not get a salary increment is upsetting all round; and many of the people who have to do this are not really ‘people’ people, even though we’re all supposed to be able to put on the empathic robes when we become managers.

So what can you do? As with any process, people will only engage with the review if they feel it will meet their needs to do so. “Hold on” you may say, “We’re doing this so the company can keep an eye on them, not so as to give them a good time.”  Wrong – you’re doing this so as to get better results for the company – achieving that depends on the co-operation of your people, and achieving that depends on knowing what makes them tick.

Human beings have their best experiences when they are working with other people to solve problems and make things work better for the good of others – that’s why they give their so-called ‘discretionary effort’ outside of work so happily. The question for companies is how to enable that happy state of affairs during the working week, and this is where the annual review is such a grand opportunity. If you can use it as a vehicle for finding out what it is about the working culture and environment that does not meet their needs and motivate them to work well, you can can move everyone into a better place where work becomes self-motivating.  In theory.

What stands between theory and practice?  Three main things:

  1. Your managers may not know what it is about work that is not self-motivating for the staff.  This will vary from person to person, and people vary in their response to stressors anyway, so there are several questions you should be asking to find out what is going on for each individual.
  2. Managers may not have the people skills to get into good enough rapport that their teams open up and talk honestly about what is wrong – many managers acquire a team by virtue of age, knowledge or experience, but this doesn’t make them natural managers.
  3. They may simply not have the capacity to do the work involved in finding out the problems and formulating action plans to deal with them.

However, help is at hand – and you can try it today at no cost. WeThrive asks the questions that managers don’t, to get at the underlying causes of lost motivation and productivity. It’s a clever, adaptive, web-based system that asks two sets of questions to find out what is less than optimal and what could be done about it, and then presents your busy line managers with a ready-made framework for conversations. Conversations that show staff the organisation cares about them, enough to do what is needed to help them have a better time at work and, incidentally, get more done.

When people’s experience of work improves they do it more willingly, more intelligently and more sustainably.  You’ll get less sickness and burnout, fewer mistakes and less defensiveness and ‘silo’ activity. In time you may decide to move towards a continuous coaching relationship and abandon the annual performance review altogether, but we’d like you to be able to fall in love with it one last time …