By Kevin Lawrence
Having recently read the report about Accenture scrapping its annual performance review process and replacing it with something far more ‘fluid,' I find myself reaching for my skeptic’s hat.
I am not a fan of the ‘annual review’ but am skeptical as to the underlying drivers for this change in the large corporate sector.
One of the advantages of the performance review (if conducted well) has been the practice of managers having career and performance discussions with their team members, using what should be consistently and objectively applied measures.
What has always been an issue is the antipathy toward the amount of paperwork and preparation needed to undertake this significant bureaucratic task (and attitudes toward it) – especially in organizations where people seem to believe a manager can effectively manage more than eight direct reports. Historically in the corporate world (and the private sector) unless something has gone wrong and been immediately ‘managed by exception,' discussions about performance tend to be few and far between -- hence part of the rationale for some sort of annual review cycle, often with six monthly interim reviews, with which to make judgements about performance, contribution capability levels, skills shortages, potential, etcetera.
The rationale for the change at Accenture and other large corporates has been well stated, though I can’t help but wonder if the change will add any real value, for a number of reasons.
Yes, the paperwork and form-filling disappears (to a large extent) – but what we are left with is a group of managers who already find it challenging to talk honestly and objectively about individual contribution on a regular basis, being asked to do so ... on potentially an even more regular basis.
(I hope I’m wrong, and that this is a significant breakthrough in workplace management practices, rather than a way to free up resources, and because ‘we just can’t get the current process right’! Only time will tell.)
Managers, like most employees, tend to focus on what they are being measured against and/or rewarded for. Few organizations genuinely evaluate and focus on managers’ effectiveness in developing the talents of their people. This is far more than just counting the number of training hours that a manager has authorized and well beyond whether a manager has successfully groomed a successor.
It is about giving managers a meaningful objective that focuses their effort on facilitating the growth of the capabilities of all their people; and, making that objective just as important as ‘hitting the numbers.' Unless organizations are serious about that, they can’t realistically expect their managers to give serious time, effort and energy to forward-looking performance management practices that are focused on growth rather than corrective performance management -- which is focused on actions in the ‘rear-view mirror.’ If senior management is not serious about making this change, then perhaps all those self-congratulatory “people are our most important asset” statements in annual reports should be erased.
Image credit: Flickr/Images Money
Kevin Lawrence is Managing Director at the Odyssey Group. He specializes in leadership and management development, change, executive team development and organizational development strategy.