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What To Do When the Annual Performance Review Process Falls Short

What To Do When the Annual Performance Review Process Falls Short


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Note: This blog post is part 2 of a two-part series.

Why do we all still do annual performance reviews? Well, not everyone does.

Some firms (i.e. Adobe, Accenture, General Electric and The Gap) have eliminated the annual performance review process. Why? Because nobody likes the performance review process.

Managers find the process time-consuming and they have a hard time summarizing an employee’s contributions during the previous 12-month period. Their direct reports do not see the value when peers with subpar job performances receive the same annual increase as they do.

Both sides become uncomfortable in performance reviews. Reviewers cannot anticipate if the employee on the other side of the desk will become emotional or defensive during the review. The situation can become messy.

Deborah Riegel, the director of learning at Massachusetts-based executive coaching firm The Boda Group, believes the performance review process takes an emotional toll on both employees and managers. Managers have to withstand the messiness of defensiveness, anger, crying and passive-aggressive behavior.

What Do Employees Want?

Employees want regular, authentic and constructive feedback from their managers. However, it is necessary to find a technique that is not time-consuming for managers. Also, whatever system is implemented should still have a component that provides for an objective ranking. For example, a Bloomberg report found that some companies that eliminated a numeric ranking system in their performance reviews experienced a decrease in employee performance.

What Is The Solution to Taking Away Performance Reviews?

To find a workable solution for replacing the performance review, we have to briefly review the history of management. Companies used to promote high-performing technical workers to the rank of management. The thought was that if those employees went through leadership development programs, they could oversee groups of individuals performing the work they used to do.

Unfortunately, not all of those technical superstars made the transition successfully. Instead, some of those people became micromanagers who created a toxic environment when their direct reports were unable to live up to their expectations.

Now that the use of technology has increased, employees – especially the younger generations – see the role of managers differently. Technology has made information readily available on the Internet.

Workers know they can find critical information by searching the Web and don’t always need to rely on the manager to be a subject matter expert. Instead, they need managers to take on the role of mentors, coaches and developers.

Implementing ‘Project Coach’ into The Workplace

I love to invent titles and “project coach” is my latest one. In my opinion, what we need in organizations are project coaches (PCs). Project coaches are people who are capable of facilitating professional development and providing immediate feedback, so individuals can adjust their job performance when necessary.

Why should employees wait a year when they can benefit from constructive comments while a project or task is still fresh in their minds? We should create coaches who can become project managers of an employee’s professional development.

I can hear my critics now. Yes, this new process can be time-consuming. However, I believe a good coach is trained to take the necessary time to walk a person through a situation and watch that person’s growth. It’s what coaches like to do.

It is a better alternative than forcing managers who might have a limited skill set to provide their direct reports with constructive feedback in a performance review. Those managers don’t want to do it, so let’s find someone who does.

Years ago, personnel departments evolved into Human Resource departments as HR professionals took on a more strategic role. The next development in the field was the popularity of the Human Resource Business Partner role. These HR professionals understood the “big picture” of the business and knew how to connect with line managers.

They got things done in an ethical and legal manner, while recognizing the importance of the company’s bottom line. They were the ideal partner for the technical managers.

But in some cases, something went wrong along the way and employees’ needs were overlooked. The role of the project coach could be the next evolution in the workplace. A project coach would provide a valuable service to assist employees with their professional growth and to help organizations with talent management and retention.

The concept of the project coach already exists. It is being used in schools with a mission of empowering teens to go back into their neighborhoods and make a difference. We can look to these successful models and implement them in our own organizations.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and an ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.