End the Performance Review

by Dr. Tim Baker

Performance-ReviewAs a business consultant with organizations, both big and small, I regularly hear a litany of complaints about performance reviews or appraisals than range from “The formality of the appraisal stifles discussion” to “They are too infrequent” to “They are rarely followed up.”

Please don’t get me wrong — I am not against performance feedback. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things a manager should be doing. But in place of a formal review, I suggest an alternative approach called the Five Conversations Framework. It is easy to implement, constructive and not bureaucratic.

Essentially, it is based on five conversations, each lasting about 15 minutes, between the manager and his or her employees.

Climate Review Conversation

A climate review is about determining the current atmosphere in a particular workplace. It is mainly concerned with employees’ job satisfaction, morale and communication. Although people’s opinion about these matters can fluctuate over the course of a year, it is important to take a snapshot of the business occasionally. This assists managers to get a handle on the current state of the business.

Strengths and Talents Conversation 

Most performance appraisals are fixated on what is going wrong; in other words, it focuses on the weaknesses and sometimes neglects to discuss particular strengths and talents. Tom Rath in the No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller Strengths Finder 2.0 states, “Society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings has turned into a global obsession. What’s more, we have discovered that people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” Apart from being a far more positive place to start discussing performance, as Roth points out, building upon strengths has a higher payoff than working on overcoming weaknesses. This does not, however, mean we shouldn’t discuss deficiencies.

Opportunities for Growth Conversation 

This conversation focuses on strategies for improved performance from the employee’s individual perspective. It provides the team member with an opportunity to consider how he may improve his own work performance. The manager is able to use this conversation to gain a common perspective on areas for improved performance.

Learning and Development Conversation

The learning and development conversation is designed to discuss the learning needs of the employee now and in the future. It may include formal opportunities such as attendance at courses, programs and seminars. Informal opportunities may include skill development within the business, or further coaching and mentoring.

Innovation and Continuous Improvement Conversation

Conversations around innovation and continuous improvement are about practical ways and means of improving both the employee’s own efficiency and effectiveness and that of the business in general. It focuses on ideas for developing new and improved working arrangements for the individual and organization. 

We have implemented the Five Conversations Framework in organizations that range from a law firm to a disability services government department. I have found that they are instantly interested in this new approach. What employers and managers like about it, amongst other things, is the opportunity to get closer to their employees to break down the “them and us” approach, if you like. And progress is easier to track. Rotating through each of the five conversations twice over the course of a year for 10 short, sharp conversations annually yields a regular, ongoing dialogue, not a once- or twice-a-year situation.   

Dr. Tim Baker is the author of The End of the Performance Review: A New Approach to Appraising Employee Performance. He holds a Doctor of Education degree specializing in organizational culture and is an international consultant and managing director of Winners at Work Pty. Ltd., which specializes in assisting organizations develop productive workplace culture. 

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