Last week, we posed the dilemma of how to reconcile two opposing trends in performance management:
- Millennials increasingly want performance feedback more often and in a more meaningful way.
- Organizations are scrapping formal performance appraisal systems altogether.
This is not a new problem. When we were in the US Navy, there was an unwritten rule: the top 50 percent of naval officers were given top grades—often in the top 1 percent. Put another way, if you received anything lower than a top grade, your chances for promotion were significantly diminished. Of course, everyone knew it was a game, and everyone quickly learned how to play.
But that’s the essence of the problem. Performance feedback should not be a game; it should provide meaningful feedback that helps an individual improve his or her performance. Instead, the game is simply who can write the most glowing prose without crossing some imaginary line into pure fantasy.
Performance feedback and the accompanying performance appraisals should follow several key principles. They should be
Let’s take each of these separately:
Timely. Feedback should be provided soon after the performance concerned. Waiting months to tell someone he or she had fallen short of the mark is not very helpful. Most of us have trouble remembering last week, let alone several months ago. So feedback should be given in a timely manner.
Objective. This is perhaps one of the most critical, and most often overlooked, points. To be really meaningful, performance feedback has to point to a previously agreed-upon, measurable standard that both the performer and the supervisor view the same way.
Frequent. The often-used once-a-year model is a complete mess. To be truly helpful, feedback should be provided as often as possible. Anyone familiar with steering anything—from cars to boats to airplanes—knows that a series of small course corrections is more effective than infrequent major course changes.
Helpful. This principle is a bit of a touchy one and depends largely on the culture of the organization. In some organizations, performance appraisals are used mostly in a punitive fashion to justify firing someone. In other organizations, the opposite is true, and appraisals are used to justify a promotion or raise. Either way, the feedback culture is one of manipulation. To function properly, a performance feedback system should be viewed by employees as helping them improve their performance.
If these principles are followed, then a performance feedback system should help people consistently perform their jobs to standard.
Question to ponder:
- How well does your performance management system measure up against these four key principles?