You’re ready to get rid of your annual performance reviews [i], but what do you replace them with? You know that you need a process that is more agile, timely, and relevant than the assessments and employee rankings of the past, but your managers need more guidance than simply instructing them to check in more frequently. It would be unwise to drop the performance reviews completely, right? But does anyone have a desire to have those dreaded and awkward conversations more often?
The research tells us that real-time [ii] performance feedback is much more valuable to employees. From a management perspective, the old method created an illusion of consistency and equity, but it really only gave us scalability [iii]. What exactly is the new method? I think we’re going to have to give up on the idea of replacing annual performance reviews. By now, we know that effective feedback and good leadership go hand-in-hand. You won’t be able to replace the old tool with a new tool. We have to replace the old tool with a new mindset and skillset [iv]. Below is TTA’s model for real-time performance management. The goal of this model is to create closer proximity before the performance of the team member and the manager responsible for evaluating that performance.
TTA’s Model for Real-Time Performance Management
This grid highlights the types of activities that would be appropriate in both the present and the near future. Daily and weekly activities ensure ongoing discussions of performance while monthly and quarterly activities provide an opportunity to assess overall results. The specific activities will likely need to be determined by leadership as there won’t be a one-size-fits-all system. The two categories of activities, habitual and contextual, prompt us to provide the consistency that will acclimate team members to performance discussions and the relevance created by bringing those discussions into the workflow [v] of the team.
The value of periodic one-on-one meetings or check-ins, for example, is that both the manager and the team member become comfortable talking at an analytical level about the work that is going on. A regular cadence for these meetings helps create an enduring habit, but the real discipline comes in directing the agenda to meta-level conversations about the work taking place. The leader must get beyond what is happening to discuss the team member’s contributions, specific stretch assignments, and other goals. Here is a typical agenda for such a meeting:
- Continue the Dialogue: What topics were raised in the last check-in? What stretch assignments or micro-goals were discussed?
- Current Work Activity: What is the work being done? What are the near-term and long-term metrics for that work?
- Contributions: What is the individual’s contribution? And what are the metrics for evaluating that work?
- Targets: What growth or stretch targets related specifically to the current work have been identified? What progress has been made? Where will there be opportunities over the coming weeks? What are the longer-term aspirations?
- Challenges: Where is the individual running into obstacles or challenges for which the manager needs to clear the path?
The objective isn’t to do everything suggested on the grid, but to devise your own strategy that works for the type of work that you’re leading. For example, in the contextual quadrant for daily and weekly focus, I’ve listed “genchi genbutsu,” which is Japanese for “go and see.” This principle is taught in many quality management and efficiency models as a prompt for the leader to go and see for herself what is happening with the work. It may literally be a daily walk of the manufacturing floor or it may be the periodic and detailed review of documents and deliverables produced by a remote team. The objective is to roll up one’s sleeves to see the work context and the individual contributions of team members. Going and seeing the work take place or participation in team huddles can give leaders their own perspectives, help them to ask more insightful questions, and help to maximize the time that their team members are using for check-ins.
Longer term (and by longer, I mean monthly/quarterly and not yearly), it’s important for a similar balance of structured habits and contextual involvement. Giving your team the opportunity to showcase their best work and to receive recognition for that work reinforces the culture change. These tools communicate several important cultural messages:
- We are a team that values the quality of our work.
- We share feedback frequently.
- We celebrate our successes and continuously strive for improvement.
The need to personalize performance feedback – in terms of both habits and contexts – means that the leadership confidence of the manager is paramount. She won’t be leaning on a standard approach passed down from higher up in the organization. Instead, she will have to assess the workflow of her team and design the activities that will best meet the criteria [vi] of timeliness and relevance. Incorporating performance management and real-time feedback will likely require both a rollout strategy and an ongoing approach supported with training, resources, and a management community of practice. The upside, however, brings deeper relationships between leaders and their teams, greater trust and confidence, and a true learning culture.