Moving Beyond the Annual Review


By Jennifer Gerves-Keen

What motivates change?

How about two million hours? That’s an enormous amount of time… and money.

Time for a Change of Track?
When Deloitte realized that their firm was spending two million hours a year on filling in forms and discussing performance ratings, it became a primary catalyst for the complete overhaul of their performance management system (; this moved them from a focus on the past with most discussion around rating past performance to a concentration on the future—on peoples’ careers, performance and aspirations.

Deloitte is one of the major global firms whose radical change on performance measures has been well-documented in the press, but they are not alone. Other organizations such as Google, General Electric, Eli Lilly, and Adobe, along with Microsoft, Juniper and Gap ( have taken a closer look at the effectiveness of their performance systems and completely reworked not only the metrics but how they track them.

Five Critical Pieces Towards Progress
Whether you are a large, global firm, or a smaller local organization, there are some key elements that are becoming recognized standards in effective employee performance measurement systems, and they are not that difficult to implement. Here are five critical pieces every organization should be considering.

1. Performance is a process, not an event: This adage has been around for more than a decade, but many organizations are still relying on annual or bi-annual reviews as the cornerstone of their process. In order for feedback to be effective, it needs to be timely, ongoing and relevant to what is going on in the organization—as in, RIGHT NOW. ??It should also be forward-facing with a focus on what can be done differently moving forward as opposed to rehashing the past. Shorter, more informal conversations (bi-weekly check-ins for example) are proving to be much more impactful than a longer more formal conversation quarterly.

2. Clear direction and organizational vision: It’s difficult, if not impossible, to set goals that align with your organization’s purpose/mandate/vision if they are not clear; it is equally challenging if they are not clearly communicated. Cascading the organization’s overall vision down to individual departments, figuring out what they need to do to align to that vision—which then breaks down into team and individual objectives—is a doable and motivating process…but only if the organization itself knows where it’s going.

3. Employee ownership: All the neuroscience research backs up two key premises that we have been getting wrong for the past few decades. Firstly, performance reviews/conversations should not be passive or one-way. The employee should be owning the process, setting up the meetings, be actively involved in setting goals (particularly their own) and feel like the conversation is a dialogue, not a passive reception of someone else’s feedback. Ideally, the organizational culture should support people asking for feedback, as opposed to simply receiving it.

Secondly, turning performance into a big event—as we have all experienced—completely stresses people out. You are not going to have a quality conversation, let alone a motivational one, when people are so worried about the meeting itself that they are not capable of doing anything except react, often poorly, to the feedback you are giving them. Making the meetings more common, ensuring that you are giving positive feedback in some of those meetings, and having them become a regular part of organizational culture frees up an individual’s headspace to focus on actual goals and plan without getting stuck in the feedback trap.

4. Be clear on what you want to measure: Many performance systems measure things that the organization doesn’t actually care about. Take a look at what’s going on in your organization right now—how can your performance conversations support it? Look at your organizational values—are they even brought up during those conversations?

Perhaps you’ve gone through a recent major change—how are peoples’ behaviours supporting the success of the new initiative? There are many ways your performance system can actually support what’s happening within the organization as opposed to being a silo system; keep things agile and be ready to tweak when needed.

5. Train people on how to have the right kind of conversations: Many of the organizations that are having more success with their performance conversations have spent the time and money getting their managers up to speed with how and when to coach, how to give feedback effectively, how to ensure that it’s a two-way dialogue, etc.

One of the biggest complaints about performance management systems comes from the management group—it’s perceived as a time and energy waster with no real results, and therefore many managers do not use the opportunity to have an impactful one-on-one connection, whether it lasts 10 minutes or an hour. Enrol and engage your managers and supervisors in the process; most importantly, you are giving them the skill sets necessary to succeed, and grow the success of others.

Conversation a Competitive Edge
Apart from having a positive impact on behaviour, productivity and results, the ripple effect of effective performance conversations is critical to success to today’s competitive talent market. It will have a direct impact on your retention levels as employees want to be seen and they want to be heard.

Building a performance culture where they know they will get regular one-on-one time with their boss and be able to have discussions about how to improve, how to reach their career aspirations and where the organization is going—and why it matters to them—makes more of a difference to people than any type of employee ‘perk’ you can offer.

Jennifer Gerves-Keen, MA, PCC is a coach and consultant focused on collaborating with her clients to develop people in effective ways that make sense.

(PeopleTalk Spring 2017)

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