Zombie Performance Reviews

You know why zombies are so popular in contemporary culture? You can't stop 'em.
There's something weirdly fascinating about the idea of the dead suddenly and inexplicably re-animating...and coming after you for its next meal.
But we can turn off the TV and leave the theater after a zombie show and comfort ourselves with the thought that there is no such thing as a zombie in real life. Right?
Wrong. We apparently have a bona fide zombie apocalypse happening in parts of corporate America: the once dead-as-a-doornail performance review process has sprung back to life.
Just the other day I came across some updates on LinkedIn about a new resurgence around performance reviews. Apparently, if HR and business leaders reframe their thinking, and alter their culture, then performance reviews can deliver on their promise.
As an OD Guy, I try to look at performance evaluation processes as objectively as I can, while recognizing that I do have a personal bias about them.
To adopt a more objective view, I like to put on W. Edwards Deming's cap and ask, "Does this performance evaluation scheme promote or erode the values of Quality" e.g.
- customer focus
- systems thinking
- teamwork
- process improvement
- fact-based decision making using measurement
- how employees are treated, motivated and developed
If the performance management process supports these values, it's a good thing. For instance, if it enhances how employees serve the customer, that is clearly a benefit to the organization as well as to customers and other stakeholders.
If it detracts from these values, it is a danger. For example, if it diverts employees from a focus on the customer to some other organizational value such as jobs-per-day, then productivity may increase while customer satisfaction (not to mention employee morale) may fall.
From my standpoint, the Deming position is a great way to get into a discussion of management's responsibility for stewardship of people.
Just as management is responsible for the utilization of the organization's financial resources, so also is management responsible for the utilization, and development, of the organization's human resources.
What makes this stewardship of people unique is the development aspect. This stewardship of development is operationalized through such processes as orientation, communication, mentoring, delegation, training, coaching, disciplining, giving feedback on performance, and team building.
Who is in the best position in the organization, to observe, and judge, the execution of this stewardship? The employees who receive (or do not receive) it.
That's where upward feedback comes in. Upward feedback is the process whereby workers give their boss feedback on how the boss is doing. For this feedback to be most useful, it needs to be structured. That way, the boss gets actionable input.
Far too much emphasis is placed on downward feedback (aka traditional "performance appraisal") in most organizations, with relatively little attention paid to how the boss is doing. Yet recent employee engagement research (see Gallup as an example) points to the tremendous impact that Managers have on the workplace.
So, to wrap up, the great W. Edwards Deming wrote that evaluation of performance, merit ratings, and annual reviews of employee performance comprise the third of his "Seven Deadly Diseases" of management. Why? Because there is often a conflict between these practices and the values of Quality.
Among the values of Quality that Deming cared so much about was how employees are treated. For Deming, the motivation and development of employees was tremendously important, yet very difficult, requiring a high degree of focus and skill on the part of supervisors and managers.
To the extent that an organization's performance management process supports the development of people through training, mentoring and coaching, it's a good thing. To the extent that it drains and demotivates people, it is a danger and should be considered a candidate for the corporate scrap heap.
How do you kill a zombie? Shoot it in the head.
If you have been following the movement, these past several years, to dethrone the annual performance review process, you know that Performance Review is not likely to go away unless there is a viable alternative, so here goes a suggestion.
Instead of the Performance Management and Review process, how about the Organizational Results Alignment (ORA) process?
The key elements would include...
Alignment = The ORA process starts (and never ends) with linking and aligning employees to where the organization is heading and how it is doing. Information about the organization's strategy, goals, and performance is the life blood of ORA.
Goals = Every employee is linked to the strategy via goals and objectives.
Communication = Daily and weekly communication between team members and those in leadership roles is a must to keep everyone on the same page in today's constant change environments.
Strengths = The 21st century management theory is Theory S which says that we are at our best (and do our best) when we are using our strengths.   
Coaching = Managers are trained to be Coaches who develop their players. Like coaches of sports teams, they focus on each player's strengths. Coaches then play to the strengths of each employee in order to benefit the entire team.
Results & Recognition = Timely acknowledgement of progress and achievements, throughout the year, as well as at year's end, with a versatile arsenal of forms of reward.
Featuring a focus on strengths, coaching and recognition, ORA assumes competence, promotes performance, and expects achievements.What do you think?

Terrence Seamon helps his clients developing their coaching cultures. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and connect with him on LinkedIn.


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