Performance reviews are just one of those things. You know they're useful. But you also know the traditional way of conducting them is far from perfect.
The biggest issue with performance reviews could probably be debated, but whatever you think it is, it likely stems from what Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley terms in his book,The Crowdsourced Performance Review, as the "single point of failure" structure.
That is, traditional performance reviews feature a manager telling employees how they're doing. And what if the manager is uninformed? What if the manager's wrong? What if the manager fails in its duty to provide a review? Well, tough.
The book was released last spring, but with performance review season upon you, it's worth visiting the notion.
Using the Power of the Crowd
In his aptly-titled book, Mosley explores one way to solve this issue, and the many issues that spring from it: to democratize them. Much in the way society crowdsources everything from restaurant reviews to the news, Mosley thinks you should ask for the input of various constituencies and in conducting performance reviews.
Mosley's book is grounded in the idea of implementing social recognition programs (which, it ought to be duely noted, his company sells) into traditional performance review procedures. This sort of software is designed to draw from employees' colleagues and direct reports year-round, establishing rewards and recognition systems that he says managers should reference during the performance review.
"A single manager can often not fully assess an employees’ true performance and influence," Mosley says. "This data can and should be brought to the table during performance reviews to inform outcomes."
Mosley contends employee recognition programs work better than, say, surveying employees about one anothers' performance around the time of performance reviews or crowdsourcing offline (ie, informally chatting with other stakeholders about an employees' performance) because they are already built into a company's operations. In other words, they are used independent of performance reviews. When Employee X does something great, his colleagues reward him at any point of the year in real-time.
Compare that to the thought on an email with the subject line saying, "Please review your colleagues' 2013 performance"--which aside from coming off as a chore could also make colleagues uncomfortable--and it's not difficult to see why an integrated system might result in a more honest and intimate look at how colleagues perceive an employees' work.
The Big Picture
But even if you skimp on that software, his larger point rings all the more resonant: You are not always the best judge of your employees' abilities and a better performance review would acknowledge this. Surveying teams at the end of projects, rather than at the end of the year, might be another way of crowdsourcing employee reviews based on real-time data. Anything that gets you a broader look at an employers' output, as opposed to your managerial bird's eye view, could help performance reviews work a little better.
One pitfall of this idea--indeed, a criticism put forth by Fortune--is that it could result in legal trouble. Mosley notes in the book that one of the advantages of the traditional review is that it presents a clear paper trail should an employee sue for wrongful termination.
Responding to that criticism, Mosley tells Inc. that the crowdsourced review should be seen as a way of supplementing, rather than entirely replacing, traditional systems. The crowd's input should be considered an asset, but should not direct the entire process--and personnel decisions should remain solely based on the managers' overall judgment. "An employee’s standing and overall performance assessment remains at the discretion of his or her manager," he says.
The performance review isn't the only human resources function that hopefuls seek to improve by crowdsourcing. The reference check is another sort of thing experts consider important but hampered by HR policies and legal issues. England-based B2B SpeakInConfidence sells one product that anonymously surveys an employees' references about their work, allowing for aggregate feedback that should theoretically be more honest.