David Hassell likes to tell a story about pot roast. He's shared it with me once before, but the CEO of 15Five, unravels it so diligently, I don't mind hearing it again. It goes something like this: A woman is preparing pot roast and cuts off the ends. When asked why, she replies, "It's what my mother did." Hassell goes on to explain that cutting off the ends was handed down through various generations: "It's what we do." When the story folds in the great-great-great grandmother, she explains, "I cut off the ends so the pot roast would fit in the pan."
In work and life, there are beliefs we hold that go unchallenged. We go about life familiarly doing things way, yet we have no cogent explanation for their influence on thinking "that's just how we've always done it." While it is cognitively more comfortable to allow routine and tradition to dictate what we believe and do, they have no place in a company that wants to be at its best. We do not always realize that we have succumbed to beliefs and actions that have become irrelevant.
Take for example the annual performance appraisal. It is a routine that has long ago lost its usefulness. Sure, at one point we thought annually telling someone how they are doing was enough, crazy as it sounds today. Sure, we assumed people knew where they struggled and excelled at work, silly as that sounds today. So, when 15Five released an update to their employee engagement tool that includes a solution that challenges "It's what we do," I wanted to learn more.
What follows is not a summary of Hassell's new product. Instead, I want to provide you with insights to help your company modernize how you develop people. I will include some wisdom Hassell shared with me, too.
Goodbye Annual Performance Review. Say Hello "Best Self Review."
I have long advocated for leaders to focus on the workplace environment, or climate, as a way to motivate and inspire people. It is the central focus of my book, The Optimistic Workplace. Most managers do not consider the annual review as a way to positively shape the climate of their team or the organizations. Most managers and their employees dread the yearly routine. That dread prevents managers from seeing how the ill-fitted discussion drains any good vibes that might exist within the team.
15Five advocates what they call the "Best Self Review." It is a definite shift towards helping humans learn how they can excel--in work and life. Gone are the days where a paycheck is enough for enduring subpar workplaces and bosses. Work is a central part of our identity. It is how we make meaning of our contribution to the world, or at least, our small part of it. We are undeniably driven to be part of something important. It is time businesses ( I'm looking at you HR) overhaul the one process that can leverage the aforementioned human needs. The annual review needs to sunset. In its place is an ongoing dialogue about constant learning and applying strengths to the businesses challenges and maintenance tasks central to success for both the employee and the company.
Taking Steps to Replace the Annual Performance Review
It does not matter if you call the performance conversations "Best Self Review" or something else. What matters is you stop the tradition because it's what you've always done. Letting your own pot roast story be the narrative for one of your most important responsibilities is management malpractice. It not only hurts your company it also damages your effectiveness and your employees' too.
To help you discover new ways to inspire high performance and people, consider these tidbits:
- Integrate personal values, purpose, and strengths into your ongoing performance conversations. Do employees understand how their values influence their work? Do they have a sense of how their actions contribute to the company's Why?
- Establish a cadence of growth conversations. For example, new employees should have more frequent discussions with their manager--at least monthly and quarterly.
- Capture your notes from your discussions--actions items, projects, personal and professional goals--in a tool that can be shared and accessed anywhere. Tools like 15Five and Weekdone are solid options.
- Abandon numerical scales. These often demotivate employees and are wholly subjective. Instead, focus on impact to the company, growth of the employee, and project successes.
Hassell suggests having employees reflect on and answer questions like these:
- "What are my top three strengths and how did I apply them this past quarter."
- "What are my three opportunities where I can improve in the next quarter?"
- "What impact do I want to have on the organization this quarter?"
- "What three wins do I want to acknowledge and celebrate?"
As my conversation with David Hassell came to an end, he made an important distinction: "[A manager's job] isn't to score the person, but to give critical feedback that's necessary for growth. It's in service to the person and not just the organization." The end goal of a performance conversation is not to check it off your to-do list. Instead, the end goal is to partner with people, so they become their best self or fulfill their potential. There is no timeframe for this. It is an ongoing dialogue. This represents the critical shift essential to replacing the annual review.