A Practical Guide to Dropping Ratings

November 28, 2017 Sarah Payne

If you work at company that still conducts traditional performance reviews, you’re likely knee-deep in end-of-year performance evaluations as you read this post. I feel your pain. No one wants to go through the process of justifying a year’s worth of work. And HR could certainly do with less paperwork.

One of the more painful aspects of the whole process is ranking employees. How do you explain the difference between a 3 and a 4 and a 5? At a former company, my manager told me, “Don’t worry, nobody gets a 5.” It wasn’t very motivating.

So how can you start to break away from an antiquated process like ranking? WorkHuman speaker and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute David Rock recently shared three steps to help companies make the transition:

  1. Have a framework to encourage regular conversations. He writes, “Firms that are succeeding at this transformation don’t just remove ratings and tell managers to discuss whatever they want, whenever they want. They are putting explicit expectations in place, such as requiring four conversations about goals.” In Globoforce’s 2017 WorkHuman Research Institute survey report, we found 60% of workers prefer to receive positive feedback continuously and 61% prefer to receive constructive feedback continuously. What’s more, people are 42% more likely to agree the feedback they receive is valuable when it is delivered in a quarterly or ongoing process (64%), as opposed to just in an annual or semi-annual review (45%).
  2. Focus on the future. These conversations are much more productive when they are focused on an employees’ opportunities for future growth in the organization, rather than a rehash of, “the same old assessment discussions but now without a ranking,” says David.
  3. Have a change management plan. David suggests, “providing just-in-time tools, conversation guides … and consistent messaging from senior leaders throughout the organization.” A great perk of integrating these conversations into your company’s day-to-day workflow is it can have a positive impact on manager-employee relationships. The aforementioned report found in organizations where performance management is a continuous process, employees are more trusting of their manager (41% vs. 34%) and perceive them to be better coaches and partners (78% vs. 64%), compared to employees in organizations with annual reviews.

What’s perhaps most detrimental about ranking is the idea that it promotes a “fixed mindset.” When an employee is labeled a certain number during a performance appraisal, it becomes part of their identity. Whereas regular, future-focused conversations, writes David, “foster a ‘growth mindset,’ based on the belief that people always change and improve.” My colleague Lynne Levy wrote an excellent piece based on her personal experience working for a manager with a fixed mindset and how this negatively impacted her experience at work.

Data from Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute survey report makes a clear case not only for more frequent communication, but also for more voices in the organization to be a part of the conversation. Of the 2,700 U.S. workers surveyed, 52% said their work day is composed of a mix of solitary work and team collaboration. Because work today is more team- and collaboration-based, a majority of workers (65%) believe their co-workers know more about their day-to-day work than their immediate manager.

Re-imagining your company’s approach to employee performance and development is no easy task – and certainly every culture is different. But hopefully this research gives perspective on where the industry is headed and how to build more humanity and common sense into the process.


A Practical Guide to Dropping Ratings
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