A breakthrough!…but is it all that it seems?

The word Breakthrough breaking through glass to symbolize discovSo, over the last few days a number of people have sent me links to this recent business article on Stuff: Accenture ditches annual performance reviews. Thanks for that, you know who you are 🙂

In summary:

  • Accenture, one of the largest professional services organisations in the world has decided to radically change its people processes: getting rid of the annual performance review
  • They aren’t the first ‘big beast’ to do something like this:
    • Deloitte (THE biggest professional services organisation in the world) went public in a similar vein last March. An April 2015 HBR article called Reinventing performance management explains where they are going;
    • I understand that the likes of Microsoft, Expedia and Adobe dropped most or all of the performance review process a couple of years ago;
    • Our very own NZ organisation, Telecom (or is that Spark?!), appeared to be heading down a similar path back in 2013 , though this would appear to me to have been driven by cost rather than the science of psychology:

Telecom [will] stop using online forms to appraise staff performance, reverting to a “far lighter” system of one-on-ones and “adult-to-adult conversations” on regular four-to-eight week cycles, he [Simon Moutter, CEO] said.

The “forms and processes” associated with performance appraisal had impeded Telecom, he said.”When we hit ‘appraisal season’, the company nearly grinds to a halt with the bureaucracy.”

Caveat: Looking at this 2015 Spark site, I’m not sure whether they successfully ‘broke away’ from the past…the picture at the bottom looks remarkably familiar!

A reminder: I have written quite a bit on the subject of performance review. In particular see An exercise in futility.

Ironic

What I find highly ironic about professional services firms eulogising about their new found wisdom is that they have large ‘human capital’ consulting arms that have been selling their wares for decades (I know, I used to work alongside them)…and what have they been earning millions of $ on? Yep, advising on implementing supposedly highly researched incentives schemes and performance review programmes….you know, the ones that they have now decided aren’t so great.

Taking a look, for example, at Deloitte’s website, I can deduce that they see a huge opportunity in presenting themselves as (what professional service organisations love to call themselves) ‘thought leaders’ to sell their new-found performance management brilliance (the next Silver Bullet) to all the other organisations out there.

A Fudge?

I have read the Deloitte HBR article (referenced above) and I see their ‘answer’ as a likely fudge.

They talk a lot about the wasteful time and effort expended in the current annual appraisal system. They talk about it not actually deriving valid results (being hugely biased by who is making the judgement). Yet their answer (when boiled down to its essence) is to merely make it simpler – a sort of ‘reboot’. It would appear that they are still asking questions about a person to rate them, which will determine a reward.

You could point to their strap line of “Replace ‘rank and yank’ with coaching and development” and, yes, I can get behind that BUT:

  • they haven’t once talked about the system and its monumental effect on what a person can (or cannot) achieve; and
  • they appear to be clinging to the idea of motivating an individual’s performance through contingent rewards, and judging them accordingly.

I can see that the games people understandably play will simply mutate, yet remain.

“Tell me how you will measure me and I will [show] you how I will behave” (Goldratt).

Going back to Alfie Kohn’s work:

  • First you need to remove contingent rewards;
  • Second, you need to re-evaluate the performance review process (change from judgement to feedback);and
  • Then you can create the conditions for authentic motivation.

A reminder of why judgement and rewards do not belong anywhere near helping people develop:

“If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgement of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.

You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow; you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing so that you can get the goodies.

A powerful inducement has been created to conceal problems, to present yourself as infinitely competent, and to spend your energies trying to impress (or flatter) the person with power.” (Kohn)

“Mind the gap”

Many an organisation might read about* what the likes of Accenture are doing and conclude that, clearly, they need to copy them.

But a reminder of the dangers of copying: Yes, look at what others are doing and, yes, be curious as to why…BUT you need to work it out for yourselves – you need to ‘get’ why it is the right thing to do and then adapt it accordingly. Otherwise you can expect one great big mess.

(* A particular quote from the Accenture article which I found of interest: “Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting” We should be seriously questioning if this is actually what we want.)

“Nothing to see here”

Whilst a part of me is very pleased to see the big beasts ‘coming out’ (more or less) against the performance review process:

  • I’m unmoved (being polite) by their commissioning/ invoking of seemingly new and brilliant research that arrived at their ‘new insights’.

Why? Well, there’s nothing new here. Go back to Alfie Kohn’s brilliant book ‘Punished by Rewards’ to see the body of research from many decades ago. Go back to Deming’s 4 day lectures that he gave to thousands between 1981 and 1993 (that’s more than 30 years ago!!):

Deming’s Deadly disease number 3: Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review

“In practise, annual ratings are a disease, annihilating long term planning, demolishing teamwork, nourishing rivalry and politics, leaving people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior…sending companies down the tube.”

…go back even further to what Deming and the Japanese were doing from the 1950s.

During this time, the majority of large corporations have been pushing in, and constantly justifying, the exact opposite of where they have arrived at now.

Now, to be clear, I think it is really great that there appears to be a movement against the ridiculous performance review process BUT:

  • I’m not convinced that they fully ‘get it’ in respect of human psychology; and
  • I think it is disingenuous, arrogant (or maybe ignorant) of any organisation that does not (outwardly) recognise that what they have just ‘discovered’ has been there, loud and clear, in front of their eyes all the time.
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2 thoughts on “A breakthrough!…but is it all that it seems?

    • Yep, one of my favourites, and I think I must have worn it out from overuse! It is one of the underlying themes from Goldratt’s first book ‘The Goal’.

      The actual quote is “Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave”.

      But, in my experience, people don’t tell you the dysfunctional things that they are going to do because of the KPI’s, targets and the like that are applied to them…they just do them (they aren’t stupid – they often feel quite unhappy about what they know to be daft for the system)…so you have to study to find this out.

      Like

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