Companies large and small are recently being asked to forgo employee evaluations. When industry giants like Adobe, Cigna, Microsoft, and GE give up on performance reviews, it’s easy to assume that it’s all for the good of the organization, but the evidence is mixed. Why, suddenly, are organizations passing up performance reviews and what good is it really doing?
Why ditch the performance review process?
According to the Harvard Business Review, by 2015 thirty large companies had either altered and reduced their performance reviews or had thrown them out altogether for their combined 1.5 million employees. These companies claimed that performance reviews were failing. Failing how, though? The four major reasons employers say they have replaced or removed their performance review process are:
- Numbers lie: Reviewers are increasingly finding it difficult to quantify work done by employees, especially when an emphasis is put on team projects – where does one person’s effort end and where does another person’s effort begin?
- Cohesion and collaboration: Performance reviews aren’t like grading a test, only a certain amount of As, Bs, and Cs can be given out. This hurts team cohesion when employees feel they did more work but received a poorer rating than a coworker.
- Limiting engagement: Annual performance reviews mean that, often, managers only meet with employees and discuss their progress and performance once a year. Removing performance reviews, apparently, encourages employers to speak to employees more often.
- Honesty and Openness: Both reviewers and reviewees report that they can have a more open and honest dialogue about tasks and workload when they don’t have to justify a rating come performance review time.
So, how do ratingless performance reviews work?
If performance reviews don’t work, then what does?
Consulting firm ETS tracked the performance review changes from 6 major corporations; Accenture, Adobe, Amazon, Deloitte, Google, and Netflix. Each of these organizations has a specific replacement for traditional performance reviews. In 2015, Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme traded performance reviews with a process of “selecting [and] hiring the best people” and “[to] get people to their very best.”
At Adobe, they’ve replaced performance reviews with “check-ins,” where managers are given a budget, salary range and where each employee’s compensation sits within that range. Based on this information, managers make recommendations in a “pay-for-performance” philosophy.
Deloitte utilizes a performance snapshot which asks four yes or no questions about an employee’s performance at the completion of every project (around 4 times every year). According to the firm, this process saves over two million hours that would have been spent on rating performance. Where Deloitte’s goal is efficiency, Amazon focuses on data-driven results. Amazon has faced criticism for both its Anytime Feedback Tool and its Organization Level Reviews which created an environment of negativity and where one poor performance review could lead to firing.
Google and Netflix have championed the 360 peer review process. Google asks its employees to evaluate their coworkers semi-annually. These reviews ask employees to tell their coworkers “…one thing the reviewee should do more of and one thing that they could do in a different way.” These reports go anonymously to the reviewee and their manager.
Netflix however, has no guidelines as to how to review the employee, nor has anonymity to the reviews. Netflix utilizes a “keeper test” wherein they ask their management, if a member of their team were leaving, would the manager try hard to keep the employee? If the answer is no, the employee is cut.
What is the global perspective of performance reviews?
While American companies have thrown the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater in ditching performance reviews, abroad, companies have yet to adopt these radical changes. While each organization has their own evaluation system, most European-based companies are sticking to the traditional approach. One exception, SAP, comes at the cross-hairs of European and American influence. Since 2014, the German-based HR giant has been under the guidance of American CEO Bill McDermott. In 2016, McDermott announced that SAP would be scrapping their annual performance reviews. SAP’s shift is not just internal, however. Senior Vice President of Human Resources for SAP Wolfgang Fassnacht announced in February of 2016 that SAP would continue to market their traditional performance assessment software as well as a new “continuous performance management” software for those companies seeking to modernize their performance review process.
Are performance reviews here to stay?
Overhauling the performance appraisal process may aid in improving efficiency, team cohesion or even employee satisfaction, but these replacements have their own issues, including, in many cases, how to award compensation. Other cases, like the Netflix and the Accenture models, are unsustainable in their philosophies: just hire the right people or just remove employees who in any way underperform.
It’s easy to forget, too, that as much employers and managers rely on performance reviews, employees also benefit from these processes. In a case study of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, HR.com host Edie Goldberg found that employees who received high marks on their performance assessment felt, on average 70% more engaged with the company over the next year than employees who received low marks on their performance assessment. And in a survey conducted by CEB, now Gartner, found that:
“…employee performance drops by around 10% when ratings are removed, and less than 5% of managers can effectively manage employees without them.”
Performance review ratings will always be tricky, no matter how they are approached, but managers, employees, and companies rely on the ability to track performance and progress. Determining how to best go about designing an approach to performance assessment requires introspection, not only on what information is expected to come from evaluating the individuals, but also from evaluating the organization, as a whole. In the end it all comes down to the simple fact that employees are incapable of meeting, or exceeding, expectations, if management does not themselves know what those goals are.
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