The Annual Performance Review Is Out, Continuous Performance Management Is In

performance review

The annual performance review is dead. Long live continuous performance management.

Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But there is no denying that one of the most enduring – and often disliked – performance-assessment tools is quickly falling out of favor with the world’s biggest employers. 

From Microsoft to General Electric to Accenture – top employers representing iconic brand products and services have abandoned the annual review. In its place, these companies are using various forms of continuous or real-time reviews and coaching sessions to provide employees with an assessment of their performance.

Why the trend away from annual reviews? In a 2015 interview with The New Yorker magazine, Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme said that when they took a long, hard look at their annual review process, they were forced to admit it was cumbersome, expensive and “the outcome is not great.” 

Many of us in the human capital field can attest to the fact that it was difficult to find examples where performance reviews had actually improved the overall performance of an individual employee or an organization. 

The move away from annual reviews has become a legitimate trend that has been noted by some of the world’s biggest human capital companies. A recent Linkedin article by Filip De Pooter, the director general of staffing at Adecco Belgium, identified the move away from annual evaluations to regular performance cycles as one of the biggest non-digital HR trends for 2017.

Adecco Belgium now offers its employees five coaching sessions each year, with a sixth annual evaluation meeting. Having had regular contact with their managers, there is much less anxiety and virtually no surprises when the annual sit-down takes place, De Pooter said.

So the annual review is falling out of favor. What can we expect to replace it, and what new demands may be placed on employees in the ongoing assessment of their performance? 

It really depends on the organization, but many are looking at ways of providing regular feedback throughout the year. Even those companies that still retain a single annual review with their employees are now looking at structured, periodic discussions between managers and employees about performance and career goals.

For those employees that came to fear and even loathe the annual review, this has to be good news. The annual review was a source of anxiety and dread for generations of employees. But what can those same employees expect from the new generation of constant assessment and feedback? 

The brinksmanship of the annual performance review may be a thing of the past for some people, but the experience of having regular ongoing conversations with your manager about performance and career goals can also be a challenge. 

In fact, it is not clear that organizations moving away from the annual review are equipping managers and front-line leaders with the skills they need to engage their employees in meaningful and constructive career assessment. In some instances, it may fall to the employee to help lead the conversation in a productive direction.

For those about the enter the brave new age of regular performance conversations, here are some best practices:

  • Help managers help you by asking questions. As was the case with annual reviews, managers will have varying skill sets to employ in regular coaching and performance conversations. Be prepared to ask some probing questions to get frank and constructive feedback. Look back at your major accomplishments since the last performance meeting – perhaps it was the completion of a project or a major presentation – and ask specifically what worked, and what could be improved. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on how to boost your performance, or how you could change your approach to a task to produce a better outcome.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to adapt and change. Nothing leads to conflict with a manager more than intransigence. Show your manager that you have a willingness to change. If you are frustrated about a relationship with a co-worker, or a less-than-satisfactory outcome from a project or task, ask for feedback and then make a commitment to changing the way you do the job. That commitment will go a long way to creating a more positive overall impression of the work you are doing.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek feedback outside of scheduled performance reviews. Even if you are scheduled to have three or four regular conversations about performance, it doesn’t mean that you can’t seek out real-time feedback on a current task or project. Informal check-ins – either with a manager or a peer – can be a very constructive way of making small corrections in performance. If you know something isn’t right or not working, don’t wait until your review cycle and quarterly review session. Seek out some advice and make the changes necessary to boost performance.
  • Be open to advice. A performance review – whether it is a once-a-year experience or something you do several times a year – involves critical commentary. Certainly, getting periodic feedback throughout the year helps prepare you for constructive criticism. However, it still requires the individual to prepare mentally and emotionally to engage in a discussion about areas of improvement. Maturity in these moments will help you get to a place in your career where the feedback you are getting is overwhelmingly positive.

The trend away from the old annual performance review is inescapable. Although many working people will celebrate the end of a human resource tool that few appreciated or respected, it does not mean that we can abandon our commitment to continuously improving our performance.

The assessments may have changed, but the importance of seeking out good advice on how to improve performance, and then applying that advice to our work, remains just as important as ever.


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