Maybe Performance Reviews Should Remain a Little Anti-Social

Twitter just turned 8. Facebook, 10. LinkedIn is 11, believe it or not. And if Pinterest were a person, it wouldn’t be old enough to go to kindergarten. Current performance management theory, on the other hand, is well into middle age.

Social media is the cool kid on the block. And a lot of companies have jumped on the social media bandwagon for a number of its processes: customer service, marketing, hiring, even coding. Now, social media is creeping its way into performance management. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But is it a good thing?

Social performance feedback, as it’s called, can offer an employee a fuller, more comprehensive, and maybe even more objective view of their performance. Rather than having just a single manager’s view on how they’re doing, an employee can hear from any number of people. Colleagues can give someone a pat on the back. They can chime in if an employee is a “team player” or comes to the rescue on a particular project.

This type of input can be an important part of the performance process, but it doesn’t replace the need for the actual performance review from an employee’s manager. That’s because in a forward-thinking organization, the goal is to get everyone in the company moving in the same direction – a direction that is set by the leaders of the company, not by each and every employee.

When a CEO and the executive team identifies the key things to move the organization forward – including the knowledge, skills and abilities it needs in its workforce to be successful – these need to be communicated to every person in the organization. They can be cascaded down informally, as well as communicated directly in a formal discussion with the employee about his or her achievements and performance goals. But if employees get performance appraisals and direction from their peers, will they know if their goals and behaviors are in line with the organization’s strategy?

Managers need to have a discussion on a fairly regular basis with employees about how they are doing.  Companies need to rely on their managers to translate the high level corporate goals into actionable feedback that will help employees understand how their performance is connected to the overall goals.  Our experience shows that in most organizations, these connections are not well understood, which leads to sub-optimal performance for the organization.  If you completely discard the performance review, the managers you’ve asked to help you lead the company won’t be accountable for having the necessary discussions that help your employees understand the connection between their jobs and the corporate strategy.

While social performance feedback might make the employee feel better because he or she is getting frequent feedback from a number of people with different perspectives, the social review may not be the most effective way to get the entire company on the same page at the same time. There’s no way to ensure that the employee gets feedback on skills that are useful to the organization. Instead, there’s a big risk of diluting the strategic direction of the organization.

An effective performance process should tie an individual’s review and goals to the company’s goals. We need someone to be able to look at and interpret the individual’s results and draw a conclusion based on those results. That’s a manager’s job. We all know that data without interpretation is just data – we need context and insights provided by skilled leaders to turn the data into information and make it actionable.

We believe there’s room for a more social approach to the performance review – especially when it comes to gathering feedback from more than one person.  Ideally, individuals should receive feedback from their co-workers on a regular basis.  However, the evaluation should still sit squarely on the shoulders of those people in your company that have been tapped to lead.  Rather than throwing away the manager’s evaluation, we need better training and support to help managers develop the necessary skills to interpret an employee’s performance, provide context, and make the connection between the day to day responsibilities and the overall direction or strategy.

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