I’ve worked with some great HR practitioners over the years. The area I enjoy the most is being involved in the designing of what are historically known as performance reviews. These tools that can be the difference between an ordinary organisation and a high-performing one.

Most of the time in Personal Development Reviews, the focus has been on developing the staff rather than on scoring them. We have avoided scoring because it can often become subjective and a point of contention.

During the planning and brainstorming sessions, there are two books with models I often draw on when working with our clients. They are:

  • The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey, and
  • The five dysfuncations of a team by Patrick Lencioni.

The Habits

The 7 Habits talks about the principle of ‘Beginning with the end in mind’ (Habit 2). This habit relates to understanding what is important to someone, their values, and where they want to be at the end. There are several benefits to gaining these insights.

First, the manager gets the opportunity to understand what is important to the employee. That is, what they value in life, such as just doing a good job and contributing to the team as a team member or climbing the company ladder and becoming a leader within the company.

By understanding this, the manager will be able to make more informed decisions and provide relevant guidance. The other benefit is it makes the employee think about and consider what is important to them.

Many cannot answer this question. Often employees get caught up in what other employees are doing without a greater sense of what is important to them. From an organisation perspective, you will soon identify who is aligned to the organisational culture and who is not.

The 7 Habits also talks about ‘Seeking to understand before being understood’. This to me is about coaching the managers. Encourage managers to sit back and listen and listen rather than rush through the reviews just so they can tick the completion box. By seeking to understand, you get a better appreciation of employees’ perspective and world view – this will include valuable insights into the team and the company. Only when you have this can the manager truly support and develop their team.

One of Lenicioni’s other books talks about a manager who prescribed all reviews take 90 minutes – no less! This was because the real conversations did not come out until all the small talk was over.

The dyfunctions

The 5 Dysfunctions talks about the Absence of trust (dysfunction 1). This is important to understand because many people don’t trust the review process. This is often caused by the lack of buy-in (dysfunction 3) from managers to the process and therefore lack of follow through on what was agreed about actions such as training or mentoring. Add to that the fear of what I call robust conversations (dysfunction 2 – fear of conflict). Then comes avoidance of accountability (dysfunction 4) when an employee or manager doesn’t deliver on what was agreed and the lack of delivery is just ignored or glossed over.

As you can see, there are so many moving parts to these processes. If you get them wrong, you are just wasting people’s time and reducing your organisation’s capacity.

An example of loss in capacity: A manager of five people must complete five reviews. On average each person will spend four hours in the review (2 people), an hour for prep, an hour for the face-to-face meeting and two hours on basic follow-up activities. That’s 40 hours, which may not seem a lot. But this is only for a team of 5.

That could be the difference between 40 hours of billable time in a services firm or 40 hours of chasing new sales, or 40 hours where your customers are being penalised. There is a cost – not just the wages and benefits but also the opportunity cost which is usually a lot higher.

This means we need innovation in our reviews. When we design these systems, we need to ensure we are delivering value to the business and that we are going to deliver on the desired outcomes.

My top 5 things to consider when you are designing or refactoring your review process.

  1. What is the organisation’s strategy and goals? What is the organisational culture or desired culture and expected behaviours? How do we make them integral and foundational to this process?
  2. How is the review adding value to our organisation? If it is not going to, then stop and start again with a new way to develop employees. Refer to #1 for guidance.
  3. The employee should be the owner and driver of this process. They should book the meetings, set the goals. The manager should be the facilitator and remover of roadblocks.
  4. Conversations need to be happening regularly to ensure accountability. An annual conversation is no longer acceptable.
  5. During these conversations, managers need to have real conversations with their team. What training and support will you provide them to prepare for them?

We must design a review system that ensure outcomes. But if we don’t integrate relevant models that understand our employees and managers as people and the complexities they bring, we will be ineffective.

There is a lot more to an effective people process than just filling out a form.