Every company has them. At Geonetric, we call them “huddles” – a chance to sit down, one-on-one with your manager to discuss your performance, your role, your goals, and areas for improvement. They usually happen every few months, or in some cases, annually. Overall, they foster great conversations, and often bring about resolutions to problems that have festered for a while. They’re the perfect time for managers to deliver a “thank you” for a job well done.
And that’s why we’re getting rid of them.
With about five years of consistent data from huddles across the company, I can say pretty confidently that they don’t directly improve organizational performance. In fact, I would argue that performance appraisals are detrimental to a high performance culture. They’re a crutch for managers, and an enabler of poor communication.
Let me tell you why.
- Conversations that need to happen should happen immediately. Quarterly or bi-annual huddles become an excuse to delay difficult conversations until the problem is no longer relevant.
- Feedback should be given verbally, in a real, honest-to-goodness conversation. Written communication is useful, but often is written down only after multiple occurrences. Verbal, immediate communication is more likely to actually change behaviors – which is the whole point of the feedback.
- Management feedback isn’t all that valuable anyway. Managers aren’t domain experts in most cases. Instead, we want to emphasize peer feedback – directly and frequently.
- Positive feedback should also be immediate. Why thank someone for a job well done today… three to six months later?
- Fostering peer feedback is part of a healthy culture. A culture which puts the responsibility for difficult conversations primarily on managers is dysfunctional. Adult professionals can – and should – be able to approach each other regularly with candid, constructive criticism and praise, instead of asking managers to deal with every problem.
- Goal setting should be a regular part of the work process. Performance appraisals are an HR process appended to the side of work people are already doing, to give the illusion of “control.” We found that our huddle “goal setting” was really an attempt to reverse-engineer what people did on a daily basis in an attempt to document how it fits into bigger picture goals. In other words, paperwork for the sake of paperwork. If someone isn’t doing “the right thing” then the work process itself is the problem.
And so, we’re trialing the idea that huddles are unnecessary with our software engineering team through the end of the year, to see what happens. Luckily, our software engineering team has been steeped for five years in the idea that they should be self-organizing using Agile development methods, so this change is a bit less radical to them. But it’s still an experiment that conflicts dramatically with typical command-and-control models that are so prevalent in corporate America today.
I’ll report back around the end of the year to tell you how it’s going – and if we expand this concept across the whole company. My guess: we’ll have better performance and a healthier culture without the regular performance appraisals. And we’ll ditch huddles permanently for everyone in 2013.
Have you found success at your company with performance appraisals? Or do you find them ineffective? I’d love to hear your comments about what’s working out there, and what isn’t.
And if the idea of working for a company with a culture that encourages candid, constructive criticism and praise between peers and co-workers sounds like the type of place for you, make sure to take a look at the open positions Geonetric has available.