Fearless Feedback Can Replace the Performance Review

June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

The typical performance review is under attack.  It should be.  More and more studies are confirming its limits and its inability to achieve its purpose of improving performance of the individual and the organization.  It is the most important arrow in the typical manager’s quiver and it can’t hit the target.  Most organizations still hold out hope by providing training for managers but to no avail.

Leaders are under pressure to improve employee engagement.  They should be.  With all the effort to date the average engagement level still remains at a dismal 31% level (according to the latest Engagement Survey by Blessing and White).

Part of the root cause of this dismal performance by the typical manager is asking them to do things they should not and cannot do.  We are asking them to be responsible for feedback that they are unable to supply.  Employees should be more responsible for collecting their own feedback.  This would boost their engagement level and their performance and make the typical performance review obsolete (which it already is anyway).

Organizations need to be self-organizing

Next time you are taking a walk, look for flocking birds.  They move as one unit.  They shift together instantly.  There is no “bird manager” shouting commands or writing policy.  They move as if they can read each other’s little minds.  They move as if they are of one mind.  They do this because they follow three basic principles.  They fly at the same average speed, distance, and direction as their closest “flying neighbors.”  They get instant and constant feedback.  Why can’t an organization operate this way?  It can.  We just need a new way of thinking and a new set of principles to follow.  Organizations can (and must) be more like a self-organizing system.

Our microwave lesson

Our microwave burned out the other day.  My wife and I decided to buy a new one. Before embarking to a particular store I decided to check Consumer Reports.  They rated the Kenmore brand at Sears at the very top.  I told my wife and she agreed to go with me to the Sears store that day.

Before we left she checked the website and found a Sears’s outlet store not far from our home.  They sell merchandise that was returned or slightly damaged at discount prices. I agreed to go there first.  We found the perfect microwave (size and color) at a discount of 50% off retail.  I picked it up to check it for blemishes and defects.  It looked fine.  My wife paid for it. I put it in the car and brought it into the house.

Who should get the credit for the purchase, me or my wife?  If our home was an organization with performance reviews, pay-for-performance policy, and a management by objectives policy we might have to decide who owned this objective and who would get credit for the intelligent purchase.

In a self-organizing system the question of who should get credit for this objective makes no sense.  It was the quality of the interactions between my wife, me, the internet, and the store employees that achieved the results.  It is impossible to say who should get the credit.   We may not have chosen the Sears store without my interaction.  We may not have chosen the outlet store without my wife’s interaction.  We may not have chosen to inspect the heavy microwave unless I was there to pick it up and turn it around.

Fearless feedback provides continuous information about the quality of the interactions between people and the quality of the interactions between the people and their processes.  In other words, it’s the quality of the relationships and the quality of the interactions that matter more than the quality of the parts.

Fearless feedback is a philosophy and set of tools to monitor and improve the quality and speed of interpersonal interactions and the quality and speed of system interactions.  Feedback is instant and direct.   It’s just like how the birds do it when they fly in flocks, i.e. instant and direct.

Instant direct feedback about the quality of interactions can replace the typical performance review.  The typical review is not working because it does not align with the principles of a self-organizing system.  It doesn’t work because it does not optimize learning and it actually damages the relationships it is supposed to improve.

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