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If you want better engagement and alignment, then its time to kill the Annual Review

The working year has many milestones that are marked on the wall or outlook calendars. Some are looked on with excitement and some, well not so much. The annual break and long weekends would be the big positives, on the other side we have things like monthly budget reviews and of course the annual employee reviews. It does not matter if you are the employee or the manager, the annual review is not something that most 'normal' people look forward to, not even HR people! In fact, if you ask 10 managers if they felt that the annual employee review was time well spent then I'm willing to bet at least 7 would say they were of no real use, 2 would say they were (just in case HR finds out) and one would genuinely believe it. I know colleagues of mine would always complain about the immense time that they lost, and normally right at the end of a quarter or financial year. On the flip side ask 10 employees about the annual review and most will tell you straight up that it's not going to help them that year and almost all will like it directly to a pay review.  

The Questions

That made me wonder, what other process in business do you have that you do that is pretty mush universally seen as adding no real value would be allowed to last? In fact, here is another question, what business KPI or metric does your annual review process directly impact? Now do not start listing the objectives you give people (if you actually do) , if you stopped the annual review what top level KPI or Metric would immediately or over time be impacted?... I cannot think of any, and I tried, I really did… but there are zero. So why do we do them?

Employee engagement? it is not that, there is zero link between an employee review and the level of engagement and a 1 time conversation that more than likely leaves them feeling slightly worse when they come out the room than when they went in!

Improving employee performance? Surely not? Surely you are not going to wait a whole year to feedback the great things your people are doing or to highlight areas that they need help in? Think about it, if I asked you about the 1 great thing you did last December could you tell me? Do you think the manager would remember? If the manager waited a whole year to tell you it was good would that make your performance better? And if it did get better after the feedback haven't you wasted a whole year that you could have been applying more of that better performance? That's' akin to not investing your capital budget until the last quarter of the year, there is zero return! (A decent finance person will tell you to try to spend as much of your capital investments in Q1, so you get the benefit in the year you invest...)

Time to Kill Annual Reviews!

If there is no real reason, other than an outdated policy, to have an annual review why do it?... you should not, it's time to kill them, strop doing them now. So get up from your desk, throw open that office door and shout as loud as you can... "We are killing the Annual Review!!!"

So, what is the alternative? Why not try real time reviews? Why not interact with your team all the time, why not praise them when you see good things and highlight real time when there is something that they need to improve on? Any time I caught my teams doing good stuff it went into a list for them, and the same with opportunities for improving. We would obviously talk about them before they went on the list, but what that meant was that we had real factual things to work on. We looked for where they were doing great and could help other colleagues who were struggling, the aim was to get the team coaching the team. Were they engaged with that? Did they work as a team? You bet they did.

I usually ran with between 6 and 10 direct reports, which is a good ratio for most organisations. That meant that we could also schedule a 1:1 sit down for a couple of hours every month. Right now, a great many people are shaking their head and saying wow... that is a huge amount of time! It's not, it's between 12 and 20 hours a month out of a possible 160 – 200hrs per month depending on if it was a 4- or 5-week month. Which is between 7.5% & 12.5% of your time that is dedicated to sitting and focusing on making sure your team is on track. That they have all the tools and skills they need to meet their goals, that they understand exactly what the focus is and where they fit in. We would recap the good things that had happened (that we had already talked about real time) and we would review what help was needed for the things that did not go so well. That would generally take about an hour, the rest of the conversation, it is their turn to give feedback. It is the time for the employee to feedback to you on how you could do better, that way you get to improve as well!

As a leader your role, your single most important role, is to grow great people that help your organisation do better and to help them grow to the point that it's time for them to leave and do something more. If you are not growing people who are being promoted or head hunted, then you are not doing it right. To do it right, you need support them and feedback often, you need to invest the time in them to gain the returns.

I have never heard of a person who has left a company listing the reason that they got too much feedback and communication from their boss!

More Engaged and aligned? You betcha!

Think for a moment. If you had a 1:1 with the boss every month and you talked about the goals of the company, the metrics, how the company is performing, how they are helping and shaping that performance with what they are doing, would that help them to be engaged with what's going on? Would they know where they fit and why what they do matters? Would they be able to draw a line from the work they do directly to the company strategy and top-level goals?

Of course they would!

By doing this stuff real time it becomes business as usual, it's just what you do as a team, it means that it also instantly becomes separate from the remuneration discussion, as it should be.

Long Live The Review 

Regular, real time feedback is far more beneficial to everyone involved, the employee, the manager, and the company. The benefits are huge the best bit is that as a manager you are going to have more time, not less. If everyone is aligned, if they are more engaged and if they are coaching each other how much more time will you have on your hands where you do not have to step in for one reason or another?

I guess what we are talking about, is the agile approach to reviews: short intervals between reviews, instant feedback, and multiple chances to change direction if you need to.

I makes me wonder what you have to lose by trying it? Other than the stress, misalignment, and disengaged employees?

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