I have a fantasy that one day soon, ongoing feedback will replace annual reviews.
The annual review is a time of stress for everyone in a company. It affects every single employee, and most often it's everyone at the same time. It's inefficient and it's a recipe for disaster. Imagine if your CEO announced that she wanted to move every desk each June and she wasn't going to give anyone an idea of where they were moving or with whom. No one could focus, get settled in their seat or make friends with their neighbors because they'd know a surprise was coming in 10, 9, 8, 7... the count down would always be on.
It's the same with reviews, and that's because very few managers share ongoing feedback. I've heard repeatedly "Put that in his review" or "She'll know at review time what a mistake she made today." Many managers save up their disappointments for the annual review. I understand this. It's much easier to give a compliment in the moment than it is to give critical feedback. Without training, modeling and accountability for ongoing communication, the only obvious path is to save up comments for the Annual Review.
A formal, once-a-year discussion that is inevitably tied to salary, bonus and promotion is a guaranteed failure before you even begin. The employee's heart is pounding, her mind is racing, and her eyes are searching the paperwork for a final rating. She is unable to hear a word being spoken, and who could blame her?
I propose that the Annual Review process sets a tone of "I'm gonna catch you failing," whereas ongoing communication sets a tone of "I'm going help you soar."
Further, I'd say that the Annual Review process feeds detachment, whereas Ongoing Communication nurtures connection.
This is a huge and important shift in thinking about the expectations of managing and being managed. How do you want to be treated? How can you deliver that to your team?
In Seth Godin's book, Survival Is Not Enough, he says:
"A dreaded form of feedback is the annual review. Why waste time on them? Nine times out of ten, they're nonsense. The boss doesn't want to admit to waiting eleven months to point out that someone is doing a horrible job. The employee is defensive and on edge. Instead, why not do an "annual" review every day? If feedback is frequent, it's far easier to be constructive."
Rebecca Henry, director of human resources at Zappos, said, "We thought that the traditional annual review was a crutch for managers to do just that and no more." (Read about how Zappos changed their process)
Once-a-year feedback is abstract feedback and abstract feedback is just that, abstract. People don't know what to do with "Don't raise your voice." Instead, real time feedback would be "Did you know that when you just raised your voice, everyone only heard anger? Your content was great, but they all missed it."
Real-time, constructive, thoughtful feedback is useful and immediately applicable. That immediacy is what leads to internalization and true change. The quicker we can apply a lesson learned, the more it sticks with us.
The tone of delivering feedback is crucial. The more consistent and respectful the delivery of feedback, the better we feel about it, which leads to trust and an open attitude toward evolving our performance.
Not only is ongoing feedback respectful, useful and effective, it's also great modeling for how we want our direct reports and their direct reports to interact with each other.
If you really want to take this to the next level, you need to let go of the annual review. Yes ma'am, that's what I said.
Releasing the annual review completely requires the radical change of paying employees at, or above, industry standard from the day they start so there's no need to increase their salary annually. This means there is no expectation of an increase unless their specific industry standard changes. Ever. Radical, yes? And totally doable.
Start with enforcing ongoing feedback and hopefully you can gently guide your office to release annual reviews entirely. Imagine an office filled with people who know where they stood at any moment and were truly empowered to do their best work. Your company will thank you.
***If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please consider attending Beyond the Creative 3 where Rena will be diving deeper into performance reviews.***
Cella Consultant Rena DeLevie's nickname is "COO of the Creative Process." She has 25 years in the creative industry; first as an art director for 8 years, then in Creative Operations for the past 17 years. Rena has, and continues to, provide business coaching and mentoring services throughout her career and has successfully taught creative executives how to partner within and across departments. She works with clients to define specific and actionable steps towards their goals and ensures they're in alignment with the Company mission. Her passion is to help companies and people succeed by listening, analyzing and proposing solutions. She values creativity and business equally.