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So let's change it
I recently came across a sentence in a study by Mercer:
“95% of managers & employees are dissatisfied with performance management.”
My first thought: There are 5 people out of a 100 that actually like it?!
Before founding up.lftd, I worked at a couple of great companies in leadership positions, with amazing teams, most recently at Google. My personal tally based on my very subjective perception over the years on the satisfaction levels with performance management:
100% of people are dissatisfied by how it’s done.
Pick any manager in any company, and they will most likely tell you something along these lines:
So much work. So hard to do. So hard to be fair.
Let me tell you a bit about what I always felt didn’t work.
I loved working as a people manager. I tried to have an adaptive leadership style, accommodating different personalities and preferences, finding the perfect balance between being challenging and nurturing for each person.
I put a lot of time and effort into building relationships with everyone, to make each person feel like an important part of the team.
And I always tried to bring value to conversations, listening well and helping find solutions.
I loved the “people” part of “people management”.
I was by no means perfect, but I think I did an ok job most of the time. But at one thing I regularly failed:
Having good performance review conversations.
And not for a lack of trying. I spent endless hours preparing them (most of the time after hours because there simply wasn’t enough time during the busy workday to do it properly).
Trying to find good examples for individual strengths and areas with room for growth, tying this to the rating rationale.
Trying to be fair and not let biases influence my decisions and feedback. Calibrating it fairly for part-time workers and different personality types.
But I always fell short. While I regularly had good and valuable 1:1 meetings with my team, I don’t recall one good and valuable performance review conversation that I had with them.
My 2 cents on why?
The meetings always felt stilted and I couldn’t really make them my own. I had to conform to a specific “perf language”, a specific timing, to a specific way of running them.
It had nothing to do with the little feedback instances I tried to give when working together with someone. Where I felt I gave something of value. Where I always tried to make it actionable, tied to a specific behaviour I noticed and timely, so the person could actually do something with it (if they wanted).
In contrast, the review conversations were always a one-off thing sometime in the year (often right during busy times) that everyone kind of dreaded, where a rating was at the heart of it, and feedback was seen as something that you should also give to make that rating feel fairer. It didn’t help anyone grow. So I always felt like the massive amount of time I spent on it wasn’t really worth the effort.
I have a recency bias and have a hard time remembering specific things that someone did more than six weeks ago. And the most recent things always seem more important to me than things that happened a while back.
(And on top of it, I am lazy. I never take enough notes over the review cycle or structure them well enough that I can really put them to use when the time comes. Shame on me.)
I have an similarity bias. I tend to like people more who are similar to me.
I have an experience bias. I tend to forget that my truth is not always the only or best option.
We are all biased. And to be honest: Even if we try to be unbiased, we still are. It’s really hard to shake.
In a typical performance management process, I as the manager am the “highlander” (aka: there can only be one). My opinion counts most. I am responsible for writing the review, setting the rating, “defending it” in calibration sessions and communicating it to the team members.
Even if there is 360° feedback in a review cycle, I tend to be a bit on the arrogant side of things and of course think that my perspective has more weight. We all fall victim to this.
So I never felt like I treated everyone fairly and equally. And no one ever felt truly seen in these review conversations.
When helping someone develop and giving feedback to them, in my opinion, you should also discuss a way forward: What to do the next time in a similar situation. This could be more of the same or something a little different. This is where development kicks in.
But in a review conversation? It’s all about the rating. No one really listens until the rating is unveiled. And after that they chew on it and also don’t really listen to what comes after.
So making this conversation a valuable feedback opportunity? Where you discuss development opportunities and define specific actions and write them down somewhere (hello, recency bias and laziness)? This rarely happens.
What a lost chance to make it worthwhile. When you’re lucky, you discuss a development plan with your manager sometime along the way after the review conversation.
But way too often, this (bi-)annual review conversation is really the only time a structured session is held between manager and team member (and it happens only because your HR team said you should do it).
Because the job eats us up alive, we don’t have time, we already spoke three months ago in our review conversation, didn’t we? And then this development opportunity just vanishes without having a lasting effect on real development (apart from a once or twice a year rating).
I always have been one of the 95% that wasn’t happy with how Performance Management was done.
But then I realized: If you don’t love it, leave it. Or better yet, change it.
So that’s what we do with up.lftd. We change it.
To something easy, fair and development-centered.
That is as unbiased as possible.
By being aware of biases and actively work against them.
That has a lasting effect.
By making everything development-centered and actionable.
That is fast and saves time.
By making sure that we do the hard work for you.
Where things don’t slip.
By making feedback truly continuous and spare you the need for note taking.
We change it to something where I can proudly say:
This is how performance management can really work (raises hand).
Sounds interesting? Stay tuned for more insights and get in touch for a product demo!
Let’s help people grow.