Performance reviews come down to one boss and one subordinate sitting down in a room, often with two different views on the previous year's work. The focus is usually on the most recent output, and the annual goals, spelled out 12 months earlier, often seem outdated if not irrelevant. Results – deliverables, as they are now called – outweigh the manner in which the job was carried out.
What if, instead of two views, many views could animate that discussion? What if the focus on deliverables was leavened by information on the employee's style – whether the person had a collaborative, helpful approach that energized others, rather than being solely focused on his or her own ends?
Eric Mosley, chief executive officer of Globoforce, believes we can improve performance reviews by taking advantage of modern technology and the wisdom of the crowd. In a world where we can "like" something we see on a website and share it with friends, why not offer employees the ability to "like" individual actions they see around them in the workplace, and feed those glimpses of daily activity into the annual performance review?
The Boston-based consultant, who works with major companies to reform their performance management systems and recently wrote The Crowdsourced Performance Review, said in an interview that an essential problem with the current format is that "it's just one guy's opinion of your performance on a specific day of the year. People go in with fear, as maybe not everything they have done in the year will be remembered."
As well, feedback for an employee is infrequent, perhaps limited to that annual conversation, and the "goals set for the employee in January may not be on the agenda in October – or even March."
Social recognition can deal with those deficiencies. When someone spots a colleague doing something noteworthy, under Mr. Mosley's system they can nominate that individual for an award – perhaps $50 for some extra contribution, $150 for an unusually strong contribution or an unusually tough challenge met, and $500 for an extraordinary contribution or challenge met. "It happens every day. The entire community of the company is recognizing good work. It's the wisdom of the crowd," he says.
The money doesn't get paid immediately to the nominee; a manager must approve. But fears that such programs will lead to employees making deals to nominate each other and collect the loot have not occurred, he says, with over 95 per cent of nominations usually approved. And the regular citations of good performance are inspirational feedback, usually sparking greater engagement and enhanced performance as people seek more and more validation. The money can be used, as in common rewards programs, to purchase electronic goods, vacations, visits to spas, and other award program delights.
The goal should be to have 80 per cent to 90 per cent of employees participating – both in giving and receiving accolades. He contrasts that with the recognition programs of the 1970s and 1980s, when only a thin slice of employees, perhaps 10 to 15 per cent, received awards after being selected by managers. Those winners tended to be elite employees who were already being recognized and rewarded. "This increases the winner's circle. Eighty to 90 per cent of the organization gets recognition and will try to improve their performance afterward as a result," he says.
It's a shift from the belief that managers are the only people who can recognize and reward good performance, democratizing the process. In the best programs, someone might recognize another colleague's work 10 to 20 times a year.
But social recognition doesn't comprise the totality of the performance management system he is pushing. The employee and manager would still meet, annually or more frequently, to discuss performance. Much of the traditional approach remains, with each preparing for the meeting by looking back at the year. But now they not only have their own impressions and perhaps notes – they also have the commendations piled up during the year.
For the manager, those moments of recognition add a sense of how the job was done. Indeed, by gearing rewards in the recognition program to values the organization wants to promote, the process can stimulate the right kind of behaviour and dissuade the wrong kind.
The recognition program is based purely on positive citations – nothing negative. "Negative feedback is very delicate. It can be toxic. People have to be trained to give negative feedback," he says. So the performance review, with presumably trained managers, can delve into that aspect of performance.
To create such a program, Mr. Mosley suggests that companies might start by diverting 10 per cent of bonus pool money toward the new effort, and perhaps increase that if the initiative is working well. Top executives must push the program strongly, he says, to get full involvement of the work force, since widespread participation is what helps this initiative to enhance total performance.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter