Performance management forms should not be used as a substitute for conversations about how employees are doing. While there is a place for forms in this process to provide metrics, the key is to remember they should not be the focal point. Rather, they should be used as a complementary tool to support more effective conversations about talent.
This comment succinctly captures a significant shift in performance management design. Historically, many companies used performance management forms as a substitute for conversation. There seemed to be a belief that detailed goal plans and performance appraisal forms could effectively capture employee job expectations and performance contributions without actually speaking to employees. This concept never worked and is completely ineffective in a fast-moving digitalized world where anything written on a form may quickly become irrelevant to an employee’s current situation.
Forms and checklists do provide value in performance management. But they should be used as tools to remind managers and employees to discuss job expectations, have coaching conversations, and capture information from these discussions. Forms should be designed to support conversation, not replace it. They should capture a minimal level of information needed to support future dialogue and decision making. Forms should never ask people to provide information unless they have a clear understanding of who is going look at it, when they are going to look it, and how it is going to be used.
Most important of all, forms should never force managers or employees to make a choice they do not believe in. This is a major problem with many traditional performance management forms designed to force managers to create distinctions between employees. For example, requiring managers to rank their employees from most to least valuable. A performance rating form should never force a manager to “pick favorites” between their employees, nor should a form require managers to rate employees as being either above or below average. Remember, the performance of some employees truly is average. It is also possible, albeit unlikely, that all the employees on a manager’s team can perform at the same level. This is particularly true if the manager has a small team. In most companies, it is the manager who is expected to take accountability for performance ratings and communicating those ratings to their employees. It is unethical and unfair to force managers to rank their employees as if they were products, not people.
This does not mean it is okay for managers to always evaluate everyone as being the same. Managers should be challenged to critically compare the relative impact that team members are having on the success of the company. But, this challenge should be done through dialogue with their leaders and peers, not by forcing them to make evaluations that may not reflect their honest beliefs about their employees.
One of the most positive transformations occurring in performance management is the trend to replace annual performance rating forms with group-based talent review sessions. These sessions involve managers and other organizational stakeholders talking about the relative performance of employees within a department. Having managers discuss, defend and justify ratings increases the accuracy of performance evaluations, ensures the same definitions of performance across the company, and provides greater knowledge of talent across teams and departments. The main value of these sessions does not come from rating employees, but from talking about how employees are being assessed and discussing the implications for future employee management and development.
There is a place for forms in performance management. They help with setting goals, structuring ongoing coaching sessions and managing differences in performance levels within teams. They can capture critical information the company may need to guide broader workforce management decisions. Forms also provide metrics to make sure managers are being effective by indicating whether managers and employees are talking about different issues. The key is to remember forms should not be the focal point, but rather a complementary tool to support more effective conversations about talent.