The people manager’s main gripe with the current annual performance review model is that their team members should be receiving feedback on a much more regular basis.
This common critique makes the solution to annual performance reviews seem simple: we just need to touch base with our people more often. But in reality, there are other issues with an older model of performance management—issues that can be overcome by new trends in coaching if we embrace them.
Using coaching to drive performance management
Since language often heralds major change, shifting our terminology when referring to performance reviews makes a great difference. Case in point: progressive companies don’t talk about performance management anymore—they call it coaching instead.
Before you shake your head at the semantics, consider this: how much more intimidating does a performance review sound compared to a coaching session?
With that in mind, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to claim that just changing something’s name can alter how people feel about it. What you call a coaching or performance management discussion sets the tone, long before you ever step into the room.
Having more targeted talks with your people
Culture fit, goals, professional development, and compensation: all of these topics were once covered in the annual performance review. As a result, by attempting to cover so much ground, people got a superficial sense of their performance at best.
For a long time, people saw annual performance reviews as the time when raises or promotions were discussed. Those expectations only increased the pressure on everyone involved.
When a manager gives too much of a glowing review, team members might expect an unrealistic raise. Need to offer feedback? It’s hard to receive critique when the thought of a bonus or promotion is at the back of someone’s mind.
Since formal and informal coaching conversations happen more regularly these days, leaders can be more targeted in the topics they seek to address. Now we aim for depth rather than breadth in our discussions. Maybe goal-setting is the pressing concern come the start of the quarter. A couple of weeks later, compensation could be a conversation worth having.
Investing in leadership development
The number one reason people quit? A bad manager. As talent retention becomes a greater concern, companies are investing more time in training themselves. Like anything else, leadership is a skill. If disengagement stats are any indication, it’s one that many managers lack.
On the job experience will always be critical to leadership training. There are some things that you just learn best by doing. With this in mind, select companies practice a kind of management partnership: they pair new leaders with an executive mentor or more senior manager to provide additional support on the job.
But there’s also more prep work these days. Companies no longer throw new managers into the role without any training. Workshops and conferences abound, all designed to prepare managers for a different set of responsibilities and the job of overseeing a team.
One key skill that companies are focusing on? The art of critique. “Teach your leaders how to engage in real-time conversations that raise performance—not blood pressure,” advises David Brennan of Achievers. They can learn the basics in a classroom, then hone the skill through regular coaching sessions.
There’s one other major trend in leadership development that we expect to see even more of. Managers now ask their supports for advice on how to become better in their role. By soliciting feedback from those who report to them, these fearless leaders learn how to best support each and every member of their team.
Providing peer-to-peer feedback
Lateral coaching is becoming more common—although the jury’s still out on just how effective this is. Amazon’s peer feedback system, for example, received blistering critique in a New York Times piece in 2015, which claimed the company’s competitive culture led to the system’s abuse: “Many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly.”
Yes, peer to peer coaching can go wrong, but when you foster a supportive and collaborative environment, lateral feedback can benefit everybody. In these environments, people work toward the same goal, with the understanding that critique is always well-intended.
Over to you
Annual performance reviews don’t cut it anymore—but not because they happen just once a year. That misguided critique makes the problem seem smaller than it is, and that’s no way to begin confronting it. Yes, coaching conversations should happen more than annually. But when it comes to an outdated model of performance management, there are plenty of other areas for improvement.
From what we call feedback sessions to who is responsible for giving critique, coaching looks far different today than it did in the past. And that’s a good thing. Just ask your team.