It’s not a very well kept secret that most HR professionals know that appraisal or performance management systems don’t work. But actually it is quite hard to push back when your boss is asking you to implement or manage or fine-tune one and it is still(ish) an accepted, respected even, business practice.
In my last job before I set my company up, the large government agency I worked for had invested in a highly complicated hungry system that required constant feeding and which I absolutely felt was a waste of time and energy for everyone. Public sector is always a tough environment to effect change as the Unions are highly suspicious of moving away from any system or process that doesn’t guarantee year on year pay rises, understandably. So often the temptation is to get into very detailed systems to manage Industrial Relations.
Thing was, as a senior HR leader I had to regularly defend this system when not only did I not believe in it for the organisation, I didn’t believe in it for me or my team. This coupled with the knowledge that if you wanted to see a really poor set of extremely non-SMART objectives you only had to go to the senior team or the HR department.
So fast forward 5 years and here I am running my own company and at last free to publically recommend the removal of appraisal systems to all my HR colleagues. Not only that but it’s starting to become a key area of focus for us as we help companies to move forward and think differently and have a good clear out of outdated ‘HR’ practices.
Here is how to go about it:
- To make a compelling recommendation to your Board, you need to know the cost and effectiveness of your current system. Set up a project team or get someone externally to do it for you. Don’t get sucked into the ‘we don’t have the budget’ argument. Every day you promote or prolong a system that you know doesn’t work and costs your company money, you are damaging your personal and professional brand.
- So now you have the research and know that not only do most people welcome the end to this process, it is costing an unbelievable amount of money for little obvious gain. If you asked a good set of questions, you will have picked up that employees still want development and progression at certain stages of their career, and at others to be left alone beyond the usual CPD. You may have picked up what your organisation sees as a possible way ahead – this might be nothing or a feedback loop or something that you haven’t worked out yet. Which is the exciting part.
- To pull your proposal together you need an alternative or a compelling reason for making the change. You will know what your organisations goals and ambitions are. Pull together a small project team and work with interested influential parties. Clearly you will still want to be able to reward those that work hard and are competent in their field so make sure you address that.
- You will find that most senior executives are of the opinion that one needs to legally have such a system. If you then get into consulting employment lawyers about it you will freeze in your tracks and probably agree to retain them to introduce more polices and procedures just in case….but… take a deep breath and ask yourself when was the last time that you actually managed an employee out via the capability route? And actually when was the last time a poorly performing employee had actually been told about it or marked down on their appraisal if indeed they had had one. And we all know that the real high fliers are too busy to appraise or be appraised. Especially in legal firms…
- You know that your organisation wants information on employees but that actually it is hard to come by. Even your appraisal process no matter how sophisticated won’t have really shone the torch in places that would excite your senior team. Think about how what you need to monitor and report on corporately. CPD is one area that should be critical for any professional firm to monitor but is often at best a tick box on an appraisal form or left to individuals to monitor. But there might be others. Think as broadly as possible. Don’t limit yourself to traditional areas – think of new ones. You might just identify something to focus on that will give your organisation competitive advantage.
- Recognise that doing something fairly radical like removing a long established system is changing the way your company works and interacts with employees (I’m not using the jaded old term engagement here because I don’t like it). The HR team will also want to create some space to look at the service it provides and how it adds value to the business and may consider letting go of other more traditional practices. This is an area worth investing in as it will up skill and inspire not only the HR team but the relationship with the business. Using an independent third party to facilitate and manage this can be key to a successful outcome.
I won’t wish you good luck at this stage as this is not about luck at all. This is about you as an HR professional and/or business leader critically evaluating an established system and making recommendation for change to help the organisation deliver its goals.
If this were the Finance or Marketing team with a similar issue ask yourself not only how they would approach it but how quickly they would make the change happen?